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8 Tips for Connecting the Dots How to Devise Truly Creative Content Experiences

Photo Credit: Kunal Mehta (License)

Marketing, when done well, is both an art and a science. In an age where analytics and metrics tend to dominate marketing discussions, it can be easy to forget the creative side of the equation.

But, as Carla Johnson, renowned author and Principal of marketing and branding firm Type A Communications, shared at MuraCon 2017, marketers need to be creative in order to provide truly unique and long-lasting content experiences. After all, in her mind, “creativity in marketing, they go together like peanut butter and jelly.”

To see these kinds of creative content marketing experiences in action, look to LEGO. At its heart, the company only makes plastic blocks for children. But, with everything from movies and apps to catalogs and documentaries, the company is using content in a wide variety of ways to drum up interest and keep its audiences engaged.

“If you can just connect the dots for people, that’s how you become more creative,” Carla said.

So how can other brands follow the example of the LEGOs and Apples of the world and create their own creative content experiences? Carla has eight main tips to keep in mind:

1) Don’t let Brand Detachment Disorder set in

What prevents marketers from following the creative paths set forth by companies like Volvo? According to Carla, it all stems from a “highly medical” problem known as Brand Detachment Disorder, or BDD.

You know you have BDD when “look at the work that comes out of great and inspiring brands and say that's not relevant and that doesn't apply to me because what I sell is different or unique, so that works for them but it would never work for me,” Carla said.

It’s easy to succumb to BDD. After all, most marketers are dealing with limited time and even more limited budgets. And, when your company is either in the B2B space or has a highly niche audience, it can be easy to think something along the lines of fun YouTube videos with action stars are not for you.

But, this highly limited thinking will drag you down. By opening yourself up to content experiences and ideas from a wide variety of places and sources, you can begin to create interesting, creative and memorable marketing campaigns no matter what industry you’re in or who you’re targeting.

“The solution for [BDD] is a non-medical procedure, which makes it kind of easy - something else we can do right here [right now] and it's something called a brand transplant. A brand transplant is when you take something that you love from an amazingly creative and inspirational brand, and you transplanted into the world of your own brand your own product whatever it is that you're working on.”

2) Purpose before products

In marketing, taking the easy way out is to focus on specs and product details. Talk about boring though. Few things are less creative and interesting than you just talking about yourself, your company and your products. Instead, to help get the creative juices flowing, think first about the purpose of your business, why it exists in the first place.

For Josh Reeves, co-founder and CEO of HR solutions provider Gusto, this revelation came to him while watching the movie Office Space. Watching the corporate ineptitude in the film made him better appreciate the passion his own employees brought to the table, which in turn inspired this video featuring comedian Kristen Schaal.

“That's what he cared about, creating a fun interesting experience for his audience that people loved and they wanted to see again and again,” Carla noted.

It even caused Josh to change the name of his company to Gusto from ZenPayroll. Not bad for an almost 20-year-old movie made by the creator of Beavis and Butthead.

3) Find inspiration everywhere: Compete on a broad scale

For recovering BDD sufferers, it can be hard to think creatively. In part, because it can be hard to see how outside ideas can play out in your own content experiences. But, to see how external influences can positively impact marketing and creatively, consider Cisco.

From a conventional standpoint, it can be hard to see how to be creative when you’re selling routers and networking equipment. But Creative Director Tim Washer wasn’t going to let that stop him. Instead, he used his comedy background - prior to Cisco he had worked with noted comedians like Amy Poehler and Conan O’Brien - to create memorable ads like this one.

The best part about this video? Not only is it fun and creative, but it also helped lead to increased sales.

“The sales people loved love love this video because they showed it when they went to customer meetings and it made people laugh in a meeting, [they] were lax, and it built a rapport like they hadn't been able to do before for. Tim said it's not about what we're selling it's about sharing an experience that's meaningful,” Carla noted.

It's not about what we're selling it's about sharing an experience that's meaningful.

Another example of using surprising outside influences was how virtual phone system provider Grasshopper found success from the Super Bowl. Allison Canty, the company’s Customer Engagement Manager, was talking to her boss about the big game and all the big ads that air during the event. In particular, both were impressed by what Doritos had done, holding a contest to have fans create an ad to air during the Super Bowl. Inspired by the grand scale of the contest, Grasshopper embarked on its own successful and splashy viral marketing effort.

4) Practice creativity: Small steps lead to big outcomes

The key with creativity is that great ideas just don’t come out of nowhere. The best ideas often come from trial and error, from putting a lot of sustained thought to creating unique content experiences. Instead of trying to dive into the deep end right from the get-go, work on making many small creative steps.

