Content Marketing Inspiration From John Cleese And Other Creative Innovators
CREATIVE CONTENT MARKETING
John Cleese and Other
And Now for Something Completely Creative:
from John Cleese and
Other Creative Innovators
Telling people how to be
creative is easy —
it’s only being it
In his world-renowned talk on the origins of creativity, legendary actor and comedian
John Cleese asserted that creativity simply cannot be explained. “It’s literally
inexplicable,” he said.
But fear not, content marketers. If you’ve ever felt like the holy grail of creativity was
beyond your grasp, Cleese also shared some encouraging words on what creativity is not:
Anyone can learn to bring more creativity into their content marketing efforts. Sometimes
all it takes is passion, the right frame of mind... and a few of the tricks we’ve compiled here.
“Creativity is not a talent — it’s a way of
operating... Creativity is not an ability that you
either have or do not have. It is... absolutely
unrelated to IQ.”
Creativity is the skill necessary
to differentiate your content.
It’s the innovative spark that
helps your brand stand out to
When he was VP of Global Advertising Strategy and
Content Excellence at Coca-Cola, Jonathan Mildenhall
championed a concept he calls The 10 Percent:
“It’s spending one-tenth of our time and
resources on the wild, the crazy, the seemingly
unrealistic ideas we have, and making them
part of our content marketing strategy.”
Mildenhall said that, when executed, these highly successful programs turned out to be
among the least expensive and least time-intensive of all the content marketing
that Coca-Cola was creating and distributing.
Learn the rules like a pro,
so you can break them
like an artist.
John Cleese described the way people function at work in terms of two modes of
thinking: open and closed. Optimally, creative workers need to be able to leverage both
modes — each one at the appropriate time in the creative process:
contemplative, inclined to
humor, playful. This allows
natural creativity to surface.
Active but impatient, tense, and
purposeful. Creativity is not possible in
closed mode; however, closed mode is
essential for organizing your ideas and
deciding how to implement them in a
Individuals who are naturally creative are ideally suited to developing (and filtering)
creative concepts with a focus on strategic goals:
What topics are in demand among our target audiences?
Are there new ways in which we can approach old topics?
What great ideas can we adapt to our industry’s needs?
What terrible ideas should we avoid or discontinue?
How can we create interest and action without even mentioning
(or barely mentioning) our products and services?
How can we expose more people to our content?
“It’s easier to be creative if you have
other people to play with.” —John Cleese
Though individual creativity is a great asset for an organization to be able to tap into,
many organizations have come to rely on creative teams.
A creative team should have nothing to do with rank, department, or job responsibility.
According to Straight North’s Brad Shorr, creativity is all about chemistry, and it’s just as
likely for a shipping clerk and an engineer to crank out creative ideas as for two marketing
professionals to do so — provided they are the right two people.
“Leadership is a key driver of creativity.”—Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
In an article in Harvard Business Review, Metaprofiling.com Co-founder Dr. Tomas Chamorro-
Premuzic offered three basic suggestions managers can follow to boost the creative output of
Balance differences and similarities: High-performing teams tend to be similar in their values (they
are all motivated and driven by the same things) but different in their styles (they have different
personalities, skills, and backgrounds).
Avoid having too many “creatives”: Although idea generators are critical to any creative team,
their ideas will only be implemented if the team also includes people who love execution, think
pragmatically, pay attention to details, and can help to transform raw ideas into actual innovations.
Embrace failure: Too many managers and companies pretend to embrace creativity, but they don’t
care enough to do what it takes to support it [within the organization]. If you are not prepared to risk
failure when you are experimenting, your employees’ efforts will never truly be creative.
“I think everybody [who] is trying to
communicate [should] go into stand-up comedy
because [it takes you] out of your mind.
Instead of thinking about, ‘Here’s what
I want to say,’ you’re always thinking about,
‘Here’s what the audience will hear’
and you really scrutinize.”
—TIM WASHER, SENIOR MARKETING
According to John Cleese, creating certain conditions makes us more likely to produce
open-mode thinking (i.e., where creativity occurs):
Space: Seal yourself off from distractions and the usual pressures to perform; create
an oasis of quiet for creativity.
Time: Create that space for a specific period of time, and tolerate the racing thoughts
and anxiety about the practical tasks you need to do outside your creative space
(eventually your mind will quiet back down again).
Time (again): Ponder solutions to a problem for as long as you possibly can —learn to
tolerate the unease and discomfort that come from not having solved the problem yet.
