Goodbye Steady Eddie, Hello Creative Content

As a child, I remember spending countless hours playing with LEGO building blocks. The different colors and shapes were intriguing, as were my blueprints. Well, obviously there were no blueprints, but I happily imagined the details for constructing ferocious dinosaurs and futuristic skyscrapers. It didn’t matter if the results fell short. I knew that mom would smile and say what a wonderful design I had made. This artistic freedom and not pondering disappointment is what Carla Johnson focused her opening keynote address at the STC Summit in May.

Johnson, the author of seven books, marketing executive, and world-renowned speaker, discussed how nurturing creativity is not simply a boardroom ‘brand X’ mantra, but an essential element for all content writers during her talk on “Perpetual Innovation.”

“The biggest barrier to innovation is fear of failure, risk,” said Johnson. “So if we can give people a framework, a structure that takes that fear of risk out of it to make it feel more familiar that they can see what the process is, that’s when we’ll start bringing in many innovative ideas.”

To help reduce risk, Johnson noted, companies and their content specialists must learn to combine the spontaneity of a child with the resilience of an adult. Otherwise, customers develop “brand detachment disorder,” which causes them to dismiss a brand because they don’t think it applies to them. A catchy, popular tune won’t help this malady because the customer doesn’t have an emotional attachment.

Johnson says companies usually fall into one of four categories:

  • One-hit Wonders – Customers go wild during a fad and temporarily like a product. The company stands pat only to see the wave of acceptance crash over them.
  • Steady Eddies – No innovation but the message is consistent for customers to feel safe. Some folks just do not like change.
  • Cling-ons – There is a good idea that sells but the company refuses to branch out from the core message.
  • Perpetual Innovators – Company seeks new opportunities, test the waters, and looks for better ways to excite their audience. Johnson said Amazon, Google, and Apple are examples of tracking generational gaps to stay current with the marketplace.

A company that achieves the fourth category has accepted a “brand transplant,” where all employees have great ideas and are constantly encouraged to focus on improving products and services. This conversion of company behavior does not happen overnight, cautions Johnson, who is the Chief Experience Officer for Type A Communications. She added that managers have to encourage employees that “new ideas feel safe” to pursue, and managers must listen to fresh experimentation. From this approach, Johnson says marketing material transforms tired brochures that describe products and services into content-driven experiences that “observe the world and become sensitive to the needs of their customers.” One company that Johnson cites as an example of “sharing experiences not just selling” builds robots to disinfect hospital rooms with UV light to kill bacteria. To provide a human touch, the maintenance crew put various hats and props on the metal robots to the delight of the hospital staff and patients.

Johnson’s presentation was equally creative. Instead of the typical PowerPoint slides, she used Prezi, a presentation software that ushered her topics on spinning disks.

By Bob Young