Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Seeking Inspiration: Four Steps to Being Creative on a Deadline

Seeking Inspiration: Four Steps to Being Creative on a Deadline

It's a battle as old as time. You've been assigned to an important project with a tight deadline, but your inspiration's running dry. The clock is the ultimate enemy, bringing a new bout of anxiety with every passing minute, yet you're not sure where to begin.

How can you possibly be creative when the pressure is mounting?

In even the most free-spirited of offices (like those with table tennis and ice cream machines), sometimes creativity has a deadline: It's the nature of the work.

Though it seems impossible, working around time, budget, vision, and technology restrictions is doable.

So finish your cone and put down the paddles, and check out these four tips to help your creativity shine while on deadline.

1. Step away from the computer

No matter how hard you try, staring blankly at the computer won't make writer's block disappear. So when you're feeling drained, hit "shut down" and allow your mind to wander.

A glowing screen can often stifle how you process information, so it's important to not confine your imagination. I'm a big believer in sketching things out, literally. Change up the medium by picking up a pencil and paper. Allow yourself to doodle, letting your wrist move freely from your elbow—doing so creates a more natural and relaxed flow. Scribbling serves as an important foundation to creativity because it's the first sign of an idea coming from head to hand... and we've been able to do it since pre-school.

Stepping away from the screen allows you to get ideas out quickly, without distraction.

Still craving some form of structure? Try creating a mind map on a whiteboard. Mind maps are a visual thinking tool that help structure information, allowing you to better analyze, synthesize, and generate ideas. Like sketching, mind-mapping allows ideas to unravel before your eyes, revealing connections that weren't obvious before—and inspiring action.

2. Surround yourself with complementary personalities

Whenever your motivation is running on empty, refuel by regrouping with creative—and not-so-creative—teams. Huddle up with folks from different disciplines—i.e., not the same kind of thinkers. Scooby and the gang doesn't work if they all overthink like Velma. What if everyone on Seinfeld thought like Kramer? And the Avengers fail if they're all a Hulk.

There is strength and resolve in the ensemble, so gather your George, Elaine, Kramer, and maybe even Puddy. Get out of the office and hit up your local diner or go for a walk in the park: Presenting the problem to fresh minds may introduce a solution that was initially overlooked. And embracing a new environment may deliver some outside-the-box ideas.

Not able to leave the office? Spend a few minutes thinking of the end user and role-play with your team. As a group, try putting yourself in someone else's shoes. Challenge each other to really listen and draw from different ideas and experiences. Have each person write down a word that best describes the intended target, and then read the list to see commonalities. As a group, work to personify your target audience: What do they like? What drives them?

Let's say your client is a pizza chain looking to tap into the 20-something male consumer. Go around the room imagining you're Jim, a target consumer, and say something about yourself and pizza. By stretching your brain in this way, you can get a quick understanding of whom you're going after.

These exercises can help spark untapped creativity while challenging people to think differently and sharpen their reactions. Ultimately, this meeting of the minds can help push positive ideas through and bring unseen solutions to the surface. The bottom line: Will Jim dig it?

3. Go with what you know

Now that we know who our intended audience is, it's time to think of how we can best reach them. This is when you dive into what has worked in the past, whether that's a campaign, advertisement, or solution. Instead of being overwhelmed by a time-sensitive project, take a step back. Spend some time recalling similar instances. Whether you organize that information in a diagram or jot it down freehand, acknowledge the wealth of information and institutional knowledge you have before you.

Recognizing your strong foundation and past performances may give you the confidence to work swiftly and efficiently.

When creating a solution, focus on the facts and cut through the BS; don't overcomplicate things. Instead of reinventing the wheel, focus on a sweet and simple resolution that addresses your overarching objectives.

Sometimes a tight deadline forces simple ideas to the forefront; and as long as they're true to your mission, don't be afraid to embrace them.

4. Take a leap of faith

When you're racing against the clock, it's easy to ignore your gut feelings. In these situations, think back to the days of multiple-choice exams: At some point in your academic career, a teacher likely advised that if you're unsure of an answer, your first instinct is usually right. That life lesson was probably followed up with a warning not to keep changing your answer.

The same advice holds up for the workplace. When feeling challenged, listen to your instincts and build your idea from there; if you keep changing course, you won't get anywhere.

In creative problem-solving, there's not a right or wrong answer; it's an art, not a science. If a deadline seems unsurpassable, let your instinct be your guide, supplemented by creative collaboration and a change of scenery.

At the end of the day, remember there is no perfect formula for overcoming a creative hurdle. When you're feeling stuck, acknowledge that sometimes the best ideas are born out of stressful situations, and break out of your normal routines to tackle the challenge.
Then, when it's all said and done, reward yourself with a slice (or two) and a Seinfeld marathon.

If you need help with your email, web site, video, or other presentation to promote your company, product, or service, please give me a call at 440-519-1500 or e-mail me at

X2 Media can help you target your content and get your message to the audience in a way that it is not only seen and heard, but remembered.

