Is creativity bad for marketing?

funny eggs with facial expression: scared screaming and being terrified.As a writer just typing the question – is creativity bad for marketing – hurts a little.

Advertising and marketing people pride themselves on their creativity. After all, it’s one of the lures of the profession for most of us.

But does it serve our businesses and our business goals?

On the surface, it’s easy to argue that creativity is essential to good advertising and marketing. Whether it’s strategic nuances and insights, being innovative in your brand and how you express it, or marketing materials that capture the audience’s attention and imagination – all of those are built on a foundation of creative thinking.

But I’ve been in some situations recently where it was evident that the long-term objectives were not being well served by an infusion of creativity. Then, sadly the answer is yes…. creativity can be bad for marketing.

So let’s look at how the very thing we work so hard to capture can also be a detriment.

Too many ideas: This can be a killer. When a team is on fire with great ideas and falls in love with them all, the end result can be a mess. Sometimes the team tries to pack in all the ideas so rather than building a message hierarchy where you lead with your key message and then support that message — you get five pounds of ideas shoved into a one pound bag. That results in a lot of superficial messaging rather than a well-developed story with depth and relevance.

The other possible outcome of too many ideas is that the team decides to use them all sequentially. That typically means that no one idea is left in place long enough to really take root. Remember, about the time that we as the creators are getting sick of the ad/brochure/tagline etc. is about the same time the intended audience is just noticing the communication. If you pull the plug too soon, you lose all momentum and have to start all over.

Unbridled creativity: As the brainstorming pendulum swings, it often goes to an extreme that’s beyond the audience’s sensibilities. Sometimes a team can get so enamored with being provocative or wildly creative that they forget who their audience is. We’ve all seen ads that were very outlandish and got a lot of attention but in the end, were too far over the top and the company ended up issuing an apology or retracting the ad.

Marketing has a very simple purpose – to sell something. It might be selling a product, or an ideal or a candidate or a charity’s cause. But it does not exist to entertain, provoke a reaction or win awards. If it sells AND entertains, all the better. But it needs to do its job. Which means the audience’s perspective must always be front and center.

Cart before the horse creativity: Believe it or not, good creativity is actually the outcome of a very disciplined process, at least in marketing. To truly be creative in a way that nets the desired results, you have to do your homework before you release the creative juices. Until you define the goals, identify and get to know your audience and understand your unique position in the marketplace – you hold your creativity in place.

When you unleash it too soon, you may come up with the most compelling marketing tools that drive the audience to action, but they might be the wrong audience, might be taking the wrong action or might play to one of your competitor’s strengths.

Like most things, creativity isn’t good or bad, at least not in the world of marketing. It’s how we use it that makes it either a huge asset or a hindrance to us achieving our ultimate marketing goals.

 

Want to up your creativity?

idea_lightbulbNo matter what you do for a living, you need to be creative.  Innovative and fresh thinking are always in demand, whether you’re a cop, a plumber, or a marketing pro.

Unfortunately, on the job, we can’t wait for the muses to strike.  We need to be creative on demand because there are clients, deadlines and projects waiting.

Want to up your creativity?

Having a career that demands creativity every day has forced me to find ways to keep that particular saw sharp.  Here are some of my favorites:

Exercise your brain: My goal is to keep my brain cooking at all times, so if I need to call on it, it’s already fired up.  I love brain teasers, word games like Scrabble, games of strategy and even lumosity.com which is like a brain obstacle course.

Simmering: When I’m stuck or every idea I come up with seems tired and overdone, I tuck the challenge in the back of my mind and let it simmer.  I do other things, concentrate on something else entirely and just let my subconscious work out the knots.

Blood, sweat and tears: Okay, skip the blood and tears part.  But sweating really works.  When we move our bodies, all kinds of endorphins are released.  Those magic chemicals put us in the perfect state to create.

Hang out with creative people: This is not only effective, it’s great fun. Actively look for opportunities to talk to creative people about creative things.  Listen to the language they use, the stories they tell and even how they use their body to enhance their tales.  If you live in Central Iowa, you have the perfect opportunity this Thursday.

The Iowa Creativity Summit is Thursday night from 6 – 8:30.  Come hear from David Burkus, the author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas.  Check out the event here.  I promise — you’ll get your creative juices flowing for sure!

If you’re like me, your creativity is a tool you rely on.  Like any tool, it’s my job to keep it in tiptop condition so it is ready when I need it.

So how about you — how do you keep your creativity flowing?

 

 

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How does your paper resume stack up to this?

The world has changed.  Things are different.  This is the new normal.  This ain’t your grandaddy’s marketing.

We can say it a million ways but some folks just aren’t going to get it.  Or at least not yet.

With the tools out there, the connections that can be made and the audience’s diminishing tolerance for being shouted at — there are many things we need to do differently.  Including finding a job.

Check out this slideshare (PPT) presentation that Lorenzo Galbiati sent me as he embarks on a job hunt.  (Email him here if you want to chat about career possibilities)


Imagine you need to hire someone.  You get a standard paper resume and this PPT.  You can only interview one candidate — who would you choose?

We need to re-think everything and there are plenty of sacred cows that need to be done away with.  If someone ever says to you — this is how it has to be done or this is the standard — ask more questions, think beyond the “usual” and remember that the world has changed.

