Once you've done all your thinking, research, and empathizing, hopefully you have a pretty good idea what you want to say – what the brand narrative is going to be. It’s time to start synthesizing all those influences into the semblance of a big idea.
Starting is often the hardest part of any creative process. This is really fear of failure sometimes mixed with unrealistic perfectionism. First drafts are bound to be bollocks. So get past this hang-up as quickly as possible and just get something down on paper. Anything. Just start.
When we go to art exhibitions we sometimes forget that we’re seeing the edited highlights of an artist’s career to date. We usually don’t get see the many sketches, doodles, failures, and re-workings that have gone before. The old showbiz saying: “It’s taken me ten years to become an overnight success” is so true.
Writers often say that a large part of the discipline of writing is simply sitting at the desk - literally being in the place where work gets done, and then getting into the habit of being there every day. We can’t be creative to order, but we can make creativity more likely if we build in creative processes into our working lives.
This isn’t to say that there is only one place where creative work gets done. Far from it. Paul Weller supposedly wrote Going Underground in three minutes while sitting on the loo. When it comes to environments it’s whatever floats your boat.
And don’t be afraid of the panic. Everyone feels it at some point during the process. The flipside of panic is complacency, and that’s marketing death. Feel the fear and do it anyway, as Susan Jeffers said.
I began this blog by emphasizing the need for empathy. You’ve got to get under the skin of your customer’s problem if you’re going to tell their story in an engaging way. That means meeting them, talking to them, seeing how they work, where they work, how their product is designed and manufactured. You’ve got to be able to walk in their shoes but be able to see things they cannot see. You’re not going to be able to do this stuck in your office staring at a wall.
Empathy also helps you decide what the right tone is for your messaging. Unless you fully understand the personality of the brand you’re unlikely to get this right. Going back to our cocktail party analogy, you’d be a little freaked out if the guy you knew as the middle-aged local bank manager turned up sporting a fake tan and wearing Day-Glo hot pants, Hawaiian shirt and white-framed sunglasses. It would be wince-making if then tried talking like someone 20 years younger. Straining too hard to be something you’re not is just…sad.
It is also important to have empathy for the brand customer. You have to be able to see through their eyes and imagine how they perceive the brand, its qualities and limitations.
If you’re in a rut, force yourself out of it. Cognitive behavioural therapy works by helping patients to recognize repetitive, harmful patterns of thinking and then find ways to disrupt those patterns and so change behaviour for the better.
Erroneous thinking often stems from a premise we think is true but is actually false. Applied to marketing, this false premise could be our preconceptions about a brand and product. Creativity often flows when we question that premise and jettison those preconceptions. Try looking at the world differently – literally from a different angle or through squinting eyes. You’ll be surprised how it can alter your perceptions, and, hence, your feelings about things.
Look, it’s not rocket science - that’s why holidays were invented. We need some distance and perspective from our daily lives from time to time. A jaded mind is not a creative mind.
Where else can we get ideas from? Everywhere! Where the business is located; the building it’s in; the way the product is made; the firm’s history and pedigree; the emotions a product inspires; what’s happening in the news; people’s behaviour around you; other ads; how a product is likely to be used or abused; imagining how the product will transform the user’s life, hopefully, for the better; imagining how much worse off people would be without the product; even the medium where the ads or messages will run can provide inspiration; random Googling.
Creativity isn’t about reinventing the wheel each time but, as Isaac Newton said, achieving breakthroughs by standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before you. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Copying, then adapting, is not plagiarism.