Marketing White Belt: Foundations of Creative Marketing

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This post is part of the Marketing White Belt series.

Fire in the fireplaceMarketing tends to be divided into two houses. One house is the analytical side, where data is the order of the day and results can be quantified with incredible precision. Return on investment is a straightforward financial calculation and campaign performance is measured by wonderful tools and methods.

The other house is the creative side, where data, analysis, and calculation can be incredibly counterproductive. Ideas rule the roost in the creative side of marketing, finding new and different ways to communicate to your audience. Data can provide some starting points for creative, but after that, it’s entirely about what appeals to our most human aspects.

At the risk of oversimplifying, great creative in marketing is founded entirely in passion and understanding.

You must deeply understand what it is you’re promoting in every practical way possible so that you can understand how it will appeal to different people. Part of that understanding is driven by product knowledge, and part is driven by understanding how people who currently love your stuff relate to it. There is no substitute for talking to customers here, no shortcuts you can take, no instant surveys you can deploy that will lend this insight. There’s also no substitute for actually using your products or services.

As a customer of what you have to offer, you can and should listen to yourself about the quality of experience you’re having. One thing you hear often about new Apple products just before they come out is that “Steve (Jobs) has been using it and loves it!”, which is high praise from the most difficult customer you could imagine.

The second area that drives creative marketing is passion. In order to construct marketing creative that will appeal to people, you must care deeply about what it is you have to offer. In an ideal situation, that extends to the organization you work for (non-profits are especially good at this) and the customers you serve. Being passionate about what you have to offer the world isn’t a skill that can be taught, any more than being passionate about a food you can like is something you can learn from a textbook.

Two areas where creative marketers tend to fall short with passion are simply not being passionate enough and being overly so to the point of blinding zealousness.

Lack of passion for a product, service, or company creates disconnected marketing, creative content that is confusing, and creative content that is undirected. It creates designs that are uninspired, ads that don’t catch attention, and marketing that fails to stir any emotion. You see this most often when design is attempted by a committee of people – the very process of design by committee often prohibits a passionate love for a product that is singularly expressed.

Ultimately, if your marketing design and creative lacks passion, you either have to retake the design process away from committee, or in the case of a single person or creative director, if you lack passion for your products, services, customers, and company, you may simply need to switch jobs to somewhere else.

Too much passion in creative marketing is equally problematic in that it tends to blind you to what will actually appeal to your customers. You’re so sure of what you’ve created that you fail to test, fail to have customer experiences yourself, fail to talk to customers, fail to accept any input at all. The cliche that love is blind is never more true than here.

I’ll leave you with two questions that can help clarify your level of passion to your products/services, company, and customers. Ideally, get your answers down to 140 characters or less. If these answers don’t flow easily, work on them until you achieve clarity. In the process of doing so, you’ll get a better understanding of where your passion lies and be able to transmit that in everything you design and build. Not enough passion and you’ll stumble for answers for a long time. Too much passion and you won’t be able to crystallize and condense your answers into a tight, compact form that you can easily communicate.

1. Why are you here? This is your mission statement. Not the cheesy “commitment to industry-leading best practice synergies” corporate-speak, but a real sense of mission, of what is wrong with the world that you intend to fix.

Example: At Blue Sky Factory, we acknowledge that most of the world, to be frank, really sucks at email marketing. That’s the ugly, honest truth. We aim to fix that. We aim to help you become a better marketer through effective email marketing.

2. What will the world look like after you’ve finished changing it? This is your vision statement. Again, not corporate-speak, but a very clear picture of how the world will look when you’re done changing it.

Example: At the Boston Martial Arts Center, we know we’ve succeeded not when someone straps on a piece of black cloth around their waist, but when they have been transformed from weak people – weak of body, weak of mind, weak of warrior spirit – into strong people, people who can go out in the world and bring their strength to others deeply in need of authentic leaders and heroes. In the words of Stephen K. Hayes, we unleash your potential.

Do you see how easy it would be to go to work every day with compact, powerful answers to these questions? Do you see how the answers can infuse every aspect of your marketing with the vibrance and energy it needs to leap off the page or out of the ad and grab consumers’ hearts and spirits? That’s what your marketing needs. Go forth and get it!

This post is part of the Marketing White Belt series.

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3 responses to “Marketing White Belt: Foundations of Creative Marketing”

  1. This is a great post, and as a person who is in the marketing game day in and day out, this resonates with me deeply.

    See, when you work for an agency who in turn works with clients, you have to balance all of the things you talk about here (assuming you want to do a good job). Our clients depend upon us for the analytical information. They count on us to tell them about ROI as truthfully as possible. But they also count on us to be passionate about what is their work, which we can show through our own work.

    One of the most important functions of a marketer if you are helping someone else market their products or services is to understand that the service or product you are talking about is like that person or company’s child. A company that makes a product knows everything there is to know about that product. They’ve followed it from the idea stage all the way to the “how are we actually going to make this?” stage. Of course they’re going to be passionate about it. The question, and what makes marketing effective, is how to make other people feel the same way about that product.

    Thanks for this, Mr. Penn! 🙂

  2. […] read Christopher S. Penn’s post on the foundations of creative marketing. It’s an excellent post, but toward the end Chris manages to simplify and clarify both the […]

  3. Wantingnowsurveys Avatar

    Thanks Mr. Penn & thanks Marjorie! What great insights!

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