“In order to be creative in the moments that you really really need it, you have to practice creativity on a regular basis,” Carla advised “It's no different than when you go to exercise a muscle; if you use a muscle really really hard that you haven't used for months [or] maybe years, you really feel it and it doesn't have that kind of performance that you'd like it to have. In order to get a strong creative muscle we have to exercise that muscle.”

Allison at Grasshopper has taken this lesson to heart. Not only did they send chocolate-covered grasshoppers to bloggers and news outlets, but they later sent VHS tapes to some industry leaders. With sustained creativity comes sustained marketing results.

5) Don’t let fear set in

On the flip side of Cisco, Grasshopper and Gusto is Mentorina. Its marketing is generic and not very memorable, at least in Carla’s mind.

Mentoria co-founder Mohamed Hayel Saeed didn’t intend for this to happen. In fact, he originally wanted to model Mentorina’s marketing and content experiences after Disney. After all, whether with movies, TV shows, theme parks or anything else, Disney does know how to create something unique and memorable. He even had a handy acronym all ready to go: WWDD. What would Disney do?

However, Mentorina’s CFO and others had a different idea. Fearful of having their marketing be too closely associated with princesses and cartoon animals, they put the kibosh on WWDD and other creative ideas. They played it safe, and so their marketing was not as strong or as memorable as it could have been.

"Fear is the biggest hurdle to creativity, and before we can become more creative and before we can start to bring new ideas and new inventions to the market, we have to look at what is it that holds us back from being open to these opportunities," Carla noted.

6) Connect the dots between buzz and benefits

It’s one thing to be creative. It’s another matter entirely to be both creative and poignant. Content experiences are at their best when they extol particular values, just in a creative and memorable way.

Think about the effort Grasshopper undertook when they sent VHS tapes to various influencers. The effort is about more than just making an initial splash. If the content on the tape wasn’t good or useful or beneficial, then why would the influencer care? If anything, the effort would have just been viewed as a hassle, as they would have spent precious time finding a tape player only to have the final payoff not be worth it.

The videos from Cisco and Gusto follow the same line. Yes, both are funny and memorable. But they’re more than that too. At the end of each, you the viewer also have a deeper understanding of the brand/product and its benefits.

7) Think in reverse: Connect mission and message

Typically, when marketers are working on any new content or messaging, the default first step is to put themselves in their customer’s shoes. What do they care about? What do they want to know? But, in order to connect the dots and be truly creative, sometimes you need to go one step further. By thinking in reverse and first developing a core company message before thinking about the audience, you can help get the creative juices flowing.

This is the path that Antonio Lucio, HP’s Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, took. He joined the company at a fortuitous time, just months before the company split into two. Nevertheless, he still found inspiration from the organization’s past.

Seeing all of the old memorabilia around the office, including pictures of the garage in which BIll Hewlett and Dave Packard created the technology company in the 1930s, made Antonio think more about how amazing their technology is and how much it helps in the world today. That then formed the basis for much of their new content and advertising, how amazing HP technology makes life easier.

“They reinvented how they talked about the company because they didn't want to focus on the product. They wanted to focus on what it is that they could deliver for their customers,” Carla said.

8) Connect with audience as people

One of the (many) reasons why Tim’s approach to content experiences at Cisco works so well is that it channels the inherently human nature of marketing. People like to laugh, so why not give them content that makes them laugh? Their marketing deliverables work because they connect with their audience on a very personal level.

This mindset and approach has worked wonders for Quirky as well. A platform for inventors, Quirky is the brainchild of serial inventor Ben Kaufman. Ben first made his mark as the inventor of a smartphone case that also combines a keychain ring and a bottle opener. But, he saw the power of the personal when he solicited ideas that he would then turn into actual inventions.

Ben then turned that idea into its own platform, Quirky, where inventors can get feedback on their ideas from others. It has proven so successful that major brands like GE and Mattel have paid Quirky for access to their inventor audience.

Quirky succeeds because it provides a unique content personalization experience. It understands its audience well and caters to their needs in a creative way.

Ultimately, according to Carla, the key to be successful and creative marketers is to help connect the dots for our audience. By being open to inspiration from a variety of sources and taking small successful steps to help connect the dots, you can develop truly memorable content that helps the business, a true win-win.

“That's the only way that we'll be able to put the purpose of what we do over the products that we sell, and that's the only way that we'll be able to start addressing things like fear and getting over that fear and making it feel less risky; the only way that will be able to consistently take small steps so that they add up to big outcomes and it's the only way that we'll be able to become habitually creative,” Carla summarized.

“Because that's what it's going to take to take care of that brand transplant and to cure yourself of brand attachment disorder because at the end of the day, creativity is all about connecting the what? Connecting the dots.

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