Summary: How people went about business has changed a lot since 2020. Without a way to meet in person, companies have taken to social media as their primary method of interacting with their audience. This has created a demand for a creative skillset, and marketers are ready to help.
What do a high-level animation studio and a satirical digital media company have in common? Like an ogre, they both have layers. Kidding, and I know DreamWorks Animation and not Pixar, produced Shrek. But they both use a similar creative process to think up and refine ideas.
Brian Janosch, a former writer for the satirical media company, The Onion, did a talk on how the brainstorming process was done at The Onion, and this brought about the question, “how do creative departments come up with such good ideas and have such impactful meetings?” This question later developed into, “how would thinking like a creatives department help out businesses in other industries?” after looking into what Pixar did for their creative processes.
Marketing and creatives help create the image of your company. The material they make is the first thing people see from your company, and if it does its job, it will lead to those people buying or availing your product(s) or service(s). There are many things to consider when going into business, like finding your target audience and building your brand. Building a brand takes time and needs the proper planning and people to be done correctly. This is where Creatives staff and marketers come in. They have the mindset and experience to help guide your brand to the success you’re looking for.
The Onion Process
The basic process The Onion used was:
- Come up with 15 headlines alone
- Have a pre-meeting where headlines shared and rejected
- Move on with the central meeting where good headlines are made better and where the rest of them are pruned
- Action the headline
Of course, to incorporate this in a different industry, just replace the word “headline” with “idea.”
Coming Up With Ideas Alone
Brian Janosch reasoned that coming up with ideas alone was better than in a group because it gives everyone the same chance of coming up with ideas. It also is an inverted way of doing a process, where you do work to set up a brainstorm instead of brainstorming to do work. This “inversion” technique is incorporated in a lot of creative departments. There is some science behind coming up with ideas in isolation, often referred to as deep thinking or deep thought.
If asked who dominates meetings, a fair bit of you will instantly come up with a name or, in some cases, a couple of them. In a traditional meeting or brainstorming setting, everyone comes up with ideas. The problem begins when a more dominant figure shares their idea first, and the usual spring boarding comes into play. The more timid or shy individuals don’t get a chance to share their thoughts, and sometimes they’re forgotten due to time or other factors. The Onion remedies this by sending off their staff to think of 15 headlines. While on their own, they are free to create in their chosen space. While not having a time limit, they can think up their 15 ideas and prepare for the next step. Any type of thought can manifest here, crazy ideas you wouldn’t say in a group, great ideas that otherwise wouldn’t have existed or have been heard, and this is also the time to prune the bad ideas before they’re subject to the team’s scrutiny.
Janosch also says that their inverted method of doing work before the brainstorm also leads to better ideas. Traditionally, people get together in a room and just shoot off ideas. Though the quantity of them is high, it is the quality that suffers. By going off on their own and thinking first, the concepts they bring are generally of a higher caliber. Not to say there won’t be bad ideas or ideas that are killed off; 60 to 70% of ideas get killed off during their pre-meeting. This preparation before the brainstorm allows people to get great ideas anywhere at any time.
Deep thought can be defined as “thinking beyond beliefs, preconceived ideas, and prevailing options, it entertains higher quality thoughts and exploring those paths.” In most writing on deep thinking, eliminating distractions and creating a good environment are 2 of the early steps. In order for deep thought to begin, you actually have to be able to think. You may be thinking that is obvious, people are constantly thinking, but most of it is just background noise. Moving away from noisy environments and finding a nice peaceful place to think, helps your mind focus on the coming task. On the same page, eliminating distractions is essential. If any of you have ever written something and been in the zone and had your ideas flow freely and effortlessly on a page, only to be pulled out by a text or ring tone, know how much distractions disrupt a process. Creatives or people experienced in the marketing field are familiar with this process as it is how they work. Whether they do research beforehand or just go straight into deep thinking, creatives need time to process their thoughts and ideas to develop that one idea that gets the ball rolling.
The next step in The Onion’s process is to have a pre-meeting where ideas are written down in a list and killed off. For this process to work and not affect ego, it is essential to detach ideas from their creators. This stops personal attacks, and it also allows people to take and handle criticisms a lot better. Without the need to defend an idea, people are able to accept and learn from the comments. Having ideas just stay as ideas is the key to having a successful Onion-styled pre-meeting. This step is vital as it cuts down the number of concepts that need to be discussed and picked apart in the actual meeting.
