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The Rare White Squirrel Who Eats Pumpkins (and Other Stories of Creativity)

creativity-day-inspire-content-creationI’ll get back to the white squirrel in a minute …

We hear from content creators all the time about the struggle to be creative day in and day out. We understand. The struggle is real. So are the excuses:

But creativity is critical when it comes to standing out among the screaming noise that distracts your audience daily. There’s hope. And there are tactics you can use to inject more creativity into your content marketing efforts.

Creative #content is critical to stand out in the screaming noise distracting your audience. @EditorStahl Click To Tweet

Be insanely honest

If you ask Doug Kessler, creative director and co-founder of Velocity Partners, he’ll urge you to use insane honesty to boost your creativity – and not the regular kind of honest that we all have an obligation to be, but insane honesty that forces you to “actively seek out weaknesses and share openly.”

Say whaaaat? I know that kind of honesty is counterintuitive to what most of us are trained to do. Marketers are supposed to tell the world how great their companies, products, services, leaders are – even if sometimes they aren’t. You know – turn lemons into lemonade, grapes into sangria, and such.

Nope. Doug has collected numerous highly creative content marketing examples of insane honesty – from an Amsterdam hotel that caters to backpackers with little to spend on anything more than a bed in a shared room that may or may not be clean to a shelter promoting a dog who is really quite adorable but may be a threat to the fingers and toes of young children.

Image source: Doug Kessler, Hans Brinker Hotel
Image source: Doug Kessler, Hans Brinker Hotel

“It builds trust and alienates your less likely buyers,” Doug says.

Use insane honesty to boost your creativity, build trust, & alienate your less likely buyers. @dougkessler Click To Tweet

Seriously, why try to fool someone who isn’t going to buy your product or services anyway? It’s a waste of your time and theirs. Go ahead and un-sell a bit.

TIP: Find more inspiration from Doug in his session during CMI’s Content Creativity Day and his SlideShare presentation. He’s collecting new examples all the time, so share one if you have one.

Push back on same-old thing

Another great tenet for creativity is to resist, no RESIST, the same-old, same-old. In my years of creating content and strategy for technology companies, it was often difficult to determine what made one company stand out among its competitors. Every company in the cloud-computing space seemed to have the same benefits just worded slightly differently. I was constantly asking subject matter experts, “What makes you stand out? What makes you innovative? What makes you unique?” The more I questioned, the clearer the value (or lack thereof) in their messaging became. It’s the kind of thing that turns marketers to rely on fluff, which, as Jay Acunzo, creator of the Unthinkable podcast, says can rot your teeth and brain.

“It’s time to rethink how we approach creativity,” he says. “Noise is not the problem, sameness is.”

It’s time to rethink how we approach creativity. Noise is not the problem, sameness is. @jayacunzo. Click To Tweet

I love this idea of using content to differentiate, not just to say you are better. If you really are better, then it will be clear to the reader.

Use #content to differentiate, not just to say your products are better. @EditorStahl Click To Tweet

There are several key components to great creative writing – such as a nut graph and the hook – that can help you get there, Jay advises. In college, I was the resident editor for my friends’ essays and thesis papers. At times, I would write in bright, red pen (it gave me a sense of power), “What’s the point?” Inevitably, their defenses would go up and the commentary would spew. But the point – the nut graph – eventually surfaced. Sometimes that’s all it took to turn “meh” content into much better or even great content.

During Content Creativity Day, Jay urged content creators not to assume that creativity starts from a great big idea. He offered great examples of successful content marketing from people who spent time investigating, sharing information, and starting small.

“Creativity is so much more than madness. It has a method,” Jay says.

Check out his session to learn more and be inspired.

Image credit: Jay Acunzo
Image credit: Jay Acunzo

Enter the white squirrel

OK, now to the white squirrel eating pumpkins mentioned in my headline.

I made note of said squirrel recently when I was suffering from a bit of writer’s block. I took the great advice of Carla Johnson, chief experience officer at Type-A Communications, and put down my pencil (yes, I like to do my first drafts with a sharp pencil and crisp paper on a clipboard and subsequent drafts on my laptop) and observed the things around me.

Carla’s counsel comes from working with companies that don’t have exciting products to tout. It makes their content producers envious of companies with cool stuff to promote and leads to lots of excuses for a lack of creativity. If you’re a similar victim, Carla urges you to undergo a “brand transplant.”

Envious of marketers w/ cool stuff to promote? Undergo a brand transplant. @carlajohnson Read more >> Click To Tweet

Start by observing things around you – the environment, music, etc. – and write down what you see. Then distill those ideas, look for patterns, and relate them to your brand. The great ideas will start to flow. I’m summarizing her more-detailed ideas of breaking bad habits, which can be viewed in full here, but it’s exactly what I did when I was struggling for a creative headline idea.

In case you thought I was just making up the white squirrel eating the pumpkin, please let the photo below serve as proof. This pumpkin eater is part of a family of white squirrels that my neighbors and my family have been enjoying for many years. They are kind of magical, really.

Stephanie Stahl’s magical white squirrel who eats pumpkins, nuts, and nut graphs
Stephanie Stahl’s magical white squirrel who eats pumpkins, nuts, and nut graphs

And these unique animals are a reminder that sameness isn’t creative. What is creative is standout content – like a white squirrel who likes to eat pumpkins (and nut graphs!).

To be inspired and get more practical insight, view the Creativity Day presentations from Doug Kessler, Jay Acunzo, Carla Johnson, and Tim Washer. Sign up today – it’s free.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute