Having a creative mind is important in any field, but it’s the cornerstone of success in marketing. Being clever is not enough.
“Real creativity in marketing isn’t about just creating differentiation,” says Alain Thys, a representative of Management Centre Europe, an executive strategy consulting firm in Brussels. “I think it’s about really affecting the consumer with a proposition that moves him beyond the traditional role of features and benefits. In short, real creativity is about creating meaning.”
But you don’t have to be a genius to move people and wow your bosses and clients. Anyone can increase their creativity with a little time and effort. Here are some tips on how to send your imagination into overdrive:
List Your Thoughts
Many marketers and creativity experts suggest spending 30 minutes to an hour jotting down every idea that comes to mind when confronted with a problem or project. Satish Pillalamarri, comanager of North Star Games in Greenbelt, Maryland, comes up with titles for his company’s board games by making a list of words. First, he writes down as many words as possible that are relevant to the game’s theme. Then, he uses a thesaurus to come up with another 20 interesting words. Finally, he selects the best words among the bunch and tries to come up with alliterations or smart sayings. Wits & Wagers, a trivia betting game, and Cluzzle, a game where you win points for sculpting poorly, are North Star products.
Putting pen to paper can help trigger more ideas. Challenging your assumptions in writing is another way to attack a problem or project, says Jerry Wind, professor of Marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Work through questions and consider what would happen if you did the opposite of conventional thinking, he adds. “Open your eyes, open your ears, identify things that are new and different, and ask yourself, ‘Why are they successful?’” says Wind.
Be a Kid Again
Experts say that social conventions and the frameworks we learn in school often inhibit people’s creativity. But children are free to let their imaginations wander without yet worrying about what people think.
That’s why you should try to be the kind of person who can see a spaceship when handed a big cardboard box, says Jeffrey Baumgartner, managing director of JPB.com and founder of the Bangkok- and Belgium-based JPB group, which helps clients boost their staff’s creativity. “Thinking like a kid helps you view all kinds of wonderful possibilities in life,” he adds.
Playing games is one way to locate your inner child. Businesspeople have tried word association, Pictionary, finger painting and improvisational acting to break down barriers among employees and change their way of thinking. Hanging out with children and asking them about your products is another way to go back in time for your future’s sake.
Take a Road Trip
Sometimes the best way to tap into your customers’ minds is to see how they live. Baumgartner has a client who sells chemicals for pools, and the company’s staff often takes a field trip to customers’ backyards for on-site brainstorming about marketing and sales. He suggests using these off-site meetings to also look at the marketing techniques of other industries and try to think of ways to apply them to your business.
Get Some R and R
Rest and relaxation isn’t only vital to your health -- it might also make you a more creative person. People tend to be more imaginative after a good night’s sleep, says Baumgartner. Other experts agree that taking a nap or stepping away from a problem or project refreshes the mind and could lead to better ideas later. If you feel stuck, then you might want to go for a walk or play some golf. Return to the problem after diverting your attention for a while. The best part is that there’s no need to feel guilty, because taking some me time, in this case, could help your business in the long run.
In marketing, no man or woman has to be an island. Companies that want to be successful should encourage groups to work together to come up with creative ideas for broad topics.
Choosing your team is vital. Brainstorming is best when you’re among a group of people with whom you don’t normally work, says Jonathan Feinstein, a professor at Yale School of Management and author of The Nature of Creative Development. People are more inhibited if those who have to work with them daily or fill out their performance report and recommendations for promotion are sitting next to them in a meeting. Plus, having a group of people from different parts of the company, or even outside, offers a variety of perspectives and will undoubtedly result in more, wider ranging suggestions.
The next step to making sure brainstorming sessions work is to discourage criticizing people for their ideas -- no matter how wacky they seem. Promote open dialogue so ideas can be thrown out without inhibitions. Group sessions work best if the topic at hand is broad and then much smaller groups, pairs or even individuals are left to narrow down the options.
Make Time for Hobbies
Pursuing your interests usually blossoms into creativity, says Feinstein. His argument is that your passion helps you think differently about things because you are able to draw connections between the problem at hand and your hobby. In other words, your interest in a particular subject will help spark inspiration that will then lead you to ingenuity. For example, Feinstein’s Web site designer studies how colors come together. You can see his passion come to life in the color choices he makes when designing sites, says Feinstein.
The important thing is to make the time for outside interests and allow your mind the pleasure of creativity. You have to shut off the usual routine, block out the to-do list, and permit things such as daydreaming. Then you’ll get to the good stuff.
“Marketing is about finding the sweet spot or intersection between the aesthetic and the brand name,” says Feinstein. In fact, for a marketer, there’s nothing more delicious than the banquet of ideas stored up in one’s imagination. Unlock it and you’re sure to rise to the top.