Until next month….remember, “you don’t get a 2nd chance to make a 1st impression”. Always make it a good one!

From X2Media I would like to thank you for your time.

John E. Hornyak

X2Media, LLC

Four Tips for Using Video Content in Social Media

Four Tips for Using Video Content in Social Media

Social media has transformed video. After losing its lead to text in the early days of the World Wide Web, video has made a huge comeback, in large part thanks to the implementation of video in social media and the formation of new video-based networks.
Following the notion of "the medium is the message," it's interesting to see how video has changed in recent years so that it could fit the demands of new platforms and changing audience behavior and needs.
When considering using video content for your next campaign, also consider the following advice.
1. Change your point of view
Camera angles are more than just a technicality. Selfies, for example, are a statement made by the "me generation" that no longer needs anyone's help to create content. That is why it is not at all surprising to see the increasing number of over-the-head shot videos, making this filming angle a new standard, especially for anything food-related.
The bird's-eye angle not only helps independent video creators film their work while minimizing external assistance but also creates an increased sense of involvement with audiences, who enjoy this first-person perspective and feel as though they are the ones filming. This new sensibility is important to understand even for those who can afford an entire film crew for their next branded content campaign.
The anonymous presenter—whose face often does not appear on screen at all—can be absolutely anyone, very much including the viewer. The poor man's VR experience, if you will.
2. Enjoy the silence
Brands and publishers have long realized that when audiences consume their content, they most probably consume only parts of it. In the case of video, it is the sound that usually ends up out of the picture: 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound.
With that stat in mind, brands have had to innovate ways for delivering silent—yet impactful—messages, paying special attention to visual tactics, intuitive content, and context. Those who thought that video killed the text star have been proven wrong, with the use of subtitles and written text making up for the missing audio channel of communication. You could say that Facebook brought back the silent film genre, title cards included.
A unique example for a brand that turned the tables on this new video consumption habit can be found in a campaign by cider-maker Kopparberg. The company included a hidden recorded message, inviting viewers who bothered to turn on the sound to participate in a prize drawing—a wonderful example of turning lemons into lemonade (or cider).

3. Cut to the chase
Traditional media outlets usually impose strict length restrictions on video commercials, but it turns out that even the toughest network could not compete with today's audiences' brutally short attention spans.
Advertisers are facing a much tougher challenge in reaching an audience that is anything but captive, so the first rule of ad clips is shorter is better. So much so, that tech giant Google has introduced six-second ads on YouTube to try to prevent advertisers from losing their audience.

Forget about building tension or saving the best content for last; brands advertising with video should start with a bang, or there will be no one around to watch the rest of their ad.
The TL;DR culture is also responsible for the rise of the skip option. Shared videos on social media come with a gracious recommendation to skip the irrelevant parts and begin watching at, say, 1:23. Once again, we see leading tech companies cater to their users' needs, with Facebook allowing users to go straight to the parts on a livestream that other users responded to most.

Publishers that value video content—such as The Hill and Red Bull—are also using content creation tools that enable users to skip the boring parts of lengthy video content. That is why content creators who feature or curate content should forego the less relevant or interesting sections and keep only what they feel their viewers will actually watch.

4. Make it scalable
We can go on and on about the advantages of video content, but one should also keep in mind that video usually comes with a hefty price tag. The production cost of video content is higher than that of text content; and when every small change requires costly external resources, the creative freedom for video creations is limited, hindering brands' ability to expand this type of endeavor unless they have deep pockets.
There are a few solutions to that problem. The first is to opt for content that is more general and flexible in nature, and hope that it remains relevant as changes in company messaging and branding take place. That approach is far from perfect, as it involves compromising the message, and still cannot ensure that changes will not be necessary later on. Another option is to use DIY technological solutions that allow creators to perform basic edits without having to rely on anyone else.
Much like the content it displays, video is a vertical that is ever changing. From '90s video clips on MTV to vanishing Snapchat Stories, the platform that airs the content also helps shape and refine it.
Based on what we've seen so far, we can expect that as technology advances, viewers will demand even more control over the consumption process, creating increasing demand for tools that allow brands to address their audience's needs quickly.
Solutions that offer more personalization and minimize the production cost will help brands and media publishers catch up with the changing climate and prevent their audiences from looking the other way.

