Not A Creative Genius? Produce Engaging Social Media Ideas By Following The Creative Process.

There is a lot of content created on the internet each day. Jeff Schultz from Micro Focus estimated that everyday 656 million tweets are sent, 4 million hours of video are uploaded to YouTube, 67.3 million Instagram posts are created, and 4.3 billion Facebook messages are posted. How do you stand out so that your one in a billion piece of content gets noticed, liked, and shared?

What does research say about engagement?

Abigail Posner, head of Google’s Agency Strategic Planning team, began the Engagement Project with a team of anthropologists, psychologists and digital content creators to investigate this question. They were curious about memes and wondered what makes one idea more likely to be shared on a mass scale over the internet versus other pieces of content.

Posner’s research found that people are attracted to the fascinating familiar that sets off our imagination. The most compelling content is usually everyday moments framed in a different way or juxtaposed for a new perspective. That’s because our brains love synaptic play – when random components in our mind form a synapse. The ideas that engage bring unrelated facts or images together in a childlike way send us on a voyage of discovery.

For example, seeing a cat riding a surfboard produces creative joy. It is a remarkable story we want tell others. For Robert Dollwet it is also a relevant marketing message. His cat Didga’s surfing and skateboarding tricks have attracted nearly 14 million YouTube views advertising his pet training business. Now only do we enjoy Didga, but we want to share that feeling with others. The content becomes a little gift forming a bond between the sender and receiver.

Why create engaging ideas?

When a company sends compelling content built around relevant brand messages a bond is formed with consumers that could lead to further action. This is valuable considering social media professionals spend most of their time (60%) on content development and most marketers consider engagement to be their top measurement of social media ROI. Constantly producing engaging content for the always-on social media consumer requires a lot of creativity. Can you regularly produce the fascinatingly familiar? Yes, follow the creative process.

I didn’t know there was a creative process for most of my career. But once I discovered it my ideas became more creative and more consistent. I first read about the creative process in the book A Technique for Producing Ideas, published in 1940 by James Young Webb. Webb was an advertising hall of fame copywriter who famously wrote an ad for women’s deodorant that was credited with increasing sales 112%.

Because of Webb’s creative and business success people kept asking him where his ideas came from. He didn’t know, but he was curious enough to find out. Through self-reflection he uncovered a five-step process for creating ideas. Remarkably, aspects of this same process have been described by other creative people in vastly different fields of interest from fine artists and writers to researchers and engineers.

To produce fascinating ideas follow these steps:

  1. Gather Raw Material: Gather specific knowledge or data about the product or service and consumer. Go deep. Any relationship between the two could lead to an idea. Also gather continuous general knowledge about the world around you from art to zombies. The more raw material the increased chance for novel ideas.
  2. Play Matchmaker: Take different bits of this raw information and view it from different angles. Then try to bring two facts together to see how they fit looking for a relationship. There is no wrong combination. Don’t ask “why?” Ask “why not?” Write every possibility down. When you get tired keep going. This is when you can move past expected ideas.
  3. Forget About It: Make no direct effort to work on the problem. This may be difficult, but you must build in time to drop the entire subject and work on something else or play a game. Go for a run, to the movies or a concert. Listen to music or cook. Put the problem out of your conscious mind so that your unconscious mind can get to work.
  4. Birth of the Idea: This stage happens when suddenly an unexpected realization of the solution comes to your conscious mind. Out of seemingly nowhere (your subconscious) the idea will appear. It could be in the middle of the night or in the shower. Be sure to write it down.
  5. Optimize the Idea: Now it is time to compare the idea to the facts of the problem or the conditions of the question. The idea will not be perfect. It takes an open mind and patience to refine it. Get feedback from others and adjust. Shape and develop the idea into practical usefulness.

This process applies across all disciplines from art and new product development to business generation and content creation. The process itself is simple, but it is hard to follow. That is why more people aren’t producing more creative ideas. Most adults have lost touch with their creative mindset. A lifetime of experiences from school to work have set up barriers to creativity. Unfortunately most of us have spent our lives learning how to be uncreative.

