Five boxes to check for a creative approach to content

September 8, 2016Content Writing
Directly Above Shot Of Coffee Cups With Laptop By Smart Phone On Book

By Christie Poulos – Global Head of Creative

Is there a formula for imagination? Can creative content marketing be born from a checklist? Should we all be singing: art is dead, long live data? Is a beard an essential ingredient for creativity? Let’s see.

So who are you?

Are you the person who clicked on this post hoping it will reveal everything you ever wanted to know about being creative? Or are you champing at the bit to scroll to the comments section to tell me off for taking a checklist approach to the creative process?

In truth, I have no easy answer but after years of working in creative roles and seeing great film makers, directors and writers perspiring to produce innovative ideas, I’ve learnt a few tricks.

It’s not about being an artistic genius – you can’t expect to just fall over your next creative concept, nor scheme it into existence. But there’s hope: experience has taught me that you can at least create the right environment for ingenuity.

This is a checklist you can take to ensure the possibility of creativity. This means putting in place certain elements that give your team the ability to thrive – to deliver originality and make the audience really sit up.

  • Is data the death knell for creativity? Nah, it’s a blessing.
  • Ditch format-first thinking. If you have an idea, a strategy and data, then the right format will reveal itself … just like that door in the Hobbit movie.
  • What’s your content’s shelf life? Think ‘trending’ or ‘evergreen’.
  • Get the wetware right in your team.

Begin with a strategy

The oft-quoted author Arjun Basu said, ‘Without strategy, content is just stuff, and the world has enough stuff.’

This quip is reiterated ad nauseam online because it’s snappy and captures a very specific truth. The digital experience has made us more aware of audiences; we expect content to be tailored to our needs, and our experiences are customised based on what we want. Despite this evolution, masses of content creators are still happy to give themselves a pat on the back for producing anything.

But are you truly creating something engaging or useful? Without a strategy, your content is aimless, useless and ultimately profitless.

David Dabscheck, founder and CEO of GIANT Innovation, told the Observer: “Creativity is commonly associated with a flash of insight, such as Archimedes stepping into a bath to discover water displacement or Isaac Newton uncovering gravity thanks to a strategically falling apple.

“Unfortunately, these delightful stories are the historical equivalents of the ‘five-second rule’ popularly attached to dropped food: false and even dangerously misleading,” he says in the article, Solving the Innovation Equation: A Strategy for Creativity. “

In reality, creativity takes effort. Without a strategic approach to innovation, the results of your creative labours may be off-target, or even a little lame.

Instead, Dabscheck advises that a strategy must be put in place to cultivate and focus creativity. He suggests that the creative spark is found in a combination of problem finding, collaborative play and positive mindsets.

For creativity to foster innovation, you have to pair it with an iterative approach to development – to seek and test creative ideas, and analyse the feedback from audience and stakeholder groups. His formula is: iterative development + creativity = innovation.

This equation suggests that your boardroom brainstorms are hardly fertile ground for ingenuity. These scenarios are more likely to generate the mundane than they are to produce anything exciting or inspiring. In comparison, a strategy for problem finding, combining pre-existing elements in new ways and taking a positive mindset will help set the scene for creativity. Testing, searching and feedback will fuel the real innovation.

One example of strategy driving creativity is the Dove campaign for ‘Real Beauty‘. This campaign pivoted all content around a mission statement: “To make women feel comfortable in the skin they are in, to create a world where beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety.”

Dove’s campaign was informed by research finding that only two per cent of women consider themselves beautiful. Strategically, the campaign took two pre-existing elements – the beauty industry and women’s self-perception as informed by that industry – and created a new relationship between them.

Love it or loathe it, the campaign had an effect on the conversation between women and the industries selling to them. It garnered massive media attention and made a significant mark on the global beauty marketplace, one that’s now more open to diversity in creative campaigns. Not bad for a business that found a way to be concerned about the beauty of their armpits.

Inform with data

Are you concerned that data sounds the death knell for creativity? Has art in advertising finally given way to our programmatic overlords?
Aah… nope.

Remember Dabscheck’s formula for innovation (iterative development + creativity = innovation)? Well, one of the most powerful ways to fuel it at the ‘iterative development’ and ‘creativity’ levels is with data.

Once upon a time in an advertising land far away, the creative types were coming up with ideas left, right and centre based on little more than a gut feeling. Or a fight we had with our spouse. Or a pitch delivered over too much dark liquor. Lucky dogs.

The result? Yes, traditional marketing delivered some fascinating campaigns and set the groundwork for the storytelling to come, but the audiences targeted were painted with broad strokes and generalised to the lowest common denominator. The idea of what audiences wanted, what they looked like, who they loved, what they felt and how they lived was a homogenised view of the mass of diversity out there. And in a modern world diversity is needed.