The Actual Meeting
This step is where the remaining ideas are given a form. This means that the headline that they thought up is given a narrative to go along with it. All the ideas that can’t be brought to life in this stage end up dying. In the case of The Onion, according to Janosch, only 3% of the ideas brought to this stage get actioned. Suppose the narrative given to it cannot be actioned or doesn’t have anything to “support” it, it gets scrapped. Though this process is brutal to creatives, it produces vibrant and well-thought-out ideas. To top it off, the idea would have an entire team crafting it; think of it as a series of checks and balances for creatives. The creation step is done long before this point. This step is where the team builds ideas, or in The Onion’s case, try and build all ideas and toss out those that don’t work.
The Pixar Method
Pixar has a somewhat similar process, though it is more prominent due to funding. Their development team built small incubation teams that directors oversee and assist when needed. The development team was also in charge of putting compatible people together to create the best possible environment for creativity. So the individual process is still there, but they also have additional resources during the creation step. At this stage, ideas aren’t the things being judged. The factors for judgment would be the team’s cohesion and their ability to solve problems.
The Brain Trust
Pixar’s brain trust is made up of higher-ups in the company. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill higher-ups, as they’re all creatives. The function of this group is to pick apart ideas and ask catalytic questions. Catalytic questions disrupt the status quo and create opportunities where others can improve or expand an idea. They’re questions that provoke deeper thinking. This is the 2nd and 3rd steps of The Onion’s process in one brutal go. Much like The Onion’s, this process requires that the creators view feedback as ways to improve and not as attacks aimed at the creator. Criticisms must be embraced as Pixar has set the bar high when it comes to the quality of its movies. On occasion, questions sometimes asked utterly change the direction of a film. The kicker is that it’s up to the director of the film on whether or not anything from the brain trust meeting is actioned or not.
Setting The Stage
The environment in which ideas are created and pitched in is so important that during the brain trust meeting to pick apart a concept, the meeting is held in a room decorated in the movie’s theme. When the idea for the movie Coco was pitched, the room was filled with Day of the Dead decorations. There were themed foods and candy skulls everywhere. Coco is a Day of the Dead-themed animated movie. For those who don’t know, Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrating their dead relatives, much like All Saints’ Day. The decorations were chosen to set the mood for the pitch, and it worked as the movie was released and played in theaters.
Setting the stage may not work in a business setting precisely as it does for Pixar. But it does open up new ideas during a presentation. Essentially, what Pixar does when they decorate a room in a theme is “priming.” As its name suggests, priming is the act of using an associated stimulus to influence how an audience reacts to another stimulus. In other words, you prepare someone for something by showing them different things related to it. Going back to the Coco example, the movie’s theme was the Day of the Dead, so the food and decorations were all themed. While the movie uses that as its setting, nothing gives away precisely what the movie’s plot is. So the presenters could give away the movie’s overall theme without spoiling anything in their actual presentation, such as plot or characters.
Its Use In Other Industries
If you’ve noticed that some people hardly speak during brainstorming sessions and meetings, it might pay off to try it The Onion way. Having that alone time to gather your thoughts and create a list to bring into the discussion gives everyone an equal opportunity to contribute. If you want to ease people into the new system of creating ideas before a brainstorm or meeting, try setting a lower required number of ideas to bring to the table before the meeting. Make sure you give everyone a heads up as well, telling everyone a week in advance that they need to create five ideas for the discussion on Friday about whatever the topic is, which will result in higher quality ideas.
The pre-meeting may or may not be an essential step depending on your industry or team size, the number of ideas brought to the table, and how much time you have for said meeting. In fact, you could potentially just go through the pool of ideas during the meeting, but again, this depends on a multitude of factors.
The Onion and Pixar differ when it comes to their meeting flow and processes. The Onion has all the contributors in the room together. In contrast, Pixar has the members of their brain trust, which consists of the creative leaders of the company and the group pitching the idea—choosing a system that works for your company matters. Taking up the time of people who don’t need to be there is something to be considered. It works out for The Onion as everyone can chip in their ideas, but it might not work for everyone; case in point, Pixar or maybe even you. In both cases, catalytic questioning is done. The only difference is the people participating. With different people participating, you’re going to get vastly different ideas. Pixar believes that the head creatives they have in the brain trust can provide enough of these questions, allowing everyone else to have more time to do their immediate job instead of being at the meeting.
