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How To Create Disruptive, Innovative Content That Aligns With Your Brand

All marketers aspire to create that memorable moment – one that gets people talking and thinking about their brand well after they first see it.

Historically, the National Football League’s Super Bowl showcased many of those moments – from Apple’s signature 1984 spot to Old Spice’s The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.

The ads turned into more than passing distractions during breaks in the game’s action. They inserted themselves into the fabric of America’s cultural passion and forever linked to that event’s enjoyable experience.

Streaming service Tubi hoped to add its name to that memorable list this year with its interface interruption spot. The ad appeared like the standard return from a commercial break, complete with Fox Sports announcers welcoming viewers back to the game.

But some clever visual overlays quickly transformed the screen into an involuntary streamer-surfing experience. It got viewers to stand up (some literally) and wonder if the screen’s appearance happened because they were sitting on their remotes.

It might not be the stuff of a historically memorable ad, but in a space dominated by high-powered celebrity cameos and pricey nostalgia-centric stunts, Tubi won the day with innovation. The brand kept it real (perhaps too real?), kept the focus on a relatable experience, and emerged with (arguably) the watercooler moment of the game.

Standing out in a marketplace flooded with content takes that kind of disruptive creative vision built on a keen understanding of your brand and its audience.

How can your brand captivate consumers with innovative content creations? Wieden+Kennedy’s head of strategy Marcus Collins says to start by factoring your brand’s cultural perspectives into your creative ideation process.

Use a cultural lens to explore new ideas

For innovation to happen, you don’t just need to generate ideas. You need to develop the right ideas that fit your brand’s identity, distinguish it from competitors, and resonate with your audience.

“You need to build your creative operations around the cultural identity of the organization, and that effort has to start with belief, says Marcus, who has an upcoming book on the subject, For The Culture: The Power Behind What We Buy, What We Do, and Who We Want to Be.

He says you must ask, “What does your brand believe? How does it see the world? What is the driving conviction that’s leading you to seek a change?”

Marcus also thinks cultural alignment can help leaders expand their team’s understanding of the audience and add a focused direction to their ideation process.

“As marketers, we’re not just creating videos, images, and text. What we should be creating are cultural products – things that reflect our organization’s beliefs and how it sees the world. That cultural product creates a gravitational pull for people who see the world similarly,” he says.

To create that pull, your team needs to understand their views. “The discourse between us is how we start to turn ideas into meaning,” Marcus says.

Conducting conversations with your customers is a good place to start. The need also exists to incorporate outside stimuli and diverse perspectives into those conversations. Otherwise, your team might get trapped in an echo chamber. “That prevents new ideas from emerging or new behaviors and processes from being formed around them,” Marcus says.

Reset your definition of innovation

Organizations often call upon marketers to fuel their innovative ideas. They also frequently equate innovation with creativity. Though related, the two concepts aren’t synonymous.

In a recent blog post, innovation architect and author of Re:Think Innovation Carla Johnson defines the difference this way: “Creativity is the idea of bringing a new perspective to anything and having it add value. Innovation is the process of transforming that creativity into value.”

While one can’t succeed without the other, Carla says failing to recognize and nurture this small yet critical distinction leads many businesses’ innovations to fail. “Misunderstanding what innovation is and how it looks keeps us from really understanding how to come up with those ideas and operationalize them in a beneficial way,” she writes.

Distinguish ‘possibility’ from ‘executability’

Innovation starts with ideas. But your team may need to come up with dozens of raw ideas before homing in on ones worth developing.

Content teams often rely on brainstorming to generate a steady flow of innovation possibilities. They often incorporate improv exercises, word association, and mind-mapping into their creative workflow.

Yet, Carla argues these “free-thinking” exercises can be problematic. “Marketers tend to go straight into the brainstorming step without having done anything to prime their work. There’s no inspiration to come up with an idea that’s truly innovative,” she says.

The resulting ideas often just rehash something already done. Or, after implementing them, you discover the ideas are unrealistic, poorly focused, or difficult to execute effectively.

