Drew McLellan’s a 25+ year marketing agency veteran who lives for creating “a ha” moments for his clients, clients’ customers, peers and audiences across the land. Sadly, for his daughter, he attempts to do the same thing at home.
Over the years, Drew has lent his expertise to clients like Nabisco, IAMS pet foods, Kraft Foods, Meredith Publishing, Make-A-Wish, and others.
Drew is also one of the world’s top marketing and branding bloggers.
Recently he has appeared in the New York Times, Entrepreneur Magazine, Business Week and Fortune’s Small Business. The Wall Street Journal calls him one of 10 bloggers that every entrepreneur should read.
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.
There's a lot of discussion around the notion that our attention spans are shortening. Forbes recently blamed it on social media and the nonstop 24/7 media barrage.
While I think our uber plugged in lives certainly contributes, there's more to the story. Yes, we are being bombarded with more information than ever before but we also distract ourselves when we don't keep things in perspective.
For example, one of the greatest dangers to our focus is actually all the attention we afford our competition. Should we keep an eye on them? Sure. But we shouldn't let them pull us off course.
Have you ever had the experience of driving along, paying attention to something off in the horizon and next thing you know, you've driven to that spot? And it wasn't where you meant to go?
The same phenomenon can happen in your business. Most business owners I meet pay a lot of attention to what their competition is doing. In the good old days, you might watch for a competitor's ad in the newspaper. But today, you can track tweets, Facebook page updates, their Pinterest boards, blog comments and a whole host of other streams of information. You could literally be monitoring your competition like it was a full-time job. While we definitely need to keep an eye on the competitive landscape, there's a very fine line.
The danger in keeping track of the other guys is that you lose track of your own path. We tend to move towards what we pay attention to. (Re-read that last sentence...it really is that important.) You don't want to let your competitors determine your marketing strategy and that's exactly what's going to happen if you spend too much time and energy keeping an eye on their activities. When you feel it happening your brain needs to broadcast - Danger! Distraction ahead!
Or else, you're at risk of:
Deplete your resources: You have only so many hours and so many dollars. If you let your competition re-direct your attention and your marketing messages - pretty soon, you'll run out of opportunities to tell your own story.
Look like you're playing the "us too" game: No one is impressed with a copycat. Even the coolest idea or product benefit falls flat when someone else has already claimed them as their point of difference. No one's going to see you as an industry leader if you're always a follower.
We know that it takes a fair amount of repetition to seed your message. The last thing in the world you want to do is invest time, money and your audience's attention just to divert it with a completely different message that is in reaction to your competition. It's like getting to the final mile marker of a marathon and then swerving off course, only to have to go back to the starting blocks when you want to resume your own race.
You want to be the leader in your industry, not follow someone else. The best way to beat your competition isn't watching what they do. It's doing what you should be doing.
If you have and follow a marketing plan - you can enjoy the best of both worlds. The marketing plan keeps you on your course and heading in the direction you have determined. When you know where you're headed and keep checking the map to see that you're on course, you can afford to peek at what the competitors are doing.
You should keep an eye on your competitor...but you shouldn't let them change your game plan. It's much easier to stay on track if you have a well-defined track to begin with.
Odds are, if you set and follow your own course, your competitors will be the ones following you.
Many people, myself included, believe in the power of a strong brand. Brand positioning has influenced buying decisions for years and a company with a strong sense of their own brand and a commitment to authentically walking out that brand is at an advantage over their competitors.
In the past, a great brand could significantly influence if not determine the absolute value of a product or service.
But, is that marketing truth evolving?
I've just finished reading the book Absolute Value, What Really Influences Customers in the Age of Nearly Perfect Information* by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen and it digs into this issue. The book offers many examples of how consumers have viewed and evaluated brands in the past and how they are coming to interact and judge them today. When you see the trends spelled out, in example after example, it's pretty eye opening.
To kick things off - the authors list 5 widely held beliefs and suggest that they are all becoming less true today.
The authors assert that most brands are losing their role as a definer of quality and that a consumer's past satisfaction is not as anchoring as it used to be. They also contend that because of the abundance of rational information that is so readily available to all of us, our methods of evaluating products and services has changed dramatically.
We really don't shop/buy the way we used to. Let's say you need to buy a car. Back in the day, you either went to a dealer based on your brand preference or you might have reacted to a TV spot or your neighbor's experience.
But today, what would you do? You would look online and read the reviews. You'd look at safety reports. You'd then go to a site and could review exactly what the dealer paid for any car you were interested in. Finally, armed with print outs and a price you knew was 3% over dealer invoice, you'd head to the dealership.
Suddenly, you have access to all kinds of data that wasn't readily available a decade ago and much of that data is ranking, grading and critiquing the item in question.
Given those two choices - a fuzzy brand preference or hundreds/thousands of reviews from other people - which do you think will influence you more today?
If you're like most other people, you'll trust the masses more than your own perception or previous experiences, unless you're already a brand zealot.
That's where the problem comes in for marketers. In this new marketplace, there's a voice that is overshadowing theirs. And it's not just word of mouth. It's word of mouth, amplified. Many voices and they're so much easier to find/listen to. And it turns out, their collective wisdom and experience is quite compelling.
This book is a thought provoking read. (Buy a copy of the book**) It will make the marketer in you tilt your head and really wonder about the effectiveness of your efforts. It will make the consumer in you examine your own purchasing patterns and identify some of your biggest influencers.
But whichever hat you're wearing - it will force you to look at our world and your work in marketing a little differently. Just like your consumers are doing.
*I received a copy of this book from Emanuel Rosen but I really did read it and I really liked it and found it thought provoking. You'd be amazed at the number of books I receive that I don't really like... and therefore, don't mention to you.
**Amazon affiliate link
Content marketing. It seems like everyone's talking about it. But what exactly is it and what can it do for your business? Odds are, if you're doing any marketing at all - you're at least accidentally dabbling in content marketing.
But, should you be a content marketer? Let's look.
First - it goes by many names. Some people call it custom publishing or branded content. Other people slap the label of social or digital marketing on. And all of those names are accurate.
Content marketing is a broad term for any marketing technique that creates and distributes valuable, helpful and relevant information that demonstrates that you know your stuff. These tactics draw the attention of people who are already your customers or could be your customers and they consume, share, and value the content.
The ultimate goal of content marketing is to create a sense of trust and comfort that will lead to someone making an initial purchase, making an additional purchase or referring you to someone who's ready to make a purchase.
The way you build that trust can differ, however. Let's look at four of the main goals of content marketing and the types of content marketing tactics you can employ to accomplish each.
If you want to entertain your audience, you might:
Make a branded video
If you'd like to inspire your audience, you might:
If you would like to educate your audience, you could:
In you need to convince your audience, you could:
This list is neither exhaustive nor is it exclusive. A speech can do more than inspire, it can also educate or entertain. A webinar can do more than convince - it can educate or inspire. The subject matter, the delivery style and the intent will dictate the outcome of your efforts. And hopefully, if you produce quality content - it will accomplish more than one of the goals.
But this isn't something you should just jump into. Like any marketing strategy - content marketing requires forethought and planning, especially because producing a blog or podcast or even putting on a contest requires a significant amount of time and effort. You don't want to exert that level of effort and not maximize your gain.
The effort and planning are well worth it. Content marketing allows a business to connect with a prospect long before they're ready to buy. It gives them a sense of your product, service and expertise. It also lets them "sample" you and see if you're a good fit. Good content marketing tools communicate not only your expertise but it also gives them a very good sense of your brand's personality. It will attract the best customers for you and, as odd as it sounds, repel those customers who wouldn't be a good fit long term.
There are a lot of benefits packed into this marketing strategy. Every business can find a content marketing tactic that is the perfect fit for your industry. It takes some time and effort - but the up sides are hard to ignore.
In marketing, we're always being asked to look into the future and foresee what's coming down the road. We get plenty of help as the New Year rolls in, as the predictions freely flow.
One of the most comprehensive looks at the coming year is JWT's Trend Report. Their report is the culmination quantitative, qualitative and desk research throughout the year. They identify the top ten trends that they believe will significantly impact the coming year and explore how these trends will show up and impact our day to day lives. It won't surprise you that technology finds itself in the center of most of the trends - interestingly, in some cases as we embrace it and in others, as we try to escape it.
Let's take a look at the ten trends and how we're already seeing signs of them in our world.
Immersive Experiences: This trend has significant marketing impact. It's all about how consumers don't want to passively watch - they want to actually be immersed in their entertainment, narratives and brand experiences.
Early signs: In 2013, visitors to the Museum of Modern Art could control the rain in a special exhibit and Nike launched their "The Art of Science of Feeling" in New York City, using sensory technology to simulate barefoot running on various surfaces to promote the Nike Free Hyperfeel shoe.