Research says most people were their most creative as kids.

To understand creative potential Dr. George Land and Beth Jarman devised a test to measure creativity in NASA scientists. Wondering why some adults are creative and others are not, they gave the same test to 1,600 five-year-old children. The test challenged the kids to come up with different and innovative ideas to solve problems.

Amazingly, 98% were in the genius category of creative imagination. They retested the same children later and by the time they were 15, only 12% were at the same level. The same test given to adults results in only 2% scoring at the creative genius level. Reflecting on the results Land wrote, “What we have concluded is that non-creative behavior is learned.”

Innovation author and speaker Paul Stone explains that to a kid every problem can be solved. We grow up by learning what cannot be done through rules, laws, regulations and bosses who don’t want ideas, but only want us to get the job done on time. As adults we learn not to ask questions and only give the “right” answers. Yet when we tell our children they can’t do something they say, “Why not?”

Evian Roller Babies as an example.

I wasn’t involved in creating this example, but I imagine they followed the creative process I followed hundreds of times in my career. (1) They gathered specific knowledge of Evian water, their target audience’s generation, how drinking water keeps you young and general knowledge of the world from music and movies to trends and news. (2) They worked really hard trying different elements together and came up with a lot of “okay” ideas. (3) They got tired and stopped working on the project. They played pool, went to a movie or their kid’s soccer game. Perhaps they went to a park and saw people rolling skating. (4) It didn’t look like they were working on the important Evian project, but their subconscious mind was hard at work.

Then, a day or two later the idea popped into their head of rolling skating babies. It was written down with other ideas and (5) a fascinatingly familiar idea was born and refined to deliver the right product benefit message with a nostalgic spin for the target audience and developed into one of the most viral ad videos of all time. Putting babies in adult situations under the tagline #LiveYoung sparked a 10 year campaign for Evian that only ended recently in favor of a new influencer campaign in the U.S.

The creative process is about unlearning everything that is not possible and exploring every possibility from every angle. It is about asking the “naïve” questions seemingly only kids are able to ask like why couldn’t a cat surf or why can’t babies roller skate? Thus, the secret to creating engaging one in a billion content is following the creative process. It forces you to be your creative genius five-year-old self again, if only for a while.

Once you have the big idea follow these Best Practices For Social Media Content That’ll Improve Your Writing And Design.

Visualize Your Marketing Strategy To Form A Solid Foundation For All Marketing Communication.

Social media actions and even plans can exist on their own, but without having an understanding of the marketing and business behind them, they could be acting in vain. Even communication focused disciplines such as advertising and public relations now acknowledge the need for broader marketing and business knowledge. Incite’s State of Corporate Social Media report of global corporate social media professionals found that 90% say social media is an important part of their marketing strategy and 80% say that social media is an important part of their business strategy.

To help understand how social media fits into the bigger picture of marketing and business I have created a visual template for a basic marketing strategy that emphasizes the consumer perspective. This template can help improve social media efforts by providing an understanding of the larger marketing and business perspective. It can help you speak the language of business.

To be honest most C-Suite executives probably don’t care about followers and engagement rates. To get approval and funding for social strategies you need to translate social media action into broader business goals such as sales, market share, awareness, customer retention, leads, etc. The template can also help create a new marketing plan or help plan the marketing piece for a startup. See below, but also download a free PDF here.visualmarketingstrategytemplate-blankVision/Mission: Why do you exist? To make money is not a sustainable answer for employees or customers. What does the company behind the product/service stand for and where are you headed? Think: solving a greater problem, spreading a bigger message, supporting a cause, community, the environment or being the absolute best at something specific.

Back Story: People buy for rational and emotional reasons that can come from your origin story. Show your human side of starting in a garage, using your last $5, making a childhood dream come true, an event that put the cause on your heart, something you couldn’t get as a customer, happy accident, etc. Even big companies showcase their humble roots.

