The more creativity you can include in your campaigns, the better off you (and your brand) will be.
Just like you, I spend every day getting bombarded by marketing messages, many of them very similar. And there's a reason for that – it works. Tried and true principles of human persuasion still lay the foundation for marketing.
But if you want to stand out, you need to be different. Not only that, but you need to be more different than ever. In some ways, marketing is now harder now than it’s ever been. The demise of traditional content gatekeepers and the rise of the Internet has suddenly democratized communication, and people have taken advantage. As soon as a new avenue to reach people opens up, marketers will squeeze the juice out of it until it doesn't work anymore.
Before the internet, there were a limited number of channels through which you could grab people's attention. The competition was limited. But now you're not just competing against everyone else in your field, you're competing against literally everything that people consume.
And that's as the average human attention span is going down from 12 seconds to a mere 8 seconds. The internet passed a billion websites way back in 2014. Every day people watch a billion hours of YouTube videos.
For most of mankind’s history, the problem was that people didn't have enough information. But in the past few years, we've reached the point where we have the opposite problem: There's so much information out there that people can't consume it all.
To stand out in this content glut, your marketing has to be bold. It has to be authentic. And most of all, it has to be creative. You need to give people a reason to stop reading, to take that couple of extra seconds and say, "Huh … maybe I should take a look at that."
Can you? I talk to people about marketing a lot, as you'd expect from my job. And one of the biggest problems they're running into is creativity. They’re doing the same things they’ve always done and it just isn’t working for them anymore, or they’re trying to branch out and doing it in a formulaic way.
Creative marketing isn't just slapping a fresh coat of paint on the same old content and calling it a day. It's not retreading the same tired old social media strategies that everyone's done a thousand times. To be creative you have to be willing to be different, bold and interesting. You have to be willing to constantly try new methods and new avenues, not just stick to the things that have worked. Times change and methods that worked great a year ago may not bring the same returns today.
If you want to make your marketing stand out, you have to show creativity in both your content and your methods. Here are a few ideas to get you started down the path to a more creative future:
1. Think personal.
Mass marketing with a broad message may lift your business some, but it's never going to be as effective as something that touches people personally. One study from 2017 found that the main reasons customers stay with a company all revolve around care: care for them, care for the world, and understanding of who they are.
Email and direct mail marketers have long known how effective it can be to use someone’s name in an email template instead of just sending the same form letter. Take it to the next level. What if you forged a personal connection with your customers?
One of the things that's set entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk apart is his insistence that he still be the one to talk to every person that messages him. As he's gotten more popular, it's gotten harder, and people often have to wait a little longer. But it's been a central tenet of his strategy – and love him or hate him, it's been effective.
He recently launched an SMS marketing campaign off the back of that assurance. People get marketing messages from his text number, but they're willing to let him in because there's a personal guarantee that he's actually the one on the other end.
SMS is great for this. Marketing through text is a little underutilized, I think, and if you're willing to be personal with it you can hit people where they live in a way that's impossible with other platforms. Some 90% of texts are opened in the first three minutes after receipt, and 83% of people say they read every one.
Establishing a personal connection is a lot easier with SMS, and it’s a lot less effort-intensive than many other marketing methods in terms of how long it takes to put together a message. But whether you use SMS or something else, consider finding a way to hit your customers one to one, not just make them feel like they're part of the crowd.
2. Build a network of influence.
Influencer marketing is huge right now, and it's huge for a reason: it works. Getting people to talk about your products is one of the goals of marketing, after all. Influencer marketing taps into something deep in the human psyche. We're fundamentally skeptical of companies trying to get us to buy their products. The world around us is saturated with marketing and advertising.
But one of the most trusted sources of product recommendations is other people, particularly close friends. It applies to trusted sources, too. That's the engine behind influencer marketing. As one of the biggest viral marketing studies ever notes, we're more likely to buy something that's recommended by other people – regardless of whether we know them or not. That effect is even more pronounced if we trust them.
Influencer marketing involves a few basic steps:
- Figure out your goal. Is it brand awareness? Are you trying to sell a particular product? Maybe you’re focused on lead generation or customer loyalty. This will affect which influencers you choose and the type of campaign you run.
- Consider campaign type. Though many people now think of influencer marketing in a very specific context (giving people products/money for Instagram), it's as old as marketing and comes in many different flavors. You can give influencers discount codes, let them do a social media takeover, give gifts, allow guest blog posts and more.
- Find an influencer. For most businesses, this will mean finding someone in a niche, not the Kim Kardashians of the world. Niches are usually cheaper and a more direct way to reach your audience. BuzzStream, NinjaOutreach, Awario, BuzzSumo, Pitchbox and Followerwonk are some well-known tools that can be used to find influencers in your niche, or if you're fairly active on social media yourself you may be able to find some manually.
- Contact the influencer. This usually means direct messaging on your social media platform of choice or sending an email if they have an email address posted. Many influencers, particularly on Instagram, are very open to pitches.
- Run your campaign. Make your pitch to them, and once you've found an influencer to work with, begin the campaign. Track metrics and make sure you know what your ROI is so you know whether to keep working with them or move on to someone else. If the ROI is good it may be worth keeping them on as a brand ambassador.
3. Let someone else do the talking.
Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke campaign has been one of the most enduring user-generated content campaigns in advertising. It's been running every summer since 2014. The idea is simple: There are common names printed on Coke bottles, and people can find a bottle that has their name on it. It’s hashtagged on social media with #ShareACoke.
Over the years Coke has added more to the campaign, including personalized six-packs that can be used for events and other extensions that get people even more involved.
