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.

 

So you want a career in advertising?

Fired businessman searching for a job isolated on white backgrouI was recently contacted by a college student who asked if he could interview me for one of this classes.  One of the questions he asked is one I get a lot, so I thought I’d share my answer with you here.

If you aspire to be in our business — I hope it helps.  If you’re already in the business — what did I miss?

What advice would you give to anyone who was aspiring to enter the field of advertising?

Yikes… there are lots of things to know but here are some of the biggies.

  • You cannot do it alone so surround yourself with really smart, good-hearted people who you can count on.
  • The day you stop learning is the day you begin to become irrelevant. There is always more to learn.
  • Before anyone will give you their business, they need to know you care about them/their company.
  • When you make a mistake (and you will make a ton) be very quick to call attention to it, own it and work like a dog to fix it. And never forget to say I’m sorry.
  • If you help other people whenever you can, when you need help – there will be someone there to offer it.
  • There’s nothing wrong with making money. Don’t be ashamed to charge what you are worth.
  • Owning your own business means that when times are tough, everyone gets paid but you. So be very smart about not overspending your money and build up a nest egg for those tough times.
  • The smartest person in the room is not the one who knows all the answers. It’s the person who asks the best questions.

When I hire, I don’t worry too much about the degree the person has or things like grade point averages. I can teach them about marketing but I can’t make them honest or hard working.

I look for people who have a passion for helping other people. I hire people who volunteer their time, have a passion for a cause and instead of whining about it – do something about it.

I definitely want good writers, no matter what position they might fill. In today’s business world, with email etc. – everyone needs to be able to communicate clearly and be well spoken, both in face-to-face encounters and in writing.

I also look for someone who gets that our business is not 9-5 and isn’t going to freak out if they have to work late or over a weekend. Our business is very demanding and depending on what’s going on with our clients, we can put in some incredibly long, grueling weeks.

I also want someone who is willing to do “grunt” work. In a small agency, everyone pitches in and does what it takes to get the job done. If I can stuff envelopes or whatever – so can they.

I want someone who is a self-starter, a lifelong learner, a reader, someone who is funny, ethical and someone who resonates with our company’s core beliefs, which are:

  • Passion cannot be ignored.
  • Breakthrough thinking breeds breakthrough creative.
  • The guys in the white hats do win.
  • We take our work seriously. Ourselves, not so much.
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Photo courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

The new phone book is here — where’s yours?

photoNormally at MMG, we caution clients to be careful of the “I don’t listen/watch/do therefore neither does my target audience” trap.

We usually do not represent our target audience and even if we are like them — there are plenty of exceptions to the rule.  And sometimes the exception is you!

But in this case I will say — how you (and I) use our trusty, dusty phone book is probably pretty similar to how the rest of the world responds to them as well.

Mine?  It went from bag on the lawn to recycling bin in one fluid motion.

If you are still spending money on phone book ads — unless you know that your target audience still uses them (pretty much the 65+ crowd), there are better places for your money.

P.S.  And don’t let the “how did you hear about us” question fool you.  TV and the phone book are the usual answer when they respondent either doesn’t remember or doesn’t want to say.

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Could your marketing strategy benefit from an outside audit?

Drew’s note ~ Here’s some practical advice from the folks at Simple Machines Marketing and we couldn’t agree more.  We often start our engagements with new clients with an audit like Charlie describes:

As a marketing strategist who works directly with clients, I’m very familiar with the frustration businesses feel when it comes to marketing. The common theme in a lot of the frustration has to do with uncertainty. When a client is responsible for making projections and they’re forced to deal with the probabilities and estimates of a new marketing channel, that’s frustrating.

The fact is that even businesses with a healthy revenue stream and an active marketing operation are often frustrated by uncertainties in marketing. Is there still a good amount of revenue out there that could be claimed with a sharper strategy? If you doubled down on your advertising budget, would that mean doubling your profits? Or, could you be spending less and seeing the same results? Maybe everything is perfect the way it is now?

