Don't let fear of failure stifle your creativity

Forget about the things that may stand in your way – and use this simple checklist to home in on the bold content ideas that will delight and inspire your target audience says Will Brookes, MD of alan's sister brand Raconteur.

You do have what it takes to inspire your customers with content.

All you need is the right idea.

So today, we are going to help you home in on the best ideas to grab your audience’s attention – no matter what industry you work in, how much experience you have or what size your marketing budget is.

In fact, the checklist we’re about to share with you will make it far easier to focus your mind on the kind of bold creative idea that will grab your audience’s attention and turn them into outspoken brand advocates.

With a little practice, you may even be able to use it to transform your company’s marketing initiatives and advance your career in the process.

But first, we need you to do something for us.

We need you to clear your mind of all the things that might be holding your marketing back. Put the question of how you’re going to create this content, deliver this campaign or pay for any of it to one side. Worrying about that too early on is the same as giving up before you’ve begun.

Sure, it can be easy to look at a slick production like HP’s The Wolf and think: “I simply don’t have the resources to do something like that!”

But, it isn’t the huge budget that makes this award-winning video engaging. And it isn’t the gripping performance from Christian Slater, either. The polished execution may have played a role in catching the attention of the judges at the Cannes Lions. But, the thing that draws you in and keeps you watching is the idea.

In telling its story from a cyber criminal’s perspective, HP takes the dry topic of corporate IT security and brings it to life in a way that’s sure to grab the attention of anyone involved in IT procurement. The fact is, this same idea could be used to create great content in any number of formats – from blog posts to infographics, podcasts and beyond.

As you’ll see today, the same is true of your own content marketing strategy. It doesn’t matter if you have a budget of £100 or £100 million: once you have the right idea, the rest will follow.

In fact, you’ll even find it’s far easier to secure the buy-in and resources you need to deliver great content initiatives when you pitch them to your colleagues with a great idea already fully formed.

“You can do your homework until doomsday, but you will never win fame and fortune unless you invent big ideas,” writes marketing legend David Ogilvy in On Advertising. “Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”

That’s why we need you to forget about all the things that might hold you back and focus on coming up with that one great idea.

To help you, we’ll run you through a simple checklist you can use to home in on the kind of bold content ideas that will surprise and delight your audience. Then, we’ll outline how to bring that idea to life in a format that suits both your budget and the needs of your customers.

How to have ideas that inspire your audience

A big idea doesn’t need a blockbuster budget to make an impact.

There are certain messages that people instinctively respond to wherever they see them – and these are the ideas we’re concerned with today.

The first thing to remember is that people across the world are all motivated by the same core emotional drivers: fear and greed.

Whether you’re a marketer, a CEO or a market stall trader, we’re all basically interested in seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Psychologists call this the ‘pleasure principle’, and its origins can be traced back to philosopher and UCL founder Jeremy Bentham.

Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as what we shall do. - Jeremy Bentham

In the context of B2B marketing, that means you need to develop a deep understanding of your customers’ pain points. What are the business opportunities they’re struggling to capitalise on? And, what are the looming threats keeping them up at night?

That’s why it’s so important to research your audience’s needs thoroughly and create detailed buyer personas for each of the stakeholder groups you’re trying to reach.

Armed with these insights, you’ll be in a far better position to create content that’s relevant to your target audience. But more importantly, you will have the raw materials you need to have ideas that appeal to their emotions.

Once you have a firm grasp of the general themes your customers care about, the next step is to gauge how aware they are of your offering. This will determine how direct you can be with your messaging, and therefore what kinds of story you should look to tell.

A customer who already knows what kind of solution they need to solve their problems will respond well to a strong offer or promise. Meanwhile, someone who is only aware of the frustration of not being able to capitalise on a given opportunity may respond better to a bold proclamation or story.

With this essential research completed, you’re now ready to start brainstorming content ideas. Start by asking yourself: “What excites my audience? What does my company do that our audience might respond to? How can I frame that topic so that it appeals to their emotions? And, what might be a rallying cry that resonates with them?”

As you do this, remember that big ideas are formed in the background of your mind – and your mind can only work with what you put into it.

Cram your conscious mind with as much relevant information as possible. Then, unhook your rational thought process. You need to allow yourself some unpressured ‘thinking time’. So, go for a walk or book a meeting room for a few hours just to think and play with ideas.

When something comes to you, test the concept on your clients or co-workers. You’ll know from their responses if your idea has legs.

When you have the idea, the rest will follow

Ogilvy himself once said that mediocre marketers love making TV commercials because film producers make them look good. But the fact is, if you start with a good idea it will work in a wide range of formats.

One thing I’ve learnt since being managing director is that decision-making is tough. You need to consider the bigger picture and scrutinise the likely impact of all the different options available to you before you do anything. That’s the only way you can start to make logical decisions based on the relative pros and cons, and subsequently get support for your choices.

But, the crucial thing is: you have to list ALL the options first. Even the ones that seem a bit ridiculous, or like ‘non-starters’.

Quite often the ‘best solution’ comes from a combination of things, and sometimes a little bit of something crazy can be what transforms good idea into something great. But, you just won’t arrive at that ideal conclusion if you completely write things off at the start.

So, use the same insights you uncovered while researching your content idea to create a shortlist of formats that suit your audience’s preferences and the story you’re trying to tell. Then, choose the best option for your brand based on your team’s budget and level of expertise.

For example, most content marketing campaigns will include a top-of-funnel element designed to attract qualified prospects and get them engaging with your brand.

Video is great for reaching customers at this stage in the buyer journey. So, you might decide to commission a series of videos to anchor a social media campaign – like IBM did with its Atomic Shorts campaign.

But video can still be pricey, and there are plenty of other formats to choose from that can deliver results quickly and on a much smaller budget. IBM could equally have developed a series of blog posts, infographics or shareable social card images to highlight that it was literally moving atoms in the name of memory research.

In fact, it often pays to start small when testing a new idea. Consider delivering a small-scale campaign first to test the water and see if your idea hits home. Then, use the insights you uncover to inform your decision-making when rolling out a full-scale initiative.

Samsung’s The Open Economy campaign is a great example of this approach in action. The mobile giant foreshadowed its main campaign with a soft launch consisting exclusively of bitesize pieces of social media content. In the process, it uncovered valuable data about the best messages and channels to target to effectively engage its audience.

This kind of approach will give you confidence that your content marketing is on the right track.

When you find an idea that works, look for ways to scale it up to deliver more ambitious and far-reaching campaigns. As you expand your initiatives, you’ll build up a bank of evidence you can use to secure buy-in for your initiatives from the rest of the company.

In time, you may even be able to make the case for investing in a big budget production like HP’s The Wolf – all because you made sure your campaign started with a big idea.

The point is, you should never let fear of failure stifle your creativity.

Whenever you embark on a new campaign, put questions like how you’ll create the content or distribute it to the right audience to one side. Instead, focus on coming up with that one great idea. Once you have that, everything else will fall into place.

Key takeaways

  • Don’t let fear of failure stand in your way. Forget about the things that might hold you back and focus on coming up with a bold idea that will strike a chord with your audience.

  • Know your audience inside out. Consume as much information as possible about your customers and the challenges they face. These are the raw materials that will eventually become your big idea.

  • When you have the idea, the rest will follow. A big idea doesn’t need a blockbuster budget to make an impact. You can choose from any number of formats to bring your campaign to life.

* Raconteur is a sister brand to alan.

Interested in pushing your creative boundaries? Call us on 020 3877 3800 or email us at to speak to one of our specialists about how we can help you build a content strategy aligned to your business goals.

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