Building Your Brand
The term brand, as defined by Will Kenton is, “a business and marketing concept that helps people identify a particular company, product, or individual…they help shape people’s perceptions of companies, their products, or individuals.” Your brand is what separates you from everyone else, the unique part of your business that will help draw in your target audience. Even as an intangible part of your business, establishing a brand that resonates with people is critical. You could have the most revolutionary product ever made, but if your brand is poorly managed, your company can still fail. An example of a company with no revolutionary product but a deficient brand identity would be Comcast, an American cable company. They provided a service that many other companies provided, but their terrible customer service skewed their identity. Even after they changed their brand identity (their logo and name), their overall brand followed them.
A brand identity is the visible elements of a brand, like color, design, and logo, that help identify and set the brand apart from everyone else. Brand identity also includes the “why” behind the branding, such as the company name, the logo, colors used, slogan, how the company interacts with its consumers. All this effort is to build a specific image in the minds of the public.
When you are asked to name a couple of brands and describe the logo, how many can you name? Was Nike “Just Do It” and its “swoosh” or check mark one of your answers? There’s a very high chance of your answer being yes, as Nike’s brand and marketing team have the funds and skillset to have their name, slogan, and logo be widely known.
A little-known fact about the logo is that it was created by a graphic design student named Carolyn Davidson in 1971. Although she was only paid $35 for it initially, she was later thrown a party, given stock in the company, and Nike-themed jewelry.
The slogan was first pitched by Dan Wieden, an advertising executive, for Nike’s 1988 commercial. He got his inspiration from the last words of a killer. The original quote was “Let’s do it,” but was modified by Wieden because it sounded off. One of Nike’s founders was opposed to the idea of working with an advertising agency, stating that they didn’t need it. Nowadays, the name Nike instantly elicits the swoosh (checkmark logo) and the phrase “Just Do It.”
The creative mindset is something businesses need to use as it will allow more people to connect to your product or service. “Just Do It” is relatable to a broad audience. At the same time, it can be interpreted differently by whoever reads it, making it personal as well. This idea resonated with many individuals. Instead of just reaching the fitness audience, Nike was able to attract different types of people across a plethora of demographics. Creatives or a marketing team help build crucial parts of your brand.
In the Nike example, the name, logo, and slogan are all synonymous, and the message is always the same. This kind of consistency is what a brand needs to have its message stay the same across different demographics. A better example would be any fast-food chain. The food tastes the same no matter where you go, it’s always bad for you, it’s always prepared quickly, and it’s always cheap to buy a meal. You can go to a McDonald’s or Burger King in another country, and it’s still going to taste like the one you have back home. You know what to expect, bringing a type of comfort, which is what you want your brand to do. If you’re going to be known for the best customer service, you would have to invest heavily into your training and customer service departments. Whether you’d advertise that your customer service is the best is up to you. Still, you would need to provide continuous top-quality service to your customers, who, in turn, will spread the word that your customer service is excellent. Suppose you noticed the last two parts of the previous examples didn’t have marketing or creatives in them. It is crucial to note that your brand goes beyond the marketing department. In that case, it must be practiced throughout your company if you’re going to have your brand be known for something successfully.
Watching And Monitoring Your Brand
Creatives can quickly change how your brand is perceived. This involves watching your brand as it grows and listening to your audience. As easy as listening sounds, it is difficult if you haven’t done it in a marketing setting or as a creative.
It’s not enough to have a creative or marketing team. You need people with ideas different from yours. People who have opposing opinions from your own can often be the safeguard from a public relations crisis. Pepsi faced severe public backlash after releasing a tv commercial involving a Black Lives Matter demonstration. The goal of the commercial was to show that all humans, regardless of race, were unified. But it was portrayed in the wrong manner, and people took the commercial as Pepsi, trivializing the events that lead to the protests in the first place. Putting it lightly, the message the commercial actually sent out left a bad taste in its audiences’ mouths. Taking advantage of current events isn’t unheard of in the marketing world, but having a team with no checks or balances while tone-deaf, marketing department or not could lead to an outcome similar to this. Being in touch with your audience prevents any misunderstandings from happening and saves you a public relations nightmare.