Do You Speak Visual: We're shifting to a visual vocabulary that relies on photos, video snippets and other imagery, chipping away at the need for text. Apps like Snapchat and Pinterest are making photos the medium of choice.
Early signs: Taco Bell has been sending disappearing, 10-second coupons and new product teasers to consumers using Snapchat and Sony created a program called "Pin it To Give It" that donated a dollar to the Michael Phelps Foundation every time a Pinterest user re-pinned from the board.
Proudly Imperfect: Imperfection in its messy, ugly and flawed glory-is taking center stage in a world that's become neatly polished and curated. Imperfections provide an unfiltered, very human version of reality that reflects all the diversity that's seen in everyday life.
Early signs: For a while, everyone was focused on putting their best photo shopped foot forward in their profile photos and status updates. Recently ugly selfies have become a counter to the glamorous self-portraits that proliferate on social media. Trending today are selfies that get tagged with #badhairmondays or #nomakeup moments.
The End of Anonymity: Thanks to the barrage of new technologies and ever increasing efforts to collect personal data, it's practically impossible to remain unobserved and untracked. As anonymity becomes more elusive, consumers will pushback and there may be a growing paranoia around technologies and services that affect privacy.
Early signs: NEC IT solutions developed a facial recognition system and are selling it to retailers to help salespeople recognize VIP customers and on the flip side, counter-surveillance fashion and accessories are on the upswing for those who don't want their data collected; OFF Pocket designed by technologist Adam Harvey blocks GPS, wi-fi or cellular signals from reaching a mobile phone.
Raging Against the Machine: As we move further into the digital age, we're starting to both fear and resent technology, worrying about what we've lost as we chase this unprecedented speed of change. 65% of American adults believe that technology is taking over our lives.
Early signs: In Amsterdam, Kit Kat launched wi-fi free zones for people to "have a break." Simple "analog" toys like wooden puzzles, simple costumes and blocks are flying off the shelf as adults hunger to give their kids a taste of a non-tablet, non-tech life.
Remixing Tradition: No one can say that the world isn't changing. Our social norms have been dramatically altered and it's not about to stop now. With this shift comes a new blending of cherished traditions with some very interesting twists that reflect this new world.
Early signs: Pope Francis, who is proving to be far more progressive than his predecessors is shaking up some Catholic traditions and is the first Pope to embrace Twitter. Another sacred icon, funerals, is now being live-streamed so that those far away can join in the event.
Mobile Opens Doors: Especially in emerging markets and poverty stricken areas, mobile devices are becoming a gateway to new business tools, education, and new markets.
Early signs: iCow is a mobile application that helps cattle farmers in Kenya optimize milk production and provides tips to keep the animals healthy. The app also keeps track of milk production, breeding and gestation.
Telepathic Technology: As brain-computer interfaces become more sophisticated and accurate, we are getting closer and closer to actually being able to read someone's mind and mood. This technology can then instantly create custom responses, based on the data input.
Early signs: In Australia, as part of an effort to raise awareness about driving a car was designed that uses neuron-technology to make it go when drivers are paying attention and slow when they're not. In a joint project, the Japanese and US Armies are attempting to develop a helmet that would read brainwaves and eventually could allow soldiers to transmit code words to each other just through the power of their minds.
Mindful Living: It should come as no surprise to us that the bombardment of technology upon our daily lives is causing both a huge surge in usage and an almost counter culture shunning of it. People are hungry to live in a more conscious way, shutting out distractions and focusing on the moment.
Early signs: Google holds bimonthly silent "mindful lunches" that allow their employees to commune with themselves and just be. Along the same lines, there's a big backlash against the FOMO (fear of missing out) movement, which drives people to multitask and feel stressed because they can never keep up. The JOMO (joy of missing out) crowd encourages people to be grateful that they can and do shut down their technology and the noise that comes with it.
The Age of Impatience: Ironically, the last of the ten trends is all about how the constant on-demand economy and information flow has accelerated consumers' expectation for speed and ever-availability. This combination of impatience and impulsiveness just keeps intensifying.
Early signs: This is one of the more mature trends, so it feels pretty mainstream. Services like Netflix have turned us into binge watchers - often consuming an entire season's worth of shows in a single weekend. In the same vein, Amazon's same or next day delivery has made the more typical 3-5 days delivery seem out of touch and unrealistic.
These are trends we can't ignore. They're already influencing our world and it's just begun.