From David Bowie to The Talking Heads, experimental British composer Brian Eno has spent his career bringing out the best in artists. But he might not be your first thought when you’re looking for ways to inspire creative marketing ideas. After all, he’s a musician, not a content marketer (although his 1975 track The Big Ship is great blog-writing music, especially on repeat.)
But when you are ready to mature your content marketing strategy, apply some lateral thinking, and get down to some seriously creative marketing, what worked for Devo will work for you.
Hats are optional.
It all starts with ideas, the lifeblood of a truly creative marketing strategy. And that’s where the deck of inspirational cards Eno and artist Peter Schmidt created in in 1975 comes in. Titled Oblique Strategies and billed as “over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas”, it’s a series of lateral thinking prompts embossed on paper cards, sold in a box set (you can buy your own box of inspiration here or access the web version).
They’re a timeless source of clarity for creators of all stripes, so we’ve collected a few of our favorites here that will change the way you consider your content strategy and lead you to more creative marketing output.
Creative Marketing Needs to Help. So Ask: “Would Anybody Want It?”
It’s easy to get sucked into making content you’re really not sure anybody will care about. Half-baked promotional asks from other teams, uninspired content supporting rollouts because “we should have something,” posts that get written just to fill the cadence on the blog calendar. Don’t do it.
Truly creative marketing meets a need; our audience is under no obligation to humor us just because we have something we want to promote. People are searching for something of value. Give it to them.
Creative Ideas Can Be Tough to Come By. So “Make an Exhaustive List of Everything You Might Do and Do the Last Thing on the List.”
Marketers are creative people; we know a good idea when we see one. But sometimes, it takes a little grinding to bring it into the light.
Your most creative marketing campaign can come when you’re convinced you’ve exhausted all your inventive mojo — don’t be afraid of pounding your head on the wall until you’ve wrung every creative drop out of your brain.
Then look at the list and, after you’ve cleared away all the just-OK ideas (after all, why haven’t you already jumped on them?) that came easily, you might be left with a gem at the bottom. This is a classic lateral thinking strategy, and can also be applied to team brainstorms.
Oblique Strategies is full of insightful lateral thinking prompts.
The Best Ideas Can Come From Anywhere. So “Use ‘Unqualified’ People.”
A few years ago, we at Conductor had a different mentality when it came to innovation: we tried to solve every digital marketing problem our customers faced.
Since then, we’ve changed our whole approach. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, we created a Partner Ecosystem with best-in-class marketing solutions like DeepCrawl and Dragon Metrics. We aggregate and customize their data (and our data) into a technology called Insight Stream.
The idea for the whole thing came from an intern.
Someone who’s no longer even with the company — someone who some orgs might reduce to getting coffee or making copies — had one idea that’s brought in millions of dollars for this company. Creative marketing can come from anywhere; often, from the place you least expect it. Look outside the marketing team in your own company for sources of inspiration or potential content creators. Lateral thinking means fresh perspectives.
Look at things another way.
Break Out of Your Shell. Ask “What Wouldn’t You Do?”
Brand identity is a tricky thing. It’s important for customers to know who you are; but at the same time, too much reliance on what you’ve done before can calcify your creativity. At Conductor, we recently committed to a renewed investment in what we call “experimental content”; something we’re not sure we’ll work, and we’ve never done before — but that’s why we’re doing it.
“What wouldn’t Conductor do?” is a question we ask ourselves often. One answer — make a comedy sketch about French Existentialism — was scary to pursue; we weren’t sure anyone would like it. But it ended up being the most successful breakout video on our entire YouTube channel.
Stepping outside your brand’s comfort zone isn’t easy, and truly creative marketing involves some risk. It won’t always work, but you need to look at your failures as successes in their own right: great, you learned something. But when it does, the returns from truly creative marketing are often far greater than the less-creative output that hews too closely to brand guidelines but doesn’t speak to your audience in an interesting way.
It pays to take creative risks.
There’s Nothing Magic About This. It’s “Simply a Matter of Work.”
The incredibly creative marketing work — the stuff that wins awards and generates millions of impressions — can seem daunting to consider. You might think, “I’ll never come up with something that good.” “We’re a niche B2B company, how can we make anything exciting?” “Nobody reads our blog; we’re just shouting into the void.”
But every great marketer started at zero; the difference between the Seth Godins of the world and the brand-new junior copywriters is simply the amount of work they’ve put in, and their willingness to go bring in techniques like lateral thinking that encourage creativity and originality.
If you want to be a great marketer, be a great marketer. If you want to create incredible content, create it. The only thing that can stop you is if you decide to no longer put one foot in front of the other. Anybody can win a Clio; anybody can hit 100k subscribers on YouTube. To quote the Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, “If it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.” As true in modern marketing as it was back then.
Creative marketing is within anyone’s reach. You’re a creative person; it’s why you’re in this business. Lateral thinking can get you closer to your best work ever, and speak to your audience in brand new ways that might just change the status quo. Just ask Brian Eno.