2020 marks a decade of what many people view as the ‘digital era’. Before 2010, handheld devices had more limited functionality, and social media was far less pervasive than it is now. Growing numbers of consumers are using online shopping as their first port of call, while a University of Denmark study has shown that attention spans have decreased as consumers switch between topics more regularly in search of ‘newness’. In short, digital marketing has changed the way in which consumers engage with brands. In an increasingly interconnected world, how can SMEs make themselves heard among the clamour of voices trying to sell their products to consumers twenty-four hours a day?Simply put, it pays to be distinctive and invest in creativity.

Design is the key to success in challenging times. However, creativity has become somewhat commoditised in the marketing community. Jargon litters the pages of websites promising creative solutions and the tools to make your business the ‘next big thing’. Consumers are increasingly cynical of this approach, and they expect interactions on their various devices to be original and engaging. Hooking the attention of these consumers and resonating with them may seem like an elusive art, but there is a certain amount of science and common sense involved too. This article follows our most recent Marketing Matters piece on creative marketing for SMEs.

What is investing in creativity?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines creativity as:

‘The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.’

In the context of marketing, creativity is about attention and inspiration. Does a campaign or brand make you pause, or think, or encourage you to find out more?

Highly successful businesses have been built around seemingly nonsensical concepts that have never been done before. In 2015, Alex Craig decided to offer a service unlike any other: to offer customers the opportunity to send a potato with a customised message to a recipient of their choice. ‘Potato Parcel’ took $2000 in its first two days, went viral on social media, and divided opinion around the globe. However admirable, this entrepreneurship is not necessarily useful to an SME, but offers an interesting and humorous example of how breaking the mould can pay off. SMEs have the advantage of being flexible and can manoeuvre more quickly than larger businesses in response to industry trends and changing circumstances. Carving out a niche and thinking outside of the box can be hugely beneficial in raising your profile and attracting new customers.

Invest in creativity | Mackman Branding and Marketing Agency
‘The Squeeze Play’: Seth Godin’s Purple Cow uses this diagram to illustrate the demands on consumers’ attention

Making creative marketing work for you

As long ago as 2002/3, Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, made the case for innovation and to invest in creativity in order to cut through the noise of advertising and products. Godin urges businesses to focus on what the market leader is doing, and then do the opposite. Drastic though this may seem, it is through taking risks and thinking differently that you can end up ahead of the curve.

In contrast, the follow-up book edited by Godin, The Big Moo: Stop Trying to be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable, encourages caution. Novelty for its own sake is a high-risk strategy. Businesses that declare themselves to be ‘off the wall’, ‘zany’ or ‘original’ risk drowning out their message. Where there is no value to be added, avoid being distracting: use your discretion to judge what is appropriate for your business.

There are a great many books that provide techniques and tips for making your product or business stand out. Jonah Berger’s Contagious: Why Things Catch On (2013) suggests that ‘breaking a pattern people have come to expect’ enables you to reach new audiences in creative ways. The Economist, for example, deployed a branded bucking bronco machine in several cities around the country to highlight the unpredictable nature of the stock market, engaging people who may not otherwise have read their publication in a fun, unexpected way. Creativity can often be achieved through iteration and juxtaposition, and therefore putting together ideas that are not often seen in combination can result in synergy and create a buzz around your business.

SMEs with a limited marketing budget can produce creative marketing that pays dividends. Studies have shown that viral campaigns produce greater commercial gains than average, and also had half of the budget for an average campaign. The key to invest in creativity is often the ability to do more with less.

Here is a list of strategies when considering your creative output:

1. Participate in the local community

As an SME, the people and businesses in your local area are your best advocates. Keep informed about local events, make the most of opportunities for publicity, and connect with other businesses. Everyone can be an extension of your marketing team, and you can provide them with opportunities to contribute to your marketing strategy in a creative way. Encourage and incentivise employees to volunteer with local charities: members of the local community tend to be more willing to purchase services from businesses that invest in and get involved with the whole community. Google My Business enables you to promote your business for free, and a top ranking encourages local people to come to you first.

2. Listen to the data

Creativity can, and should, be driven by insight into your customer base. By understanding the people you are targeting, you can encourage long-term loyalty and brand awareness. ‘Data driven marketing which focuses on the individual’ was viewed by marketers in a recent Econsultancy survey as the most exciting opportunity in 2019. By identifying the content that has been resonating the most with your audience, you can consider innovative ways to produce similar results.

3. Produce engaging content

Use your digital platforms to establish a distinctive tone of voice and perspective. Through case studies, news pieces and industry news, establish yourself as a resource for your sector and demonstrate your expertise. As Berger points out in Contagious, ‘top of mind means tip of tongue’. Above all, any content you write should be natural. Human beings are the target for your writing, and despite the importance of SEO in getting your hard work noticed, nobody wants to read an article designed exclusively with Google in mind, having lost sight of the end user.

4. Interact with your customers

Returning to the idea of tone of voice, being active on social media and being responsive to customer comments can raise your profile. For example, Innocent, the drinks manufacturer, adopts a chatty, informal tone in their social media marketing. They are self-aware, recognising and satirising marketing tropes such as Blue Monday and linking themselves to seemingly irrelevant events such as National Penguin Day, claiming that: ‘There are no penguins in any of our drinks. And there never will be.’ In an interview with PRWeek.com, Helena Langdon, Communities Manager at Innocent, explained that the brand wanted their ‘social channels to be genuinely interesting and entertaining accounts that people want to follow.’

5. Make the most of LinkedIn

Related to the point about social media, LinkedIn enables you as an SME to be part of a business community in which you can find inspiration, gain insight into competitors, and promote your content online. By joining groups on LinkedIn, you can network with other SMEs and raise your business’s profile. Successful businesses on LinkedIn come across to visitors as businesses whose products or services they would buy, and one that they would want to work for.

This is by no means a checklist or ‘how to’ guide, but hopefully encourages you to assess your marketing output as an SME and invest in creativity. Whether you outsource the services of a full service agency or employ an internal marketing team, it is worth considering how you can appeal to your consumer base by thinking creatively and making yourself distinctive.

For help unlocking your company’s creative streak and investing in creativity, call Mackman on 01787 388038.