What does this do? Because people are posting about the campaign and not the brand, it circumvents the usual response we have to anything that looks overtly like branding. In addition, it means minimal resources to keep the campaign running. And it gives you a ton of content you can repurpose for your own social feeds.
Put together something that's personal to people. We love talking about ourselves, and the best user-generated content campaigns rely on that tendency to drive engagement and build brand awareness. We trust people more than we do companies. Leveraging that is smart marketing.
Offering some kind of tangible benefit for sharing can add an extra level to this. That's the basis for a referral program. Referral programs are a great way to build these campaigns organically. Google has used this well with the original Gmail (sign up other users to get more storage space), and they've continued it with GSuite. Each user has a link that they can share and everyone who signs up via that link gives them an extra account credit.
Letting someone else do the talking is a creative way to circumvent our anti-marketing defenses, and it's doubly impactful when you can offer a tangible benefit for sharing.
4. Create a resource.
Your customer base is a massive resource you can tap into, and you might not have even realized. You think of them in terms of sales for sure, but have you thought of them in terms of their opinions?
Creating a case study from your user base can be a huge traffic driver and build your authority, both for Google and for people. Put together a survey and ask them some questions.
Use the responses to craft a resource that will drive backlinks, build brand awareness and make people interested in what you have to offer. Ask them about how you're filling their needs, what they need the most, what their problems are, what they look for. This is content marketing at its core – creating content that serves as a honeypot to draw people to you.
That resource is a treasure trove for content marketing on every channel you have. Splitting it into smaller parts and sharing a little taste on social media or using the findings to build blog posts will help you increase its impact even further.
As a bonus, it will help you refine your own product offerings, too. Odds are you don’t understand your own customer base as well as you think you do, and a survey can help you figure out what you’re doing well and what you can improve on. This will help you with your content marketing efforts in the future. Building out your blog or website with content is easier when you know what people are actually looking for.
One caveat, though – be careful how you phrase the questions.
Here are some guidelines for creating a good survey:
- Choose the right shades of meaning. "Could," "should" and "might" sound similar, but they'll produce significantly different results. To get clean data, make sure you’re using exactly the word you mean.
- Don't lead your questions. This is fundamental for journalists, but it matters for surveys too. Most leading questions can be answered with a yes or a no and push the respondent towards a specific outcome.
- Don't load your questions. Loading a question involves making an assumption upfront about the respondent. The infamous media training example of, "When did you stop beating your wife?" is an extreme but illustrative example. Don't include assumptions in your question.
- Speak your respondents' language. If you're giving a survey to medical professionals, you can probably use a little more jargon than you could be giving a survey to their patients. Be clear and concise and make sure your audience can understand.
- Allow a response range, not just binary answers. Binary answers can push people into answers they don’t mean. "Do you drive to work?" is a bad question. "How often do you drive to work?" is more effective.
Once you've sent out your survey, you can use it to create infographics, case studies and other powerful link bait. Knowledge is power, after all.
5. Turn your weaknesses into strengths.
Have you gotten a black eye recently as a company? Or is there a part of your business where your customers say, "They're great, but…" The old adage that "any publicity is good publicity" doesn't always hold true, but any publicity can become good publicity depending on how it's handled.
Take Mattel, for instance. When they had a huge, public toy recall due to safety problems, they not only apologized, they took huge steps to address the problem. Mattel engaged in structural changes, not just papering over the cracks. They built new inspection systems, audited suppliers and took steps to make sure it would never happen again. And, most importantly, they made sure people knew it.
Listen to your customers. If there's a "they’re great, but…" that you can address, it's not just a problem that needs to be solved. It's an opportunity to reach out to your customers and make them feel heard.
Social media is great for this. You can put out PR press releases too, but running a social media campaign drawing attention to the situation and how it’s been addressed will let you speak directly to people and show them why it happened and what's being done to fix it.
This also provides you with a prime opportunity for storytelling. Everyone loves a good story, and if you can tell people the story of how your company overcame this issue while showing them how you'll serve them better in the future, you might be able to make a problem into a solution.
When you address problems in your company, think about running a campaign to let your customers know. You don't have to do this for everything – in fact, you shouldn't – but if it's an issue that's well-known among your customer base they need to know that it's being fixed and things will be better going forward.
First, own it. Let them know that you realized there was a problem. Tell them their concerns have been heard. Then apologize for it. Make sure they know that you’re aware it’s not the way things should be.
Finally, layout what's being done to fix it. Show them the benefits. It might even be worth offering them something tangible to get the ball rolling. This is a prime time to reach out to some of your lapsed customers and give them the incentive to come back.
Weaknesses don't have to stay weaknesses. Just like a broken bone, a publicly-known problem can sometimes heal stronger than before. Turn weaknesses into strengths by owning and addressing them.
6. Be a little less safe.
Would you send your customers to your biggest competitor? Burger King did – and it worked. The hamburger giant had just debuted mobile ordering for the relaunch of its app, and it wanted to drive awareness. To push its app, Burger King set up a special deal: If you were within 600 feet of a McDonalds, you could order a Whopper from the app for one cent. They essentially turned every McDonalds into a Burger King location.
It was a smashing success. The "Whopper Detour" campaign caused a bump in sales and managed to triple the number of people with the Burger King app installed on their phones. By any measure, they achieved the goals of the campaign.
Of course, you don't want to take a ton of risk every time you put together a campaign. But why not take a chance if you feel like you're in a rut?
If you've felt like your marketing isn't getting results and just isn't creative enough, take heart. These tips will help you break outside of your current thinking and perhaps come up with your next great campaign. Stand out from the crowd, cut through the noise and get people's attention with outside-the-box creativity.