Eighty-three percent of top-performing B2B content marketers said their “organization values creativity and craft in content creation and production,” according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2022 Enterprise Marketing Study. Only 63% of all enterprise marketers surveyed said the same.
It’s a real head-scratcher as to why an organization wouldn’t value creativity, but we all know it can happen. Performance isn’t typically measured in units of creativity—if those even existed. Internal gatekeepers tend to have more business-oriented KPIs in mind: things like traffic, conversions, qualified leads and sales. You know, the metrics that tend to generate revenue for the company.
And that’s totally understandable. But what creatives and effective marketing leaders know is that, when strategically applied, creativity can pump up all those metrics and then some.
Creativity begins and ends with your team, and there are ways to improve the quality and output of their creative work.
Here are my tips for boosting creativity in your marketing team:
1. Instill a yes-and culture.
If you’ve ever lived in Chicago, the home of The Second City theater where the concept was invented—you probably know what this means. It means that when someone takes a risk and pipes up with a new idea, you and your team instinctively know to greet that idea with a smile, not a frown. Then, rather than tearing it to shreds, you build on it.
2. Protect and play with ideas in their infancy.
Ideas are like their own organisms—they need protection to survive. Like puppies, they’re also fun to play with. As you’re yes-anding, you’re tossing an idea around the room, putting spins on it, applying new paint, combining it with other ideas. Occasionally, you step back and see potential for a new iteration. All the while, you and your team are having a ball, and the idea is improving by the minute.
3. Hire for diversity.
A team that’s filled with people who have similar backgrounds and experiences can quickly become an echo chamber of bland ideas. You also risk limiting your content to a narrow audience and preventing entire demographics from becoming customers. When your team includes diverse perspectives, your ideas get way more interesting and have even greater potential to move the needle.
4. Don’t let data scare you away from new ideas.
The best ideas often don’t have any precedent. Data can give you evidence about what could work or how to improve an idea, but if the idea is original, you won’t have any data that will perfectly predict how it will perform. Just ask studio executives in Hollywood. They have no idea what will be a hit and what won’t (unless it’s a Marvel or Bond movie—then it’s got a pretty good shot of making money). Originality is what you’re after. It’s what helps your work and your brand stand out from the competition and drive results.
5. Share inspiration.
Set time aside—once a week, once a month, whatever—for your team to share work that inspires them. Doing this regularly can help your team strengthen its creative muscles in a number of ways. For one, it will introduce your team to awesome work that they can build on, borrow from and flat-out steal. It also helps your team—particularly junior members—develop their presentation skills and improve their creative vocabulary. (Being creative isn’t always enough. You need to be able to talk about why certain decisions were made, reasons it’s effective, how it was created, what its goal was, etc.) And lastly, it’s just another way to strengthen bonds within your team, which will always lead to better work.
6. Review work.
Talking about work your team actually created is like taking the training wheels off of sharing inspiration. Help your team develop the communication skills to both present their own work and speak constructively about (that is, critique) the work of others. Ask questions, offer suggestions, but never let it get personal. Again, this is a great learning experience for greener (and often even experienced) creatives who must learn to separate themselves from their work and accept criticism gratefully. Notes aren’t insults—they’re favors.
7. Give everyone a voice at the table.
Whether it’s a brainstorm, critique or inspiration meeting, the same people can’t dominate the room. Help your quieter or newer team members get involved. The safer they feel, the more likely they’ll want to speak up and offer their ideas. The tips above can really help them build their confidence and allow your team to benefit from their thoughts. (In my experience, the quieter folks often have the best ideas.) It can be tricky to encourage involvement without making someone feel like they’ve been put on the spot, but being uncomfortable isn’t a categorically bad thing. To learn and improve, you have to do things outside of your comfort zone.
8. Have a laugh—the stakes couldn’t be lower.
“It’s PR, not ER.” I heard that phrase in the halls of a PR agency I used to work at—although not often enough. The same sentiment applies to any aspect of marketing: If you screw up, no one dies. So while there’s nothing wrong with striving for the best creative work possible, don’t forget to have some fun. The fun your team is having will come through in the work, and your creativity will be stronger for it over the long run.