At the Altar of the Future: How to Successfully Wed Creativity to Data

At the Altar of the Future: How to Successfully Wed Creativity to Data

What does it mean to be human (and a marketer) in a world where even the most creative and intuitive endeavors are being turned into automated, optimized, and streamlined processes?
With the onslaught of stories about the launch of new, fantastic pieces of software or technological advancements that'll make life simpler and computers able to make essential data connections, it seems that we're quickly entering a full-blown "Artificial Intelligence Age."
At the root of AI are perception and cognition, which also happen to be two of the fundamental tenets of the marketing industry. It's no surprise, then, that software, algorithms, and AI applications are consistently used to help marketers and make their job of "adaptive persuasion" more effective and efficient.
Far from being a substitute for the creative process, though, data is empowerment. By offering deeper and more comprehensive consumer insights, data fuels curiosity and raises enlightening questions that help creatives cultivate the emotional connections essential to impactful marketing.
Data is in fact invigorating, then, and much more relevant and necessary for marketers today than ever before.
Algorithms and Creativity: Made for Each Other
At a base level, algorithms and data sciences provide essential details about consumers that enable the creation of meaningful and impactful campaign stories. Beyond story, they also reveal those individuals who are most receptive to a company's mission and goals. They further allow businesses to deliver messages across devices and in the proper consumer context while improving overall effectiveness—making the time and money invested work much harder.
Powerful human insights, when combined with data that bolsters creative interpretation and imagination, can create bold and meaningful advertising and marketing solutions.
Every statistically significant test—whether a data test, such as a new segment, or a creative test, such as design elements—is educational. Of course, there are always a lot of "ifs" and "buts" in these tests. But because algorithms are now a key component of how companies strategize and perform, data scientists can use them to arm creative teams to make informed leaps.
What, then, is the best possible way to marry the scientific mind with the creative one?
The Real-World Benefits of a Wedding
By working in lockstep with data scientists, creatives can better understand who their targets are; what they desire; and what their challenges, behaviors, and motivations are. Creatives can then devise more actionable and efficient marketing solutions and influence consumers' decisions.
In a time when people are looking beyond information for relevant, timely, and focused content, insights from data enable more direct messaging that fosters decision-making. Moreover, a brand that can connect to a specific consumer need or emotion strengthens its relationship to the market and therefore grows.
Nivea's sunscreen print advertisement is a perfect example of this connection. The ad expanded the notion of "beach protection" by supplying parents with a removable bracelet they could use to monitor their children's locations. Fitted with a built-in locater that featured geotracking technology and synced to a mobile app, the bracelet fused intricate data systems with very raw emotions.
Using data in this way enables companies to inform and improve the consumer experience. But only by funneling it through creative minds that are powered by innovative thinking and have the courage to try something new are they able to design the appropriate consumer experience and craft long-lasting brand narratives.
Three Strategies for a Successful Marriage
As companies hope to further engage with their customers, getting creatives and data scientists to unify is essential—so that data folks begin to think creatively, and creative minds get comfortable with data.
That goal may seem overwhelming right now, but understanding that this is an evolving and unconventional partnership, and that it's a collective process, will maximize the inherent value a marriage would offer. Focus on the following three strategies to cultivate it.
1. Foster a connection
Both teams should physically work together with each other. Each can create something insightful on its own, but through collaborating, even before the briefing process starts, the teams have the potential to ignite a spark that will grow your company-consumer relationship.
For creatives: Creatives need to be excited about data and appreciate the new possibilities this revolution, in empowering their creativity, affords them. Data scientists help them embrace this mindset. Creatives must also recognize that those scientists, as humans, are consumers and therefore have a point of view on their creative work.
For data scientists: Most of their job responsibilities and workday might be with numbers, but while collaborating with the creative teams they can learn to "talk human" by being exposed to different tools, such as embedding and contextualizing the numbers in the larger consumer/business narrative. Ultimately, it is the behavioral insights that enhance and differentiate a creative brief. Working together also enables data scientists to better understand the other team's expectations.

2. Enhance communication
Sometimes, even with collaboration, it can seem like your teams are speaking different languages. The thing you, as a leader, need to do is help them invest in the relationship by encouraging communication and building trust.

For creatives: They should play the role of devil's advocate and give constructive feedback on things like the design of the measurement and optimization process. In this way, data scientists know that they are "thinking with them." Likewise, creatives should ask questions about, and become actively involved in, the data mining and harvesting process, which will help those scientists devise relevant, thought-provoking questions and enhance the information gained.
For data scientists: It's their job to wed the creative's gut to the theoretically crafted test design and its parameters in order to optimize the entire journey. By sharing the measurement and optimization process and delivering test results with constructive feedback, they can help creatives logically understand what's working and what's not.

3. Create unity
Only after both teams successfully collaborate and learn to trust each other's abilities and intentions can unity be fully achieved, so leaders should align their teams through a shared vision.
For creatives and data scientists: Continuing to discuss and celebrate each other's points of view helps both teams appreciate the other's credibility within and outside the workplace. Such an inclusive environment could not only unlock the missing puzzle piece that everyone has been looking for but also mean that neither team will have to create in a vacuum moving forward. And although cohesive processes are certainly important, structuring around a shared vision ensures that you're ultimately unifying goals.
Marketing is in the business of creative solutions, not in the data business. AI and machine learning tools that are making major advances in perception and cognition are simply offering a new way of doing that same business we're in—but helping us get better at our jobs.
And that's something we should embrace.