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The nature of creativity in content marketing
June 18, 2019
One of the things that drew me to working in content marketing was the fact that I would be getting paid for being creative.
While I've grown to love the process and analysis elements which are such vital ingredients to a successful content marketing strategy, the inherent truth of content marketing is that the idea is still the thing.
Without a brilliant idea at the heart of your content, it won't resonate with your audience, no matter how beautifully designed it is. A dead rubber dressed up in designer threads remains a dead rubber, while a dynamite idea with a more humble execution is still dynamite. In this article, we'll explore the nature of creativity with a view to helping you come up with better ideas, not through brainstorm format tips, but by seeking to examine what makes a 'good' idea in the first place.
Originality is a fickle mistress
When coming up with ideas, most of us will strive for originality. However, it's actually resonance which is more important. It may be an uncomfortable truth for us 21st century denizens to stomach, raised as we have been on the seductive notion that we are all special snowflakes, but it's hard to deny that storytelling is essentially a rehashing process. Kurt Vonnegut demonstrates this wonderfully. And in a similar vein, music is becoming increasingly homogenous.
Whether that's because we have hit 'peak creativity' (all ideas have already been had, and have already been translated to media through one form or another) or because we are creatures of habit (we crave familiar tropes in the media we consume, and avoid anything too challenging) is a topic for another time. Creative innovation tends to happen on the fringes, away from the limelight, wheres marketing is necessarily focussed on speaking to a larger volume of people, the mainstream. The point to make here is that creativity in Content Marketing is not really about creating something that has never been done before. More so, it's about creating something which will strike a chord which resonates with the times we live in, the product we're selling and the people we're trying to sell to.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
Finding the idea which will resonate is not so simple as lifting an idea you've seen work elsewhere and rebranding it to suit your purposes. Consider April Fool's Day, that rare opportunity for content marketers to dupe their customers, and even poke fun at their own brands.
Every year most April Fool's Day campaigns fall into a few groups; Brand launches new product poking fun at contemporary trends and hipsters, Brand launches a new product in space, Brand launches a fragrance, Brand changes name and so on. For all the successful campaigns you’ve heard of, perhaps even been led astray by, there’ll be plenty more which you haven’t heard of, because well...they’re just not that funny. They fail to strike the chord between product, audience and zeitgeist. Finding that cadence is where you should invest your energies. By all means, look to see what other brands have done, but make sure the idea you go for fits your brand. Make it yours.
Make the idea yours
So you’ve got a campaign in mind. Below are a few checks and balances which I’ve found to be helpful before investing time and resources in a campaign.
Understand your audience
Each execution of an idea will be slightly different because each brand will have a slightly different end user. More so than demographic data, what will help you to speak directly to your audience is to try and get inside their heads. Ask yourself: What are they thinking when they encounter my product? What does the journey from discovery to conversion look like, and how long does it take? How do they perceive my brand versus the competition? Being able to answer these questions ensures that your content doesn’t veer too far from what your audience will expect from your brand and creates a sense where they feel like you are talking directly to them.
At this stage, it’s worth noting that by the very nature of these questions, you will be operating based on assumptions. The best way to add weight to your assumptions is to spend some time with customer service and sales teams. Man the phone lines for an afternoon and read complaints and enquiry emails to better inform your mental picture of who your customer is.
Test your idea
It’s vital to divorce yourself from the idea, because ultimately it’s not for you, it’s for your target audience. It can be difficult to see the flaws in an idea once you’ve become attached to it, and an external perspective can often serve as the course correction you need, provided you can be humble enough to take other people's opinions on board.
Try asking your target demographic, or someone sharing some traits with your end user. If your campaign is designed to drive coverage, ask some journalists whom you know to validate your idea and try asking someone who doesn’t work in marketing; a friend, a relative, even your hairdresser. This is a good test for whether or not your creative concept is actually interesting. Because if it’s not then it will fail, no matter its KPIs.
Take learnings from similar campaigns
Find the same idea executed by a different brand. Look to see where it succeeded and where it failed, and draw conclusions from that. Ask yourself, is my idea sufficiently differentiated and sufficiently mine? Have I legislated against it failing like this similar one I’ve found by my competitor? Why will mine perform better?
In summary, you don’t need to feel as though you are the first homo sapiens discovering fire. Rather, look to see how others around you have dug their firepits, what sort of kindling they have gathered, and make a fire of your own to suit the needs of your brand. Before you start production, interrogate your idea, and if it doesn’t sail through your interrogation, go back to the drawing board, and start again.
This article was written by Antoni Swidlicki, Content Marketing Account Director at Croud