Marketing: Managing the Creative Process

If you think of creativity as generating wild and crazy ideas, you’re right — but only one-fourth right. Yes, you have to do some open-minded thinking to come up with creative concepts.

But to actually benefit from your creativity, you need to have a mix of activities that includes exploring for new ideas and developing the best of them into practical applications in your ads, products, sales presentations, or other marketing activities.

You can show people how creativity needs to follow a four-step process to actually be of practical use in business. Here’s the process:

  1. Initiate.

    In this step, you recognize a need or opportunity and ask questions that launch a focused creative process. For example, you may take a look at your brochure(s) and ask yourself whether you can use an illustration and a catchy headline to make the brochure more exciting and powerful.

    Or if you run a women’s clothing store, you may recognize the need for a January sale to clear out fall and winter styles and make room for new spring fashions.

    Thoughts like these stimulate creative thinking and give it a practical focus. A creative brief is useful at this stage of the process.

  2. Imagine.

    In this step of the creative process, you engage in the imaginative, wild-and-crazy thinking that taps into your artistic side. Brainstorming techniques are good for this stage; your goal is to see how many wild ideas you can generate. It’s a good idea to assemble a group to help you at this stage.

  3. Invent.

    Now you need to get more practical. Take a critical look at all of the wild ideas you imagined and choose one or a few that seem most promising. Work on them to see how to make them more practical and feasible for your application.

    For example, if you’re working on a way to announce a 40 percent storewide discount at a women’s clothing outlet, one of your creative ideas from Step 2 may have been “have nude models stand in the window, waving to passersby to attract public attention to the sale.”

    It’s an impractical idea at best, but can you use it as raw material for inventing a good promotion? One store did by putting three full-sized mannequins in the window, each wearing only a poster board on a string around the neck.

    The first poster said “40%,” the second one said “OFF,” and the third said “EVERYTHING.” It was an eye-catching display, and it communicated the message — but it took an inventor’s persistence and practicality to translate a crazy idea into effective communication.

  4. Implement.

    Finally, you need to complete the creative process by pursuing successful adoption or implementation of your new idea or design. You may have a great design for a new brochure, but you can’t make money from it until you carefully select a printing method and find a way to distribute that brochure to prospects (even an e-brochure, distributed only on the web).

    Or if you’re designing a window display for a retail store, implementation may mean finding the right mannequins, signs, lighting, and so on and setting up the display according to the creative concept or plan.

You may need different sets of talents to imagine wild ideas and to implement them in a practical way. In fact, each of the four steps in the creative process (initiating, imagining, inventing, and implementing) requires different types of behavior. By knowing this fact, you can discipline yourself to change your style as you move through a round of creativity that follows the four steps of the creative process.

Alternatively, you may want to tap into the different creative styles of multiple people to take advantage of those who are particularly well suited for one or another of the steps in the creative process. If you’re particularly good at bringing imagination to the project, try to team up with someone who complements you by being really good at implementation.

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