In the marketing world, you can be timid as a lamb or as courageous as a lion. You can do what everyone else is doing or you can muster up some chutzpah and establish a new and dynamic marketing direction– rather than following, you can lead the way by tapping into your Creative Courage.
What is Creative Courage? It’s the willingness to risk going outside the accept norm and put yourself out front and exposed. In many ways, Creative Courage is like asking someone on a date. There is always the risk of being rejected, but if you never ask, you will probably never go on a date.
Creative Courage doesn’t end the moment someone says yes to your invitation. Now you must start thinking about how you’re going to present yourself – what you’re going to wear, what you’re going to talk about, where you’re going to go. In other words, you’re working out your first impression. If you make a good one, it could be a lasting one. Welcome to Advertising 101.
If you’re boorish on your first date, you’ll make an impression, but not for the right reasons. Worse yet, if you’re ordinary and boring, you’ll be quickly dismissed and easily forgotten. If, however, you make a positive and unforgettable impression, you’ll not only be remembered, you’ll get a second date. That is Creative Courage and it is what separates the suitors from the losers, the market leaders from the market followers.
But wait… why not rely on Big Data to help make the right impression?
It’s true, the world of marketing is enamored with Big Data these days and in Big Data terms you’re no longer going on an ordinary date with your target audience, you’re going on a date that was made via an online computer dating service.
You have reams of information about possible partners – all you have to do is plug in the data and the outcome of your perfect date match is ensured by the comforting cradle of crunched numbers. Or is it?
Sydney Finklestein in a 2013 piece for the BBC entitled, “What would Big Data think of Einstein?” reminds us that “Big Data should not be confused with Big Ideas.” Mr. Finklestein goes on to explain that it is from Big Ideas, not Big Data, that we achieve breakthroughs. He points out that in a world driven by Big Data, Einstein’s theory of relativity would have been dismissed because it would not have been supported by the data of his time. In other words Einstein’s big idea was too big for the data of his time.
A recent Fast Company article states that “…managers mistakenly think that insights will “reveal themselves” in the oodles of data that pours out of their computers. They believe that simply gathering more data will help create focus out of chaos… They forget to ask a very simple question, “What is the crucial problem that we solve for our client?”
According to Fast Company, you actually need very little data to figure out why your customer needs you. Likewise, all the data that suggests that you and your date should be compatible goes out the window if the date doesn’t find you appealing and interesting. Or to put it another way, they decide to look elsewhere for what they need.
A Big Idea could come out of Big Data but Big Data cannot create a Big Idea.
Fast Company states that while inside organizations. “1% demonstrate their prowess with data-driven analytics, the remaining 99% feel out of the loop and unable to contribute. Unfortunately, the most creative people are in this bigger pool—the dreamers, storytellers, and myth-makers who say the things that others cannot, or will not, say.”
In other words it’s the people with Creative Courage, like Albert Einstein, who change the world, not the data geeks who keep track of things as they already are.
Long term relationships. Not one night stands.
Now that we’ve established that Big Ideas come from Creative Courage and not necessarily from Big Data, how do you know you have a Big Idea? Here are a few Big idea traits to look for. Big ideas are simple and easy to understand, they include your brand’s unique selling proposition (USP) and they’re adaptable across different mediums and tactics. Don’t let their simplicity fool you, they don’t come easily. The only thing about them you can be absolutely certain of is they’re worth every ounce of blood sweat and effort you put into them because they yield great rewards. How can you spot a Big idea? Legendary ad man David Ogilvy has a simple formula. He suggests you ask yourself these questions:
- Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?
- Do I wish I had thought of it myself?
- Is it unique?
- Does it fit the strategy to perfection?
- Could it be used for 30 years?
30 years! While nothing seems to last more than 30 seconds in the new age of digital advertising buttressed by Big data and ever changing trends, the one thing that can pass the test of time is the Big Idea! Why? Because even in today’s conversation-driven, pull, rather than push world of instantaneous digital marketing, the advertiser still has to start the conversation – still has to woo the target audience, still has to establish who they are and still get noticed. Nothing does all that better than a Big Idea.
Belle of the Ball. Or Wallflower?
Perhaps it’s time for a real example of how a Big Idea can change everything. Insurance advertising used to be pretty ho-hum. Nothing sexy. Nothing outrageous. Nothing noteworthy. Then came Geico.
Geico had a dilemma, they wanted people to sign up, file claims, and do most of their business online instead of going to a brick and mortar office. They had to make it seem easy, especially at a time when not as many people used computers as they do today. Research (that’s where you used to get Big Data in the Jurassic Age) told Geico there was significant resistance to this notion, but Geico knew this was the future and it would streamline its business.
They could have delivered their message in any number of traditional ways. They chose instead to do it using Creative Courage. The result was the Caveman campaign. “So easy a caveman can do it” was conceived with wit, humor and panache. The cavemen in the commercial didn’t like it much, but the rest of us laughed.
Big ideas are as simple as cavemen.
Instead of being another wallflower at the dance, Geico became the belle at the ball. People couldn’t get enough of their cavemen. They talked about it, even anticipated the next caveman spot. Suddenly Geico was seen as an approachable company with a sense of humor and a great message. Geico’s Creative Courage changed the way people thought about insurance, even how they spoke about it. It changed the conversation.
