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CMWorld 2021 - how do we overcome constraints with content? It's about creativity

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher October 7, 2021
CMWorld 2021 brought stories of content creativity to light - even within pandemic restraints. Content quality remains a worthwhile focus, but how do we make a personalized connection when seconds matter?

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Sweet Farm is a sustainable farming and non-profit animal sanctuary. Pre-pandemic, it was on target to get 40% of its revenue through business retreats where companies would book time with the animals, do some planting or harvesting, etc.

In February 2020, the farm was 100% booked. By March 12, all retreats were canceled, and that 40% revenue was out the window. What happened next was an example of creativity we can all learn from. 

There is no one better to talk about creativity at Content Marketing World World than Andrew Davis (just watch one of his videos). But can you be creative when you are constrained by things like, say, the pandemic? Davis said that constraint breeds creativity, and he set out in his keynote to demonstrate that idea. 

Mapping the cube of creativity

Davis shared the story of Sweet Farm and and what the farm did to embrace creativity and find a solution to its situation by introducing the "Cube of Creativity," four elements to craft a challenge that helps deliver creative solutions quickly:

  1. Unleash Resources - Creative fuel is finite, so it's important to stop doing all non-critical activities. Davis suggested that for every new initiative you take on, kill at least two in place already. For Sweet Farm, this required stopping everything that wasn't critical.
  2. Define the Outcome - Sweet Farm tasked its employees with focusing on one thing - finding a way to replace the 40% revenue they had lost. One outcome to focus on - replacing the lost revenue.
  3. Apply Constraint - these are additional constraints, Davis said. Market constraints are table stakes. When you apply an unreasonable limitation to an outcome, creativity becomes the output of all the constraints. In the Sweet Farm example, the added constraint was to have ideas by the following day.
  4. Raise the Stakes - Innovation happens when we embrace creativity over business as usual, so turn business as usual into the highest risk option. For Sweet Farm, if they stayed with their existing approach, it would mean laying off staff and finding new homes for the animals. Think in terms of "I bet you…", "I challenge you.."

So what did Sweet Farm end up doing to survive and thrive? 

They created "Goat2Meeting." 

The company offered to bring one of their animals into a zoom business call, essentially Zoom bombing boring corporate meetings, for a donation to the farm. It was a way to break up the constant Zoom that everyone was finding themselves in, bringing some lighthearted new during a stressful time. They launched the initiative on March 28, and raised over $1 million in donations by Zoom bombing 8,000 meetings. They were even sponsored at one point by GoToMeeting. 

Too often, we think creativity requires us to have all this time and room to think out of the box with no limits. But Davis showed us that some of the most creative solutions actually happen when we are up against the wall, when we put constraints around what we can do or when we have to do it. And the more constraints there are, the better the creative solutions. 

Davis wasn't the only one telling this story. Jason Miller, formerly from ActiveCampaign, also talked about creativity needing constraints in his session. Miller said the more unreasonable the constraints, the more creative the ideas. 

Miller shared a couple of other ways to unleash creativity, including controlling your inner critic and recognizing its value. He said it's time we treat it as the learnable skill it is because it is the future of marketing for the marketer.

So, we know we need to be creative and innovative, but what does that mean for creative content?

It's not about time or speed; it's about quality

Adam Morgan, Executive Creative Director at Adobe, wanted to bust some myths around content that works. You know, things like people only read what's above the fold, headlines need to be short and punchy, most don't watch past two minutes in a video (I heard 30 seconds somewhere), that our attention spans are like goldfish, and so, and so on…

He even showed research that said marketers should plan for the first second. One second...really? Morgan wanted to know if attention spans really are shrinking, and he spent a few years researching and talking to experts to figure it out.

What he found was pretty interesting. It's not about speed or time at all; it's about how our brains consume content. Most of the time, Morgan said, we aren't paying attention until something is different. This is because there are so many inputs hitting us that the brain can only pay attention to so much; the rest it predicts. But when it sees something different or out of the ordinary, it pays attention.

Morgan also talked about how we make decisions. If it's an existing experience, we find a match in our brain, and we feel a flood of emotion. But if there's no match, we notify the "CEO" and make a new memory. And that requires us to slow down and use logic to figure out what to do. 

A new memory is then an anomaly plus emotion.

He went back to the study about the one-second plan, which also said the brain can engage in 4 tenths of a second. Yes, it might be true it can engage that fast, but it's not about speed or time, Morgan said. 

It's about the quality of the content. If there's something about your content that hits them quickly: evokes an emotion or forces them to create a new memory, then you've captured their attention.

My take - hurry up and make that emotional connection

One of the big themes around the conference that I noticed was that you have to make an emotional connection with people. Which I get. But there was also a time limit put out there that we only have 5 seconds, no 4 seconds, no 1 second, to make that connection. That's right, I heard three different times in three separate sessions.

If we listen to Morgan, it's not about the time; it's about the content. But if continue to hear that we don't have a lot of time, then marketers get caught up in the time factor and work to put content tactics in place to hit those time targets. And they don't always hit an emotion.

That's the challenge for marketing today - taking all the tactical advice around SEO, content structure, and format, mixing it with understanding the information your customers want at the right life cycle stage, and then wrapping it all with storytelling to create the right content experiences. Oh, and by the way, do that so that it's contextually relevant and personalized for each customer - not a broad approach. 

It's no wonder marketing is confusing today. We're getting hit from all sides of marketing strategy and getting lost amongst all the trees in the forest.

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