When I was getting into college, my mom pushed me to pick a major…
If I didn’t have a major, I’d waste my time at college and never graduate. Or so the thinking went.
She thought I’d be into advertising.
I honestly knew very little about advertising at the time. Except for Super Bowl commercials.
I didn’t have any better ideas, so I enrolled in the College of Business, with an advertising major.
I got about a semester in before I realized that was a mistake. I didn’t really jive with the traditional biz school kids, and they just wanted to teach me Microsoft Word and Excel (I was already a power user).
So I quit my advertising degree — and went off in pursuit of psychology (with an English minor).
At the time, I didn’t feel like I was rejecting the “creativity” of advertising — but rather the rigidity and decidedly non-creativity of biz school.
Fast forward a few years, and I had my degree in psych, and was thrust into the workaday world.
And when I realized I was getting nowhere with a Bachelor’s in psychology, I started looking for opportunity…
And discovered advertising again.
This time, it was from the perspective of being a writer — a copywriter.
I started to dig in. I’d developed my writing ability more in college, as part of my minor (and because in college, you write).
I figured if there was a way to make money writing, I could probably figure it out.
And heck, maybe I could flex my creative juices.
Then, I started to learn more.
Turns out in this school of writing — writing to generate actual business results — the challenge wasn’t to be “creative.”
Rather, the challenge was to solve a problem.
The problem was (and still is): what can we send out that will get the maximum percentage to respond, and generate the maximum revenue?
This was decidedly NOT what I thought advertising was.
And I’m pretty sure that if I’d continued in business school, I wouldn’t have learned this approach to advertising.
But maybe there was something to it.
So I kept going. And as I went, I discovered something…
The BIG LIE about creativity…
The media tells us a lie. Business folklore tells us the same lie. And advertising awards definitely tell this same lie.
The lie is that creativity triumphs in business.
And especially in advertising.
But here’s the thing.
“Creative” business solutions, and “creative” advertisements get a lot of attention and praise.
But being creative for creativity’s sake will NOT get you anywhere.
In fact, some of the most wasteful advertising — that didn’t help and sometimes hurt the business that ran it — was lauded by its creators and their peers as “creative.”
Creativity in itself can be a liability in business and in advertising — and is not automatically an asset.
What I found about PROFITABLE creativity…
As I came up in the advertising and marketing world though, I realized something else. I realized that there were some people who seemed remarkably creative AND who were making a lot of money as a result.
Some were copywriters. Others, business-builders.
All were paragons of creativity, but with an edge over the purely creative (who isolate themselves in boutique agencies catering to those who don’t know any better).
They realized the most important creative challenge is in tackling the problem direct response marketers face…
“How can we creatively present this to our target market in such a way that they pay attention, are interested, develop a desire for our offering, and take action by giving us money?”
Creativity applied to the right challenges leads to some very interesting results. And in fact, in looking at how some people have used creativity very profitably, I’ve discovered…
3 TRUTHS about creativity…
- Sometimes NOT being creative is the most creative thing you can do…
I’ve spent a TON of time studying what works and what doesn’t in ads, sales letters, and other persuasive messages. While each new project requires a unique application of what I’ve learned, I find myself more and more turning to proven formulas as a starting point.
Our ego says we want it to be ALL US when we succeed. Which we translate into a totally original work. However, there’s usually more success to take credit for when we get this ego-driven urge out of the way. And instead turn toward proven formulas as a starting point and framework for what we do.
In fact, that’s a big part of why I based my Story Selling Master Class so heavily around story templates. Because having those templates as a starting point leads to a better end result. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make it yours (and get the credit and profit for the results).
- Creative applications of old ideas in new places is often very profitable…
Using a template as a starting point for some or all of your sales copy is a great example of taking an old idea (the story structure) and applying it in a new place (your message).
There are a TON of places where that’s relevant. For decades, we’ve had drive-through windows at fast food restaurants. They weren’t even the originator of the concept. (Banks had it before hamburger stands.) But only recently, pharmacies started adding drive-through windows as a standard part of their operations. Now, I can’t tell you exactly how that’s impacted their business, but I can tell you that every new CVS or Walgreens I see built in my town includes a drive-through.
Ford didn’t invent the assembly line. He borrowed it. Hard to tell where it started, but the Venetian Arsenal started using a similar concept as early as 1104. Ships would move down a canal and be fitted with armaments at specialized shops along the way. Henry Ford actually witnessed a slaughterhouse where meat was carried from worker to worker and later wrote that this inspired his addition of the conveyor belt to his automobile plant.
Creatively adapting ideas that have worked elsewhere is one of the most profitable things you can do in business and advertising. To see a campaign working in one industry, learn from it, and adapt its principles to your project or business, is one of the most profitable forms of creativity there is.
- Creative combination is also a very reliable winner…
I like to use this while copywriting. I read a lot. Apparently Warren Buffett reads about six hours per day, and I might come close to that. I find ideas all the time. But it’s not just the ideas that are valuable. It’s in combining them that the real magic happens.
I’ll see a story in one place, and file it away. Either formally, with a program like Evernote, or informally, in my head as something that interested me.
Then, I’ll keep reading. Or, I’ll have conversations with clients, about upcoming projects. Then, something else comes up. Something that I see as related, even if it requires connecting some dots.
By connecting the dots, I’m able to develop a new narrative. Something unique to me. Something I can use to get the interest of my target market, and tell them something they’ve never heard before.
This is often the process that goes into creating any breakthrough “big idea” promo.
And frankly, it can be the process that goes into creating great businesses, and great products too.
Consider rethinking creativity…
Your big picture takeaway?
If you’ve valued creativity, it’s time to think different. Try this on for size…
Ask yourself: “What’s the least-creative way I can solve this problem?”
That in itself could be a very creative approach.
That in itself could produce a breakthrough…
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,