Alflac followed suit with a slapstick duck that quacked the company’s name at every opportunity. The Aflac Duck then begat Allstate’s “Mayhem” campaign which begat the Liberty Mutual “We’re only human” campaign, which led to Progressive’s Flo character and most recently to the off-beat ads from Farmers Insurance. Now every insurance company wants to put humor into their advertising. Ironically, this brings us back to our original point, if all the major insurance companies employ humor – then is insurance advertising becoming formulaic and less effective.
But everything’s different now! Isn’t it?
Today advertisers are armed with statistics like never before. The problem is statistics alone can’t start the conversation with your audience or keep them interested in your message. That takes creativity.
Another fabled ad man, Ed McCabe, once said, “Creativity is often the last remaining legal means you have to gain unfair advantage over the competition.”
If this is true why is so much of the advertising we see so uninspired, so uncreative and so mundane? The answer is simple. The people involved in it lack Creative Courage.
Does Aviation Marketing have Creative Courage?
Much of aviation advertising looks the same: product, list of features, plane on tarmac and some unimaginative copy. Why? It’s safe, doesn’t stir up controversy (or emotions) and it covers your tail when it flops. If aircraft designers were as conservative, we would never have gotten past the Wright Flyer!
There are, however, some aircraft ads that have stopping power and it is usually because they break out of the formula. The result is always a noticeable bump in the company’s public awareness and stature.
Cessna took on its critics while others capitulated.
After the public relations debacle around use of corporate jets during the 2008 recession, Cessna did not back away. They took a position of leadership in their advertising, reminding their customers that they hadn’t gotten as far as they had by backing off or being apologetic. Cessna wasn’t going to be that way either. They portrayed corporate pilots, jet owners and others in the industry as heroes, visionaries and champions of free enterprise. Cessna was bold at a time when it the conventional wisdom was to keep your head down.
Use of an atypical visual provides eye-catching stopping power to ads
Eurocopter advertising is another example of an outside-the-box approach. Instead of beauty shots of their helicopters in typical settings, their copters sat atop serving trays or landing on the tip of a ballpoint pen. Certainly not what was expected but it did garner attention and raised awareness for Eurocopter.
There are, of course, many ways to break the mold. The important thing is that you have the courage to break the mold in a unique and memorable way.
Here are some tips to keep in mind developing an advertising message that is interesting and engaging (and this includes your websites, e-blasts, YouTube videos and blog posts):
- Keep it Simple. Less is better. One clear, compelling message has more impact than a jumble of confusing offers and benefits.
- Stopping Power. Make your ad visually strong. You only have a nanosecond to capture your customer’s attention and interest. Miss the chance and the rest is academic.
- Good advertising communicates quickly and convincingly. Consumers won’t spend the time trying to figure out a convoluted messaging.
- What’s In It For Me? Customers want to know the benefit for them, not what’s important to you. If your headline is about your 25 years in business, who cares?
- Frequency Matters. Your ad needs to run frequently to make an impression. Remember the dating analogy – you’re more likely to date someone you’ve interacted with a number of times and have positive feelings for. Research says consumers must see an ad at least three times to make a lasting impression and at least seven times to make a sale.
- Size Matters. Two-page ad spreads have more impact than single page ads; single pages are more noticeable than fractional pages. In the digital world, pay attention to how your message fits on screen. Ads should work just as well on smaller mobile screens as well as larger desktop monitors.
- Color Matters. This is a no-brainer. When was the last time you deliberately turned off color on your TV and watched in black and white? Probably never! The human eye is attracted to color and it increases the effectiveness of your message.
- Be Bold, Be Different. Safe advertising is the riskiest because it wastes money and is ineffective.
- Track Results. Today you have more ways to track than ever. Your website is a great way to track results. Make sure it’s included in your messaging, as well as your phone number – double check both are correct.
- Budget Realistically. Most advertising fails because it is underfunded. You can’t fly across the Pacific Ocean with half a tank.
- Use Humor. Entertainment is the key. It makes your message memorable and likeable. (Remember the cavemen, the Aflac duck, Mr. Mayhem!)
- Sex Sells. But it has to be tasteful and appropriate. Like we mentioned earlier, if you’re boorish, you’ll be remembered for the wrong reasons. Be sexy but tasteful, like Victoria Secrets.
One more thing…
Don’t just look at what people are doing in your industry. That’s too myopic. Look at what other industries are doing in their advertising and their market messaging. Steve Jobs was constantly looking at what was trending in design as much as what was trending in computers. It helped him create a cache and a vision for Apple that was unlike that of any other computer company.
There are terrific examples of breakthrough ads in print, TV and on the web. Find them and learn from them.
Remember if you show up for your date wearing the same blue suit everyone wears (because data shows 99% of men and women prefer blue suits), go to the same restaurant in town everyone else goes to (because data suggests 99% of people prefer Luigi’s) and spend the evening being boring, unimaginative and safe … how do you think the evening will turn out?
As Sydney Finklestein’s article states, “In business, big data doesn’t necessarily drive out creativity; it’s just that its scientific imprimatur makes it very hard to argue going the opposite way… sometimes you need to break the rules to create anything new.”
So be courageous my friends … show your Creative Courage.