The rise of data in marketing has caused some big changes in the industry. While this new side of marketing has been getting a lot of attention in recent years, no amount of data and technology can diminish the significant role that creativity plays in the industry.
You definitely need a way to track your success and make sure you know which actions are getting results, but you also need a marketing team that possesses the creativity to develop the smart, useful marketing campaigns that produce those results. Creativity is one of the most important factors to set your marketing apart from what every other brand is doing.
When people are in the thick of sorting through stacks of work and worrying about deadlines, creativity is often one of those things that gets overlooked. People are too focused on getting the job done to think outside the box. Any marketing executive who wants to encourage creativity in their team (and that should be every marketing executive), needs to find ways to help team members get the creative juices flowing and demonstrate to them that the organization knows the value of good ideas.
That’s easier said than done. Here are a few steps you can take to get there.
- Encourage brainstorming.
Often when people picture a brainstorming session, they see a team in a room throwing out ideas while someone writes them on a whiteboard. It can work that way, but it doesn’t have to. Technology makes it easy now for everyone to have constant access to shared docs that they can add to at will.
If everyone’s encouraged to add ideas to the shared space that’s allotted for that purpose – and it’s made abundantly clear that ideas they may worry are silly or dumb are acceptable – then brainstorming can be something people partake in at any time they have access to a computer or mobile device (so all the time).
People can still build off the ideas of other team members like they would in the room, but without the pressure to ensure all ideas are produced within the set time limit of the brainstorming meeting while everyone they work with is watching.
- Collect and share great ideas from other brands.
Shakespeare famously borrowed plot ideas left and right for his plays, while many artists that came later built on the stories, lines, and themes Shakespeare came up with to inspire all new works of art. Creativity rarely happens in a vacuum. Most of the great artists borrow from and build off of the ideas of those that came before. Inspiration is a powerful fuel for creativity.
All of which is to say, don’t steal from your competitors, but do keep an eye on what they’re doing to see if it sparks some ideas in your team. And look beyond your competitors as well. Pay attention to all the good marketing ideas you encounter and check out examples from brands getting a lot of positive attention.
Encourage team members to talk about and share their favorites. We each see a certain sliver of the larger marketing landscape – where Joan sees all the ads targeting sports lovers, Pat receives lots of marketing emails meant for foodies. The more people you have in your department, the more ideas people will have access to for inspiration. Ask people to jot down a note whenever there’s an ad, marketing email, or blog post that moves them and share it with their colleagues.
- Encourage breaks.
Some managers see breaks as an example of people being irresponsible. Don’t be that guy! There’s clear research that shows that taking breaks is actually important to productivity and creativity,
A lot of creatives say their best ideas come when they’re in the shower or out for a walk – not at their desk sitting in front of a computer. Creativity can’t be contained within set work hours and spaces – it has a tendency to pop up in the times we step away from work to let our brains wander freely.
Make it clear to your employees that they’re free to take breaks to go for a short walk or do some stretches or just do something that gets them up and away from the computer screen for a little bit. It could pay off in some big ideas.
- Try improv.
With most things, we recognize that practice is an important part of getting – and staying – good. The same is true of creativity. It’s a muscle that needs to be flexed to stay strong. Improv is a good way to actively practice creativity.
It makes people think on their feet and build off of the ideas of others. It challenges people to come up with ideas within the constraints of the situation someone else has handed them, an experience most marketing professionals can expect to have time and time again in their career. And if your team does it together as a group, it can build teamwork. Everyone has to think about how to keep a situation going in ways that makes it easier for their teammates. It’s a practice in being supportive as well as creative.
On top of it all, it’s fun. It gives your team a way to get away from the stress of the day-to-day for a bit and enjoy the moment.
- Introduce restrictions.
This is counter-intuitive, but known to be helpful. When we have the wide world of thoughts to work with, it’s overwhelming. When we’re challenged to create something that meets specific requirements that often puts our brains into overdrive trying to find creative ways to meet those requirements.
Sometimes practical restrictions will come into play in the form of deadlines and budget cuts, but if you find your team seems to be struggling, you can apply more voluntary restrictions. Make the word “solutions” forbidden in all content for a month, or provide a specific image that each team member is expected to write content around. Adding restrictions gives people an opportunity to think about the same job they do every day a little differently.
- Introduce something absurd.
The phrase “think outside the box” has become a cliché, yet it’s a surprisingly difficult thing to pull off. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t see so much marketing that’s derivative of other marketing (not that that’s always a bad thing, see #2). It’s genuinely difficult to stop thinking like any old marketer and really get out there in your ideas.
A strange piece of advice that’s been shown to help is: embrace something truly absurd. Send around a surrealist video, or have a reading of Jabberwocky – introduce something that jars your team out of their typical linear, logical way of thinking. Your employees may just think you’re being weird, but they may find their minds wandering to ideas they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
- Have employee happy hours or beer Friday.
Take time to be together with the pressure off. A team that likes and respects each other will be quicker to encourage each other’s ideas and bring the best out in each other. You don’t have to push for discussions about work for the whole time. When you have a lot of co-workers together in one room, work talk tends to happen naturally. See what ideas come up when the focus is more on building connections between team members rather than the pressures of a specific project.
Creativity is tricky because it prefers to work on its own schedule rather than our deadlines. It isn’t possible to force it in your team, but it is possible to gently encourage it by bringing elements into the office that provide more opportunities for creative thinking.Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed under CC BY 3.0