How to get the 'big idea'

Creativity is one of the most valuable drivers of growth in business - but is not always channelled as well as it could be. Focused appropriately, creativity builds competitive edge, attracts customers and creates real value. Organisations that respect and value creativity are also, generally, more innovative than those that do not.

However, marketers cannot expect creativity to take hold in the business at large without a helping hand - it's vital to nurture a culture and methodology that supports it. There is much debate over who can be creative, and, evidently, some are far better than others, but anyone can take the first steps to learn the necessary skills. Here are four principles for actively releasing creativity in marketing:

1. Time

Creative thinking demands time. While Post-it Notes might have been invented by chance, you can't rely on that as your path to creativity. At 3M the technical teams allocate up to 15% of their time to projects of their choosing. IBM has its "Think Fridays", and Pixar employees can spend up to four work-hours a week getting involved in activities that are not job-related. Service companies and agencies, where billable time is critical, inevitably face a particular challenge in this respect.

2. Task

Creative endeavour needs an end goal. Dove's ground-breaking "Campaign for real beauty" was driven by a clearly stated "big idea": that "the world would be a better place if Dove could make more women feel more beautiful every day". It is carving out a role to make more women feel better about themselves. By encouraging women to take greater care of themselves, Dove has a positive impact on their self-esteem, which helps build a stronger emotional connection to the brand. This clearly defined task helps release great creativity behind "real beauty" initiatives.

3. Target

Creativity needs careful steering. Most successful companies have developed their own ways of immersing themselves in their customers' worlds. Lego crowdsources ideas from its most passionate consumers to develop new products. Crayola undertook a massive exercise to truly understand its target customers before embarking on major product innovation, resulting in a manifesto that established who it was innovating for and why. Unilever has its "Consumer Nation", where employees experience what the consumer experiences; with tracking, monitoring and the sharing of learnings across the organisation.

4. Techniques

Many people, marketers included, need help to think creatively. There are many well-known techniques to help break established patterns and routines; everything from brainstorming, structured idea-generation, filtering the most promising ideas and ideas optimisation. But here are some more unusual examples:

  • Teams at Facebook move around their desks and furniture, joining new groups to hatch fresh new ideas.
  • British Airways puts people on a plane - "an innovation lab flight" - to problem-solve.
  • A growing number of FMCG companies borrow from the world of IT, adapting the 'Hackathon model' to boost idea-generation.

So take time out to transform creative thinking. Great innovations and breakthrough ideas come when creative thinking is encouraged. In a world dominated by technology and big data, let's not forget the value of great creativity and big ideas.

Originally published in Marketing Magazine's Masterclass column.

For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s marketing capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly @MhairiMcEwan. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Marketing Capability.

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