Creativity is often viewed as magic that only uniquely gifted people possess. But in reality, there is a process behind ideation. And that means if you know the process, you can use it to enhance your own marketing activity.
In this post, I will share the process I use to drive marketing innovation for our clients.
STEP 1: Understanding your marketings (real) need
You don’t need a brief, you need a miracle (question)
Typically the starting point for a creative project is the brief. A simple document that articulates, in brief, what is required. But, the problem with a brief is whoever is responsible for writing it often feels a responsibility to explain what the output should be.
By being prescriptive, the opportunity to discover new possibilities becomes limited. For instance, there might be new technological solutions the writer of the brief wasn’t aware of or even existing technology within the business which could solve the problem.
I always work with clients to co-create the brief. That way, I can move away from focusing on what they think they want the output to be and start thinking about what marketing could achieve. When we all understand and can agree on what that gap looks like between where marketing is now and where the organisation wants to be, we can then start investigating what’s possible.
I use a technique I learned when I studied clinical psychology. It’s a line of questioning often used in the clinical setting to enable a patient to understand what the changed version of themselves would look like. That said, I have heard the question, often referred to as the miracle question when used in business.
The miracle question goes like this:
Let’s imagine I have a magic wand, and if I did have one I would certainly lend it to you. And suppose tonight, whilst you’re sleeping you wave that wand so when you wake up tomorrow morning everything is just the way you want it to be. What would be different?
By understanding ‘what would be different’, I can understand the real challenge.
Asking a client what they want often leads to answers like ‘a blog’ or ‘a video’. Asking the ‘what will be different’ opens up a window into the challenge where your need can be fully understood.
Maybe what would be different is that your marketing efforts would generate more leads, or build more awareness. Once I have the scenario, I can easily drill down for clarity. If you had more leads I will ask what qualifies as a lead, how leads are created, how do sales follow up a lead. I will build a picture to understand where we can capitalise on opportunities.
From these questions, I can learn a lot. It could be that lead generation isn’t the problem, but lead nurturing is. In this case, a nurture strategy that brings customers further into the consideration phase would work well. Even better could be a way for sales to trigger campaigns to new prospects they meet with an app that enables them to tailor a campaign, send and track interactions. Someone writing a brief might not be aware that such a solution is possible.
With the miracle question answered, everyone is clear on where we are and where we need to get to. Now we think about what’s possible to make it happen.
STEP 2: A technique for producing marketing solutions
What makes a creative thinker? For me, it starts with being curious. I enjoy looking into things that aren’t necessarily related to B2B marketing. I want to see how things work, I’ve always been that way. From technology to people to the universe we occupy. But those skills alone don’t deliver creative results. For that, you need to apply the fundamental five-step approach first put into place more than 50 years ago by James Webb Young.
The five-step creative process
James Webb Young was a journalist who worked on Madison Avenue. One day, he was asked to explain where creativity came from. James, unable to provide a succinct answer, took it to task to figure the answer out. A few years later, he produced A Technique for Producing Ideas which still forms part of my agency process for coming up with creative solutions today.
The five-step process goes like this;
Step 1: The first step is to gather up as much information as possible. This may include creating buyer or user stories, testing the product or service, interviews with customers, industry experts and sales; basically, anything that provides a deeper knowledge.
Step 2: With the information gathered, the next step is to get all the first ideas out of the way. They are not the answer. They are simply the first ideas that haven’t engaged fully the faculty of the mind with its unrivalled capability of fusing multiple seemingly random thoughts to create a novel solution. So, get the first ideas out of the way and move to the next step.
Step 3: This step requires a little time and absolutely no effort. Let me explain. The human mind works tirelessly to solve problems. It’s not something we consciously think about until someone asks us to solve a problem or come up with an idea. Through evolution, the human mind is able to seek a solution, based on the knowledge it has, by applying more computation than even a supercomputer. You simply have to wait for the grey matter to perform its task and the good news is once you have understood the challenge the brain will go to work trying to solve it for you. It will do this quietly and diligently and even whilst you sleep.
Step 4: When an idea presents itself, usually at the most likely time, it will need to be captured. Right there and then. Everything that is associated with the idea needs to be recorded, or you risk it slipping away, never to be recalled. Some ideas will be great, some will be good and some will be rubbish. That’s OK; the skill is in recognising the ones that show promise ready for the final step five.
Step 5: Any idea, like a raw diamond taken from the ground, will need to be cut into shape and polished so it is fit for purpose. That means ensuring your idea is presented in a way that the execution is clear and easy to understand. I usually start with the challenge, walk through the solution in no more than five slides and then open the floor to questions. It doesn’t matter how complex the need or the solution; brevity rules. I can knock out a twenty slide deck explaining my solution much quicker than a five-slide deck because the shorter deck requires more thought as to only include what is essential to help the audience understand my idea.
It’s not over until it’s over
One thing I have learned is that whatever solutions I come up with, by the time it has been shared and discussed, new thoughts will be added and you have to be ready to develop the idea and even pivot. So, be agile and ready to listen to what others have to say. It’s not over when you come up with a good idea, it’s over when the thing you come up with bridges the gap between where the client was and where they want to be.
With the goal established thanks to the miracle question and the idea agreed, writing the strategy is so much easier.
My name is David Sloly. I am the co-founder of B2B technology marketing agency HarveyDavid. HarveyDavid work with mid-sized organisations on strategy, marketing technology, creative, social and copywriting to help them achieve their marketing objectives. Want to see if we are the kind of people that can solve your marketing problem?