Consider this illustration of those limitations:

In this Instagram video, actor and Aviation Gin’s influencer-in-chief Ryan Reynolds apologizes to NFL fans for failing to develop an ad for the big game. As a remedy, he conducts an impromptu ad brainstorm for next year’s campaign.

Your creative team likely recognizes the improvisational word association technique he uses. But even Ryan admits the resulting idea isn’t great: Its clever, brand-friendly name lacks a clear brand purpose and consistency with other initiatives. It also causes unexpected challenges for the team members who must iron out the legal and technical details.

Aviation Gin created a follow-up ad that was inspiring (though it has since been taken down). But it’s better to develop ideas that account for the approval and implementation process and the execution as part of a consistent brand experience. Otherwise, those “nice-to-have” ideas won’t get traction within your organization.

Think iteration, not invention

Your content team can develop innovative ideas without being original. Uber didn’t invent the idea of hailing a driver – it just made the process more efficient. Airbnb didn’t invent short-term housing rentals. It translated the model used by hotels, hostels, and independent homeowners by “appifying” the process to create an innovative new business sector.

Marcus likens this to the work of sociologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, who looked at creativity through the lens of bricolage – a French term for creating something new from a diverse range of existing materials.

“That’s hip-hop (music) through and through,” he says. “Take a sample of this, a sample from that, add new lyrics and a melody, and you have a new song. I think for creators, a bricolage approach can get us to ideas that feel familiar yet fresh.”

Manifest’s Creative Pushups initiative is a great example. While the agency certainly didn’t invent the concept of creativity exercises, it evolved the format and introduced it into a new setting, creating something fresh and exciting for the content marketing community.

Creative Pushups began as a series of fun brainstorming and free-expression exercises designed to help Manifest’s team members break away from existing patterns and re-energize their ideation process with some personal flair.

Each pushup kicks off with a quirky creative prompt, such as “Write the title of your memoir,” “Tell us what the Mona Lisa is looking at,” or “Rebrand Thanksgiving from the turkey’s point of view” (shown here).

Manifest’s senior vice president of agency growth Mark Kats says the idea grew out of the need to substitute their in-person brainstorms with virtual sessions at the beginning of the pandemic. Launched as an internal Slack channel, its popularity inspired Manifest to expand the program onto LinkedIn and invite other creatives to participate.

The success of the Creative Pushups LinkedIn group got Manifest thinking about other ways to expand the impact. “We’re passionate about bringing creativity and newness to content. But we became really excited about extending that into a different space,” Mark says.

To test the concept, the agency pitched the idea of Creative Pushups as a series of mini sessions at Content Marketing World 2022.

It took a little convincing – and a lot of logistics work – to translate “spontaneous creativity in a ‘judgment-free zone’” into a presentation-based educational conference.

As you can see from a photo taken at the event, that transformational work included designing a space to feel more vibrant cocktail party than a convention center breakout room. High-top tables and comfy lounge chairs replaced conference desks and banquet chairs. Snacks, beverages, art supplies, and colorful toys inspired creativity, while minimal lighting and upbeat music created a space suitable for enjoyment and exploration.

All that hard work paid off. Creative Pushups was among the most popular sessions at the event, and Manifest is looking to bring it back for Content Marketing World 2023.

But the program’s story doesn’t end there. Manifest took Creative Pushups on the road to expand its impact and influence beyond the marketing arena. “Lots of organizations have internal creative teams that can benefit from activities or workshops that get them thinking a little bit differently about their day-to-day challenges,” Mark says.

That effort kicked off with a sold-out session at this year’s South by Southwest event. Manifest plans to share highlights and details on its latest creative exercises and techniques on LinkedIn.

Enable ‘operation innovation’ to succeed

Your content team’s creative ideas can forge a memorable, meaningful connection with consumers. But you must ignite those sparks of attention repeatedly and sustain and extend their initial connections through additional content assets. Take inspiration from these experts to create an innovative vision that will lead your organization to the next level of success.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in CCO.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute