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?
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?”
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.