Business Objectives: All marketing action must help support business needs such as sales, average spend, market share, leads, contracts, awareness, customer satisfaction, retention, referrals, volunteers, donations, etc. To do this a marketing plan must start with those specific objectives clearly defined. Make sure they are SMART: Specific (quantified such as XX% or $XX), Measurable (data you can access), Achievable (not too high), Relevant (support vision/mission), Timely (due date like X months or X years).

Products/Services: List product and service offerings, lines and versions. Describe them from the consumer’s perspective turning product/service features into consumer benefits. Look for gaps in product lines and offerings from your company, but also competitors. You may need to return to this section after industry, target market and competitor analysis.

The next section focuses on situation analysis, with important areas such as industry, competitors and target market plus elements of the marketing mix or Four Ps. The important part is converting everything to the consumer’s perspective and summarize by answering the customer centric question in each section.

Industry Overview: Is the industry/category growing or declining? What innovations and trends are important? Are there gaps in offerings? What do consumers care about most? What are their pain points? Threats? Opportunities? Sum this up by answering the question, “What is their unmet need?”

Target Market: Clearly define the group most likely to have this need with demographic (gender, age, income, education), psychographic (attitudes, values, lifestyle) and behavioral (products used, brand loyalty, usage) bases. From this answer the question, “Who needs it the most?”

Key Competitors: Identify several top competitors by market share/sales in same industry and/or by replacement products/services outside the category. What do you offer that is different? With this understanding summarize, “Why should they pick you?”

Distribution Channels: What are the convenient ways the consumer can get the product/service: A single channel or multiple channels; Your own or through partners like retailers or brokers; Online or physical store? Try to determine, “Where do they want it?”

Pricing Strategy: Will the consumer pay a premium or look for the lowest price? Do they want to pay per month for access or all at once? Do they need a free version or trial? What forms of payment do they prefer? From this answer, “What will they pay for it?”

Main Message: Try to summarize all the information above into a positioning statement written to the target market. You can follow a template like this, “For the <target consumer> who <state need>, the <product/category> provides <state benefit>, unlike <primary competitor>, the <product> <state difference>.” Boil it all down to answer, “How would you say all this to them in one sentence?”

From here the decision is what consumer touchpoints need to be used to communicate or promote this message to the target consumers. Or from the consumer perspective, “How will they experience this message?”

Advertising: Do paid messages in traditional media such as TV, print, radio, outdoor, newspaper, or local school programs, stadium signs, FSIs, etc. fit your target’s media use and your budget?

Public Relations: Can you make it newsworthy? Earn media coverage from journalist/bloggers, create events, conferences, speeches and publish brand newsletters/magazines for consumer, employee, and community relations.

Digital Marketing: How will they find it online? Start with a user centered website optimized for search (SEO), then consider search ads, content marketing, blogging, email, online ads, video, affiliate and mobile marketing.

Social Media: Where is the target audience active in social media? Look at social networks, blogs/forums, apps, ratings/reviews and podcasts. Look for ways to leverage geo-location, crowdsourcing, influencer marketing, social care, user generated content and native ads.

Direct Response: Consider direct to consumer calls to action in postcards, letters, fliers, catalogs, email, texts (SMS), TV (infomercials), radio and newspaper. Collect or purchase databases of email and/or physical addresses.

Sales Promotion: What special offers could get your target to buy, try or rebuy? Consider discounts, samples, gifts/premiums, coupons, vouchers, competitions, sweepstakes, joint promotions and special financing.

Personal Sales: High involvement products/services may require a salesperson for prospecting, customization of offerings to meet specific needs, demonstration/trial and after sale service to maintain lasting relationships.

Customer Relationship Management: CRM uses databases/software to build long-term relationships with customers for retention, extension and acquisition with special communication, services/offers and rewards often through loyalty programs.

When the forms of communication come together you want to ensure all marketing communication is integrated in message, tone and look (IMC). The final considerations have to do with time and money.

Time Table: Provide a time frame for implementation of marketing recommendations. Some functions must happen before others such as product development, pricing and distribution then promotion. Types of promotion such as Digital, PR, Social Media, Sales and Advertising must happen in a specific order.