The last thing you want to demonstrate is that you haven’t been keeping up.

 

Can’t see the PPT?  Click here to view over at www.slideshare.net

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How does your customer use what you sell?


An exercise we don’t do often enough (especially if you sell a service rather than a product) is taking a look at how our customers actually use what we sell them.

When you make the time (not take…make) to actually dig into the functionality, the how and where they use it, and what they have to do to it to make it more practical/useful, etc. you learn some very interesting things and it’s a great way to innovate an existing product.

How do you suppose Puffs came up with the tissue box that fits into your car’s cup holder?

 

Advertising can’t just be funny

Don’t get me wrong.  I like funny.  Most of my favorite movies are funny.  The TV shows I watch — usually funny.  And I appreciate a funny ad.

But…it still has to sell something.  That’s the ad’s reason for existence.  No company runs a TV commercial just to entertain the viewers.

So when I see TV spots like this one for the California Milk Producers.  But for the life of me, I can’t understand why they thought it would inspire anyone to drink more milk — let alone California milk. (email subscribers, click here to view)

Am I missing something?  Did watching this spot make you run to the fridge and pour a cold glass of ice cold milk?

My big issue with this series of TV spots is that it doesn’t even try to sell us on the benefits of the product, make the brand of the product cool or…even show the product.

Contrast that with the TV spots for Mike’s Hard Lemonade.  They’re funny but they’re also talking about the product. (email subscribers, click here to view)

AdAge and their partner Bluefin Labs have been studying how we react to TV spots in terms of social mentions.  Their findings — we TV viewers are beginning to view commercials as movie shorts and it’s pretty clear that TV viewers are increasingly willing to talk about ads in the same way that they talk about shows: as bits of entertainment.

All the more reason to make sure your TV spot (or any advertising for that matter) keeps its eye on the prize — selling your product or service.  If the viewing population is more likely than ever to talk about you, I’m thinking you want to give them something besides the funny parts to talk about.

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Going viral = out of your control

It seems like one of the goals I hear more and more is… “and we want it to go viral.”  I translate that to mean — we want a lot of people to see it.

But rarely when someone says they want something to go viral, do they really understand the implications of that.  The biggest one is — the minute it begins to go viral, it begins to take on a life of its own and it is beyond your control.

Let me give you a very tangible example.  My daughter and several of her college friends decided that they wanted to jump into the Sh*t People Say meme that was started in December (the original video has over 16 million hits – click here to view it) and make a video based on what University of Northern Iowa students say.

Their intention was pretty straight forward and college kid appropriate — they thought it would be funny. (And it is).  So they scripted and shot the video with that intent.  It’s filled with inside jokes about the names of resident halls (Dancer, Bender, Rider so you can imagine the joke!) and some of the art that lives on campus. And the first 50 viewers or so, mostly their friends or people within their circle of friends, were of the same mindset.  They got a lot of “LOL” type comments.

But then as the video began to spiral outside their own circle and go viral, some interesting things happened that we all need to keep in mind as we cross our fingers for a viral spread of our marketing efforts.

Not everyone is going to like it.  Some people took the humor as putting down the college they loved and took offense.  And there were a couple swear words sprinkled throughout which a few people objected to.  No matter how clear your intent or how pure your motives — as your audience widens, so will the range of opinions.

People will apply it to their own agenda. Like most Universities, UNI was not without some controversy this year.  Budget cuts are leading to dropping some majors which routinely only graduated a few kids a year.  Professors and special interest groups started sharing the video as proof “that the kids are upset that classes are being cut.”

Know that we all view things through our own perception/lens.  And nuance and meaning can be inferred or transfered if the motivation or inspiration is strong enough.  Sometimes that will work for you and other times, it might take you off course.

People will nitpick at it, because they would have done it different.  Apparently UNI is a very windy campus and one of the bits referenced that inside joke.  A commenter pointed out that they should have shot it in a different location which is the windiest of the windy spots.

One of the truths that has become apparent via social networks is that everyone has an opinion.  And now, they have multiple ways of sharing it. Some will applaud your efforts, others will take the opportunity to critique.  You can’t put yourself out there if you aren’t ready to accept both.

The lessons learned by the UNI students is a very valid one for all of us that create content and toss it out into the social wind — hoping it will grab an updraft.

There’s the trade off.  If your efforts goes big (their UNI video has over 5,600 views as of this posting) it will also go places you never imagined or intended it would go.  Is that bad?  No, of course not.  The goal is exposure.  

But you need to be ready for the tangents, the crazies and unintended consequences because those are part of the package too. If your brand is strong and consistent, most people will dismiss the fringe comments and see what you were trying to say.

The fear that comes with the potential loss of control is why so many brands do social media badly or not at all.  You have to be willing to let go and trust your audience.

Hmm, there’s an interesting twist.  We want them to trust us with their money but are we ready to trust them with our message?

(Hat tip to my daughter and her fellow students for their creativity and willingness to see what happens.  A special nod to freshman Linh Ta (Electronic media major) for a great job shooting and editing the video. Want to read her thoughts on studying journalism in today’s world? Check out her blog.)

Photo courtesy of www.BigStockPhoto.com

 

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