The Objectivity Problem

Assessing your own marketing plan is trickier than it sounds. While you might think that you’re looking at your strategy objectively, there are factors that make this extremely difficult.

For example, there’s a strong tendency to do things the way they’ve been done before—it’s just human nature.  We’re already comfortable doing things a certain way, and who’s to say that changing them now will make much of a difference? Plus, there’s the person who came up with this plan, and we don’t want to make her feel bad by changing it up for no good reason, right?

An Unbiased Perspective

With an outside marketing audit, businesses can benefit from a totally unbiased perspective on their marketing opportunities—free of any favoritism, precedent, or attachment that might be obscuring a clear picture of the situation.

To illustrate how the audit can play out, I thought I would share a couple of my own experiences with this process:

  • AdWords Overspending. Last year, we started working with a client who had already been advertising using Google’s AdWords for several months. They were spending a lot of money on all kinds of clicks; to them, that was a normal and predictable amount to spend every month. When we performed an audit of their PPC campaign, we discovered that by focusing on more targeted keywords and revisiting the copy, we could significantly lower their CPC and spend level while driving more targeted traffic at a higher conversion rate. The surplus budget from AdWords was recently put towards a telemarketing test – which has turned out to be a promising new lead generator.
  • In-store Marketing Overload: A different client recently asked a couple of us come out and visit his store for our marketing kickoff meeting. When we walked in the door, we noticed something right away: there was way too much in-store marketing. His store was crowded with signs, posters and displays—so many things all competing for our attention that we didn’t know where to look. When we brought this up to him, he told us that these advertisements had all been added gradually by his vendors; for him, the sensory overload wasn’t something he ever really noticed or thought about. An outside audit helped him to realize that in order for any of these advertisements to be effective, he needed to slim things down a lot.

These are just a couple examples, but they both illustrate why the marketing audit is a powerful and time-tested tool. Whether it’s your brand, your marketing channels, your ad budget, or the number of signs in your store, an audit can ensure that your plan is on the right track and that you’re not missing opportunities to improve.

Has your business ever had an outside audit? What was the result?

Charlie Nadler is the Marketing Strategist for Simple Machines Marketing, a Chicago marketing firm. Simple Machines works with a variety of small businesses in their area.

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The most important job any business owner has

You know…sometimes we make things so much more complicated than they need to be.  Do you want to own or work for a company with longevity, a strong reputation and customers who are your best advertising?

Then follow this advice from The Little Blue Book of Advertising.  But I warn you…the simplicity of the advice is also what makes it so stinking difficult.

“Taking care of your brand (building it, managing it, protecting it, and yes, if necessary, reviving it) is the single most important job you’ve got. Whether you’re the president of the company, the EVP of marketing, or the newest employee in the advertising agency’s design department.

Your brand will last longer than any of your jobs. It’s even likely to last longer than your company. So taking care of your brand is also a smart career move–if you take care of your brand, it’ll take care of you. No one ever made the cover of Forbes magazine by getting a raise. But the covers and pages of the business press are filled with people who championed a great brand.

What’s the easiest way to take care of your brand? Take care of your customer. Know who she is. What he wants. How she uses–and thinks about–your product, service, brand.

It’s that simple. And that hard.”

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Why do the hard work of building a brand?

Let’s assume the following is true:

All pretty good reasons for creating a brand. But building a brand is hard work.  It’s expensive, in terms of time, focus and even money. It requires the attention of your entire company — from the part-time janitor to the CEO and everyone in between.

Is it worth it?

Check out this post over at the Brand Establishment.  They make a pretty compelling argument that along with the benefits I listed above…a brand’s ROI includes:

  • Increased customer loyalty
  • Minimized negative effects of a crisis
  • Better marketing and co-branding partners

I’m not saying it will be easy to build a brand.  But, when done right — it’s a game changer.   And that should be worth the effort and the risk.

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