Budget: The marketing budget can be determined by one of the following methods: All You Can Afford (what’s left over), Percentage of Sales (% of projected/past sales, consider industry standards), Match the Competition (spend what main competitors spend), Objective/Task (calculate what it will take to meet objectives).

As Philip Kotler says, “You should never go to battle before you’ve won the war on paper.” Whether you are a marketer creating a new marketing strategy for an existing company, an entrepreneur planning the marketing function for a startup or a social pro improving your business intelligence to have a greater understanding of the marketing and business behind an organization this visual marketing strategy should serve as a useful guide.

Big Data Hype: Don’t Forget The Big Idea.

Social Media Marketing

Big data is very valuable, but it can’t do everything. The numbers can only take you so far. Even as big data gets even bigger, don’t forget the value of big ideas based on true human insight and how they can be what really drives social media content and engagement.

Social Media Marketing

Big Ideas, Big Results.

On Business 2 Community, author Jason Bowden stated that: Digital marketing professionals declare big data as the next BIG thing in digital marketing … there’s no way of stopping the surge of big data explosion upon the emergence of better online marketing analytic tools, mobile marketing schemes, internet technology and social media platforms.”

I completely agree with this sentiment. A Google search of the term “Big Data” reveals 787 million results. In contrast, the search term “Big Idea” reveals only 335 million results. Is big data really deserving of nearly 50% more of our attention?

Big data is defined as extremely large data sets that may be analyzed, computationally, to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. Big data requires new tools to handle the amount and complexity of data, but with investment comes valuable insight. On the other hand, a big idea is the driving, unifying force behind a brand’s marketing efforts. Big ideas are also valuable. In a piece for Entrepreneur, Chris Wirthwein stated that big ideas provide ten valuable qualities: transformation, ownability, simplicity, originality, surprise, magnetism, infectiousness, contagiousness, egocentricity, and likability.

I’m not advocating replacing big data with big ideas. In a recent survey more than three out of five companies (62 percent) have started investing in data marketing solutions. And almost half of brands (47 percent) are already seeing a positive return on data-related investments. What I am advocating is that in all the excitement over computer generated big data do not leave the human generated ideas and creativity behind. Big data cannot generate a big idea and big ideas can generate real feelings, big movements and real big results.

When Big Data Meets Big Creativity.

At the recent Advertising Week gathering of marketing communication professionals some professed this same sentiment. In a panel called “When Big Data Met Big Creativity” advertising agency executives were adamant that creativity goes hand-in-hand with data and should complement each other. Tham Khai Meng, worldwide chief creative officer and chairman of Ogilvy, cited the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty,” campaign as an example. The campaign won many creative awards and produced amazing business results but grew out of single data point: Only 4% of women considered themselves beautiful. Meng said: Data is the orchestra, creative is the music. You need both.” John Hegarty, founder of Bartle Bogle Hegarity, said that data provides insights, but warned that: Human beings are not a collection of algorithms.”

What Does A Big Idea Look Like?

Proctor & Gamble is the global package goods company that has built enormous brands based on enormous amounts of traditional and digital research data. Yet, even they know the value of big ideas. In 2012 they needed a global campaign to help reverse the brand Fabreze’s sales decline. Research pointed them in the right direction, but the big leap came in a big idea based on a globally relevant universal human truth – something big data could not spit out of a data set. The big idea was to “Involve real people in visceral experiences to prove Febreze makes even the filthiest places smell nice, no matter what they look like.“ You can view how the campaign was set up in this behind the scenes YouTube video.

What were the results? It won an Effie award that explains how the effort reversed Febreze’s sales trend, by increasing sales by 10% with 10 weeks of growth resulting in a 36% point turnaround. The Breathe Happy Campaign also received 511MM earned media impressions in high profile media publications and many bloggers developed rich content with their own Febreze experiment videos uploaded to YouTube. 
In addition, Febreze Facebook fans increased from 235k to 600k in 6 months.

In the end computer data and human ideas produced real business results. What’s your view on the value of big data and big ideas?

This blog post originally appeared on Social Media Today here.