Data gives us ammunition to hypothesise about an audience challenge, and may provide the spark for something brilliant. Through trend monitoring or real-time data analysis, we can begin to anticipate future events. These are powerful tools for creatives. As we develop content that addresses the problems or predictions outlined by our data-led hypotheses, we can use data to assess whether we are close to real innovation or if we have finally hit the mark. In Dabscheck’s formula, this is ‘iterative development’.

Your owned data will be an essential fuel for your creative process. But if you want a bigger picture of your audience, one that extends beyond its interactions with your brand touch points, then you’ll need external data sources too.

Open data exchange platforms will be one option, but the latest offering from Facebook, Facebook Topic Data, is also pretty exciting as it takes things a step further.

Facebook says: “Topic data shows marketers what audiences are saying on Facebook about events, brands, subjects and activities, all in a way that keeps personal information private. Marketers use the information from topic data to make better decisions about how they market on Facebook and other channels, and build product roadmaps.”

Facebook Topic Data opens the door to insights beyond your own business page or the fraction of demographics insights you’re used to. You can now explore how a large number of Facebook users are talking about any particular topic, from how humidity ruins their hair to what they think of the same-sex marriage plebiscite.

We’re so excited about this, we’ve secured one of only three licences in Australia to this extensive data opportunity.

Forget about format

Don’t frustrate yourself worrying about formats. Work on developing a good idea first.

You may find that your idea is best communicated on multiple channels and using various mediums or formats. Alternatively, you may find that an idea is simply made for video. You’ll certainly stifle your creative process if you come into it thinking, ‘I’m going to make a video’, or ‘This will be a website’.

Focus on the story you want to tell and the emotions you want to evoke. Then consider your context – this can be anything from your audience to the campaign’s purpose or your brand’s existing customer touch points. Data and strategy should also form part of your contextual discussion. The right format will present itself when you bring all these elements together.

Two Social’s #NoticeUs concept is an example of an idea that transcends format. Working with one of Australia’s largest charities, Mission Australia, the Two Social team sets out to reveal the true face of homelessness. Through a combination of interviews and social experiment, the content held up a mirror to our misconceptions about poverty. It helped to break down stereotypes and connect donors with the people their money could benefit. In this instance, the idea came first and the various formats naturally followed suit.

Consider whether your concept needs to be timely or evergreen

Take for example a brand wanting to capitalise on a trending story. We saw lots of brands doing this following BuzzFeed’s #thedress. If you want to capitalise on a trend, you need to be quick. You’ll also want to do something that sets you apart from the crowd.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to develop a relationship over time, you have room for long-form storytelling. This could involve weaving a narrative over a longer period through various formats, or creating a content platform for educational or inspirational exchanges. Our client Bupa created The Bupa Blue Room to begin a meaningful and ongoing conversation with their audiences – centred on the key life events in their lives, not on Bupa products.

Don’t neglect the Wetware

All the programmatic data in the world means little without the human ability to breathe art into the science.

Let’s look at it this way: you want creativity. You now know what you need to build the right environment to allow creativity to thrive. But now you need to populate that ecosystem with the imagination and skills of a good team. Building the right team within your organisation and choosing the best external partners is paramount to creative success.

A common mistake businesses make is thinking that creativity has a certain look. Developing the right creative team is a more interesting process than getting a digital native with a cool haircut. Mind you, a beard is essential.

For instance, never underestimate the power of the creative pragmatist (remember our formula for creative strategy). These people are adept at putting together two pre-existing concepts to make something new. Or knowing what to tweak to get better results. You’ll also need the ‘what-if’-er, the activator, the technologist, the connector, the person who thinks like a chief marketing officer, the visualist… all these roles are necessary in the modern creative team.

That may sound like a lot of heads but creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Michelangelo had 13 assistants helping to paint the Sistine Chapel and 72 writers are listed as collaborators on Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Your brain works differently to your collaborators’ – that’s a great thing for creativity.

The desire to create by fusing one way of thinking with another is precisely why we’re so excited about the integration of Two Social – an award winning creative and social agency – into King Content. This has allowed our creative services to expand beyond our previous potential, bringing some incredible new people into our Creative team.

The main things to take away from this article

  • Creativity takes rigour. Without a strategic approach to innovation, the results of your creative labours may not hit the mark, or be a little lame.
  • Data is not the antithesis of creative but a map to innovative solutions that solve your business problems
  • Focus on the story you want to tell and the emotions you want to evoke. Then consider your context – data, purpose, strategy. The right format will then reveal itself.
  • Creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You need multiple minds to bring both insight and skill to your project for imagination to flourish.

Do you want to take a more creative approach to your content marketing? We’d love to have a chat. Our creative team is always happy to discuss creative strategy, data, ideas and the latest Beyoncé epic with you.

Let’s talk