An excellent example of a marketing team picking up on the queues of its customer base is Wendy’s. In 2010 Wendy’s announced that it was launching a new style of French fries with sea salt. This came from the brand announcing that it would go with a real food position, meaning they would use real authentic, high integrity ingredients and freshly prepared food. They announced this in 2009, and they began doing consumer research. One such study was on fries. The research involved a survey, and in it, they asked consumers what they liked about fries, details such as what color they wanted the fries to be, the taste, and even how long the fries stayed warm, were a couple of the points examined. Using these results, Wendy’s did a test run in 3 cities across the US and only after it scored very high ratings was it rolled out nationally. Even after the initial marketing advertising ended, their new fries continued to sell well. By listening to their audience, responding in a manner that appealed to their audience, and sticking to their brand’s position, Wendy’s successfully implemented a change. To top it off, they also ran a successful Facebook ad campaign called “Fry for All” that stated that any purchase of a $15 Wendy’s gift card would come with a coupon for free fries, any size you wanted. All this came from their ability to listen to their audience and make correct changes to their product to appeal to said audience.
A New Perspective
There is an argument that any department will have a different view depending on what the chosen topic is. While this is true, creatives are usually the ones who put a new spin on ideas. The Journal of Research in Personality states that “individuals reporting greater openness to experience may also have characteristically different low-level visual perceptual experiences.” Essentially, creative people see the world slightly differently. The psychologists who published the paper meant for this to be taken literally, as there was a test to see “openness” and its link to a visual perception phenomenon known as binocular rivalry. Binocular rivalry is “a visual phenomenon that occurs when dissimilar monocular stimuli are presented to corresponding retinal locations of the two eyes,” basically when two different images are presented to each eye simultaneously. In the experiment, people were given a red patch to put over their right eye and a green patch over their left eye. The people who saw an image with both images combined have a brain that creatively solves what’s in front of them as opposed to the other people who took the test and only saw one color at a time as their brains weren’t fusing the images.
Now, how does this make a creative team indispensable in business? Aside from the prominent advertising and marketing benefits they bring, they find innovative solutions to complex problems and ask the right questions.
Finding creative solutions is self-explanatory and relates to the experiment done by Psychologists from the University of Melbourne. They have a unique view of the world, allowing them to arrive at a different conclusion. If all the people in your office are looking at a problem and arriving at solutions “A, B, and C,” a creative person might look at it and suggest solutions “D – Z.” Inversion is one way they can see thing’s most people aren’t capable of seeing.
Asking questions is another specialty of creative people. Catalytic questions, as stated before, help everyone think of a subject in a new way. They break the status quo to get more productive thinking started. On top of this, people experienced in the creative and marketing categories can put themselves in the customers’ shoes. They’re able to think like them and ask the questions that they would ask. This is invaluable as addressing these questions before they become a problem lets your company proactively develop solutions instead of doing that after the fact, and you’re forced to react.
Brand Loyalty, as defined by Carol M. Kopp, is the positive association consumers attach to a particular product or brand. An example of this would be someone who always gets McDonald’s when choosing what fast food to get. There is a vast selection of fast-food restaurants, but picking McDonald’s over all of them shows brand loyalty.
Marketers or creatives come into the picture by way of marketing campaigns. They are designed to bolster brand loyalty which in turn helps keep sales up. In line with watching and monitoring the brand, they also observe buying trends. These trends give them an insight into which brands are popular. Think of word association; if you say “shoe,” there is a chance that people decide to yell out their favorite brand or just a brand they know. The better your marketing strategy is, the higher the chance it’s your brand that pops into people’s heads when the type of service or product you provide is announced.
Brand trust is built when a company lives up to the expectations that its brand, product, or service promises. Trust directly affects brand loyalty. If your audience cannot trust a brand to keep its word or standards, then the commitment won’t be there. On the other hand, trust builds into loyalty when consumers are confident in your product or service. 8 out of 10 people, 81% globally and 80% of the US, surveyed for the Edelman Trust Barometer said that trusting a brand to do what they promised and make the right choice factored into their decision to buy. These are the people that will choose your brand over another even if there is a new trend. 76% of globally surveyed individuals said they would always recommend a brand if someone asks. One of the most impactful statistics came from when people were asked if they would continue to buy a product from a trusted brand even if a competitor was getting better reviews, where 75% of Americans and 69% of global consumers said they would stick with the trusted brand.
Brand trust, if built up organically and correctly, will lead to fierce brand loyalty. Brand loyalty brings your company two main benefits: a loyal customer base who will choose your product or service over competitors and even endorse your products when asked about them. Marketers are the ones responsible for building brand trust then eventually brand loyalty., You can have a good brand but not have the confidence needed to earn consumer loyalty. Marketers know where and how to achieve the trust your brand needs. They create content on various social media platforms where your target audience congregates. These content pieces allow your target audience to see what your company is all about and begin to build that trust you need for your brand to gain loyalty. Of course, marketers cannot do this alone. The product or service has to deliver on its promises. If your product or service doesn’t work as intended, no amount of marketing will help you earn brand loyalty.
