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How Marketers Lost Their Creative Edge

May 11, 2017
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As a marketer, I notice things many others probably don’t. When out and about I am constantly looking at ads, signs, and other marketing material and critiquing it. I am constantly comparing fonts, color palettes, logo positions and more looking to find the “why” behind their message. One thing that has made me frustrated lately is the conformity that is happening in the marketing space. It just seems stale, half-hearted and lacking creativity. It’s become almost robotic in some cases. 

I am at heart a creative. I spent a majority of my twenties as a touring musician. In college, I spent hours in painting labs as a fine arts minor. I love to express myself and even more, help others express themselves. This is one of the things that drew me to marketing. While some have a negative view on my profession, I see what I do as art. Each day my peers and I get to help other businesses express themselves authentically to the world. The internet has given us a powerful medium for connection and vulnerability, but if we’re not careful we can easily abuse it. 

What Marketing Is

Click funnels, spam messages, fake news and the like are not examples of marketing. While they may attract people and convert “leads,” they are manipulative, deceitful and destroy trust. Trust is the currency of human interactions. 

A marketers job isn’t to manipulate trust, it’s to build it. Our job is to help our clients tell their story in a clear and authentic manner. It’s to help those with something to say, build a platform to speak from. That is what marketing is. 

What a Marketer Is

There are many “experts” in the world today. That term has turned me off so much that I refuse to let anyone call me an expert. Most of the so-called “experts” have no clue what they are doing. Maybe they’ve read a few blogs or took a few online training courses and they’ve copied and pasted someone else's work, but that’s not an expert. 

The cliche' is old, but it’s true. Marketers are storytellers. We are hired to tell a story in an authentic and compelling way that accurately shares what the business or individual stands for. When done correctly, we help move people towards that business or person. Now, this is where good marketers get separated from the average. 

Telling a story that moves a group of people isn’t enough. It must also match what they experience once they’ve taken action. Otherwise, they will feel deceived. This is why marketing must be connected to the business as a whole. The story doesn’t stop when someone clicks, it’s really just getting started. A marketer must not only help attract but nurture, educate and assist the audience throughout their journey.

The Creativity Gap

Everything speaks. From your logo colors to your font choices, your users are building an impression of your business with every interaction. When we lose creativity, everything starts to blur. Now, I am a firm believer in “stealing like and artist.” The problem is many are just "copying what they did” and hoping they get results as well. This is not creativity or marketing.

It’s bad when you can walk downtown and call out all of the default fonts that are being used in logos. Many new brands are just hoping that copying what others did will bring them success. They are trying to tell someone else’s story. This is probably the reason so many people are frustrated when their expectations aren't met. 

Creativity is not about being “artsy” or “off the wall.” It’s about using what YOU have available to make a unique statement. I’m fine with everyone using “Helvetica,” just do something new with it. In a “copy and paste” world, those who dare to be unique will be the ones that make the biggest impact. 

How to Get It Back

One of the most ridiculous terms in the world is “think outside the box.” I hate that phrase. We waste so much time thinking about what we don’t have or could have that we miss out on what we do have. Trying to be creative is the problem. We put so many expectations around creativity that we forget about the beauty in simplicity. 

The easiest way to get creative is to think “inside the box.” Look at what you do have and how you can use it in a new way. Push your expectations to the side and focus on being yourself. People don't buy from businesses, they buy from other people. Business is personal. Being yourself is the most creative thing you can do.  

How Marketers Can Apply This

The burden in the marketing space is that you not only need to understand your creativity, but you must also learn how to step into your clients'. The reason I think everything is looking the same is because we marketers have forgotten about empathy. There are no two exact copies of humans in the world. We are all unique. Sure, we have some similarities, but it’s our differences that make us beautiful. 

Our clients trust our judgment because we are “experts.” So when we put something in front of them from approval, many say something like, “I'm not creative, looks good to me” and then we ship. We oftentimes tell ourselves the story we want to hear and design creatives that we want to see instead of focusing on the people to whom we are telling the story. It’s easy to fall into this trap because we are making stuff we like. But it’s not about us. 

Empathy leads to creativity. It expands your view of the world and allows you to see through someone else's lens. When you experience life through another person's perspective, your own view of the world expands as well. Empathy helps you get out of your own way and create more authentic messaging for your clients. In the end, you are driving people to them. You are telling their story and if you want to make it real for their audience, you must own it as your own. 

This is not an easy task and there are no steps to duplicate the process. Just as each person is different, each business is different. This is why we’ve thrown out the “playbook” and approach each new contract with a blank slate. Sure there are many things that are similar, but the slight differences make the biggest impact. Being creative is less about skill and more about resourcefulness. When you have less, you have to make it work harder. This means no excuses. 

My challenge to myself and my profession is to reject conformity and embrace diversity in our work, relationships, and execution. This will lead to more creative, authentic and transparent marketing as well as deeper connections with the people we serve.

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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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