Jewel Marketing
Taiwan Content Marketing

How Marketing Creativity Can Be Unleashed

By Jason Patterson

Founder of Jewel Content Marketing Agency
After years of fixation on performance marketing, lower-funnel tactics, and short-termism, the marketing world is falling in love with creativity again. At least it claims to be.

80% of marketers say they view creative effectiveness as a top influential factor in the overall success of a campaign, and roughly 60% claim to have increased their creative focus (whatever that means) in the past year.

With marketing powers like LinkedIn banging the drum about creativity, and AI making it easier to indulge our creative impulses, I certainly believe creativity may be ready for a comeback.

But believing in it won't make it happen. Because great creativity doesn't come from believing creativity is great. It comes from a disruptive mindset.

True Creativity Is Disruptive

There are two ways to do something better. One is to make improvements to what you've already done (i.e., incrementalism). The other is to do something completely different (i.e., disruption).

Incrementalism Is Lame

One of the dangers of digital marketing, performance marketing, and data-driven marketing more generally, is that it's easy to fall into incrementalism. We create Version A of a visual for social media and the conversion rate is 7%. Then we make a few small changes and Version B's rate is 7.5%. Then we make a few more and it's 8%.

We pat ourselves on the back for getting these teeny-tiny improvements. And we do more and more of them. And we end up exhausting ourselves grinding our gears over these little things, leaving little creative juice for anything big.

And so teeny-tiny improvements of half-assed source material become all we do, when we could be doing so much more.

We can't inchworm our way from lameness to greatness. We can't even inchworm our way from good creative to great creative. Because that isn't how great creative works.

Disruption Is Flame

Great creative isn't a better version of good creative. Great creative starts from greatness, in the form of a great concept or idea, and is refined into something better.

Great ideas don't come on an assembly line. And they don't arise through incrementalism. They arise through the divine spark. Through innovation. And true innovation is disruptive.

When the iPhone was first launched, it was a disruptive product, because smartphones up till then were "hunt and peck" business devices that relied on styluses, physical keys, and small screens.

It's glass-heavy design was radical at the time, since many considered glass too fragile for a phone chassis (which it is without a case). But the introduction of a touchscreen proved even more disruptive, since it changed how we relate to our phones.

Before the iPhone, our phones were communications devices that mostly stayed in our pockets. They became digital pacifiers within a few years.

And this is what real creativity is, what disruption is. It's radical, not incremental. It's not about trying to get some lame creative asset from 7% to 8%. It's about birthing something amazing that starts at 40%.

But for that to happen in our industry, marketing and advertising must embrace the right working conditions, and be willing to make some radical changes.

How To Encourage Disruptive Creativity

It may sound like I'm encouraging the industry to go back in time. But this is not true at all. Nostalgia has never been my thing. I'm merely saying that marketing and advertising must fall out of love with tools and fall in love with ideas again, among other things.

Put Strategy Before Tactics

Every few months in marketing, a new trend seems to come along. It might be a new channel. A new technology. A new method. Lots of things. All tactics. The hype wave accompanying each of these new toys inundates our industry, until a new hype wave comes along, while strategy sits alone, watching the waves crest and ebb, crying.

These endless cycles seem to have caused many of us to actually believe tactics are more important than strategy. Or worse, that tactics and strategy are the same thing.

How did we get here? Careerism, I think. There are plenty of "marketers" making cushy salaries who seem to do little else than talk about the next big thing, and that thing is always a tactic. But tactics aren't the answer, and they aren't creativity either (once a second person uses them).

Creativity only comes from one thing, the human mind.

Put Ideas Before Execution

As the number of marketing and advertising channels has increased, the quality of our creativity has decreased. Why? Because we've been doing things backwards, starting with the channels, not the ideas.

Marketing is fragmented now, causing us to stretch ourselves too thin, creating lots of mini concepts and assets for each channel.

And we're doing this to show up, to take up space, to be always on, to be busy, not differentiate the brand (brands are more alike than ever) or persuade your customers, or create an emotional connection with your audience.

Instead of coming up with many little ideas for each channel, we should be coming up with fewer big ideas and adapting them with superb execution across all channels.

Remember, the first impression your brand makes on a customer, and the very first step of your customer experience journey, often involves some type of creative execution or copywriting asset, and first impressions matter.

But big ideas require something we often don't have today, a willingness to....

Slow Down the Work

This is the most radical idea in this article, and it'll be the hardest one for the marketing and advertising world to accept. We've become obsessed with speed. We want everything now. But this is not conducive to great creativity. Sure, a talented creative can come up with a brilliant idea on a moment's notice, but this is rare.

Normally a brilliant idea comes after you've been plugging away for a while, or heaven forbid, while you're resting. Ask any creative and they'll tell you the brilliant ideas often come while you're taking a walk. Or playing ping pong. Or doing pretty much anything else other than the creative work itself.

And this means same-day deadlines must be the exception, not the rule. Because rest is as vital to the quality of creative work as work.

Encourage Flow

The flow state is when we are most creative. It's the state of mind and state of work where the creative jazz flows, where we are focused on the work and nothing else, performing it and producing it at a high level.

Interruptions are the enemy of flow, and modern office work is the Persian army at Thermopylae.

Emails, IMs, notifications, meetings, you name it. Epic creativity does not flow from this. So marketing and advertising must do more to allow creatives and copywriters to have blocks of uninterrupted time to make their music.

Get Marketers and Creatives Out of Their Silos

Many agencies and marketing departments today are run like factories for creative assets, with each worker focused on only a small part of the process, doing the same repetitive task over and over again. This is a recipe for iteration, not disruption.

Disruption happens when your mind is exposed to new and different things, and different types of people. The best creatives are intensely curious and always learning new things.

Marketing and advertising leaders should be doing more to make sure everyone has time and incentive to do this, because it'll improve the quality of work.

Creative outputs require creative inputs.

Get Approvers Out of Their Comfort Zone

Whether you're client-side, agency, or freelance, it's very easy to simply give the final approvers of your assets exactly what they expect, are used to, or are comfortable with.

Because a swift approval process means less stress for you, and often more money. But this encourages incrementalism, or worse, stagnation.

Disruption isn't about doing what's expected. It's about doing the opposite.

True creativity often makes people skittish or uncomfortable when they first see it, especially in the business world. But that's okay. Discomfort is all part of the process of changing the world. We have to accept that and be willing to offer and defend ideas that seem crazy.

True creativity requires an artist's ability to make WTF connections and other leaps in logic. And if you're not at least a little bit crazy, you're not creative.

Be Willing to Fail

The flipside of creative disruption is sometimes it fails. In fact, it fails quite a bit. Like in baseball, if you want to hit home runs, you must take big swings, which sometimes you miss.

Agencies must do more to educate and prepare clients for this. And they must do more to make their employees comfortable with the fact that they'll strike out sometimes, and that's okay.

Major league baseball has accepted this. Now advertising and marketing must.

Because a homerun piece of creativity can change the world. It can change the fortunes of your business. And bring fortunes to your business.

What would Apple be today if the "1984" ad had never happened? Or if the iPhone turned out to be merely a larger version of the iPod that made phone calls?

But it did with the former, and didn't with the latter, and the rest is history.

And if you miss? Well, a creative miss won't change the world. But it still might convert at 8%.

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