Social media has always been a great place to share your thoughts and have a diverse audience interact with you. For marketers, it’s a great place to engage with potential customers. The need for social media became highly apparent during the start of the COVID pandemic around March 2020. Without the ability to engage with anyone, businesses had to find another way to get their message to their potential audience.
Every other topic mentioned before can be done or at least discussed on social media. If you’re a marketing agency, you can talk about your brainstorming sessions and post them as educational and insightful content. You could explain how your brand came to exist, why your logo looks the way it does, why your tagline or slogan is what it is. The type of content you produce depends on what your brand’s goal is. Setting a goal for content is also a way to put metrics on your marketing department to see if they’re meeting their goals.
Knowing Your Audience
The main point of digital marketing is knowing your goal and hitting the right audience with the right content. This sounds incredibly simple when stated like this, but all the work behind the scenes is why you need a marketer or a marketing team. Social media platforms coupled with tools such as Google Analytics, HubSpot, and SEMrush allow marketing teams to focus on the audience that has the highest chance of converting to a sale. Accurately allocated, your resources hit the correct targets, and you can profit from all the conversions you get. Poorly distributed resources lead to a chance to miss a large portion of potential clients.
The demographics and psychographics of your audience are essential in understanding who they are and what motivates them. Demographics refers to statistical data relating to specific populations, and the information includes items such as age, gender, ethnicity, income, etc. Psychographics refers to more psychological criteria such as attitudes and aspirations. The demographics explain the “who,” the psychographics explain the “why,” knowing who you’re targeting cuts out all the guesswork for all departments in your organization. Understanding the “why” is what helps you narrow down your actual audience. The “who” gives you a general idea of your audience, the why is what gives you precisely who to target, it lets you know what content to create to reach them, as well as which content to avoid to stop any potential alienation.
Knowing who your audience is and what motivates them allows your marketers to create content that will be engaging to said audience. Engaging content is essential as it does a multitude of things, including:
All of those items combined increase the chances of a sale. From the business perspective, marketing is there to increase the chances of a sale. How it gets there is dependent on who is in charge of marketing and what strategy they decide to employ.
Having touched on content briefly in previous sections, a basic definition of content is a message. All content is a message to the audience. However, it can be presented in several ways: text, image, video, or audio. Different content caters to different audiences and achieves different purposes. Marketers and creatives are able to utilize content to elicit responses from the audience. Think of creatives and marketers as drivers, and content is the vehicle they use to take the passenger, or the audience, on a trip. If the vehicle matches the style of the passenger, they’re going to enjoy the overall experience more than someone who likes different types of cars.
In the highly social world we live in today, anything can become content. Content creators on TikTok can stare at the camera for 10 seconds, then make a face and go viral due to their fans loving it. Marketers work on content in a slightly similar fashion, but data from analytical tools usually back their decisions.
The end goal of a piece of content determines what form it takes. For example, you own an ice cream shop and your goal is to educate possible clients about the benefits of ice cream. You can have a blog written on your website, which will be a bulk of information, but you could also turn that blog into an infographic. The data will be broken down into bite-sized pieces for easy consumption. The infographic can be posted on all social media while linking the full blog for those interested in the read. This strategy allows multiple posts to be created around one central theme, which makes hitting different audiences a lot easier.
Times have changed, and only those who have adapted have been able to thrive. Marketing has always been a big part of the business world. Still, before, people could go out and meet the audience in the real world through meetings, business conferences, conventions, and other social events. Now that the audience has moved to a more digital platform, companies have to make the transition as well, but quickly and successfully. Marketers and creatives are the solutions to this as they can effectively reach an audience through social media platforms. Their experience allows them to target and engage with their chosen audience accurately, thus setting off a chain of events that will potentially be a sale. Their unique views and skillsets make them invaluable. As the pandemic forced people to stay home and move their shopping and social interactions online, digital marketing and marketing were fused. Even as places open up for walk-in business, a majority of people still do their shopping online. When they were surveyed, they said they would continue to shop online even after the pandemic. The shift to online shopping has been made, and it’s here to stay. The best way to adapt is to do marketing online and meet your audience where they are.