Confidence: You can’t be “spontaneous within reason.” Don’t cave in to the fear
of making a mistake because in the creative “open” mode mistakes don’t exist.
Humor: This takes us from closed to open mode more quickly than anything else can.
Even if you can’t devote all your time to creativity, you can make your existing content
marketing processes more creative by fostering a culture of creativity in your organization:
Don’t expect to be
creative on a set
schedule: A good
enables the writing
team to meet whenever
inspiration strikes —
not just when there’s a
Keep a notebook
within reach at all
ideas come at any time
of day or night, and if
you don’t write them
chances are good you’ll
forget them by the time
you need them.
Get out of the office:
— for example, a coffee
house, a botanical
garden, or even a
park bench — can be
particularly helpful for
clearing your mental
cobwebs and stirring
“Having a new idea is connecting two hitherto separate ideas in
a way that generates new meaning.” —John Cleese
In the world of content marketing, the creative process usually starts with a brainstorm of ideas.
Before getting started on any brainstorm session, PwC Experience Center’s Frank McDade
recommends that content marketers set some basic ground rules:
Try to focus on using the term “Yes,
and…” where you build upon each other’s
thoughts without using the word “no.”
Someone should serve as a facilitator of
these exercises to ensure that the group
mind is being led down a constructive path.
Be prepared to record the session and to
ensure that all team members are actively
participating in the exercise.
Do not edit any participant’s thoughts
during the brainstorm session (save that
for the debriefing period).
One of the best ways to get employees out of the mindset of “this is how it is” and into one of “this is
what’s possible,” is to use interactive, improvisational exercises intended to stimulate creativity.
The science of brainstorming tells us that individuals should spend time generating ideas on their
own, while groups should be used to critique, improve, and select the ideas. Here’s a seven-step
approach that Jay Acunzo, Vice President of Platform at NextView Ventures, recommends for
balancing creative and strategic thought in your brainstorming sessions:
Establish a single meeting leader.
Write or display a problem statement on the wall. This statement is the reason you’re
meeting, and it should be written from the POV of your buyer, not your company.
Give each individual a stack of sticky notes.
Ask the individuals to take a specific amount of time to write as many ideas as possible
to solve the problem statement on the board. Write only one idea per sticky note.
Collect and arrange the sticky notes: Ask for one volunteer to read a sticky note and
place it on the board. Next, ask if anyone else had identical or very similar ideas. If so,
group their sticky notes on the board with the first one. Then, have the volunteer read her
second idea, and repeat the process until she’s out of notes. Then move on to the next
person, and repeat the process until everyone has had a chance to share their ideas.
Give a final call for additional ideas: If any great new ideas result from the notes that were
discussed, write them on a sticky note and add them to the board.
Use the group format to vote on, improve, and select the best ideas.
“If it doesn’t sell,
it isn’t creative.”
As John Cleese said, once you have ideas, you can then switch over to “closed mode” to
decide which ideas are worth working on, and which won’t speak to your content goals.
Jay Acunzo says he relies on one question to determine whether an idea would ultimately
be worth producing as a piece of content:
Will this piece of content save our
audience time, money, or both?
If the answer is no, consider killing it, or at least putting it on the back burner.
Though the idea is to be unique and unrestricted when developing content ideas, there are
a few formats that can be used to help you channel that free-form creativity into strategic
content that benefits your target audience:
Workbooks, playbooks, and blueprints:
Examine your competitors’ content, think
about ways to make that content more
actionable, and package the very specific steps
that are involved into a foolproof PDF format
that is easily distributed.
Project templates: Line up all the steps your
buyer takes to complete his or her daily tasks,
and list ideas for resources that can replace or
remove those tasks.
Collections of free assets: Identify the small,
annoying parts of a process that feel repetitive
and curate or create a package of free assets
your audience can return to time after time.
Reporting templates: Whether they’re
presenting data to their bosses and/or their
teams or are just trying to keep themselves
honest, most B2B audiences could find some
kind of value in working with templates
Educational videos with info capture: The
goal is to save your audience time by delivering
knowledge in segments that are quicker and
more snackable than really long eBooks.
Interactive tools and apps: Mock up the exact
steps a user would take to complete a relevant
task, and shop the idea to developers, product
teammates, and potential users.
Sometimes you can eliminate creative pressure simply by asking customers and prospects
what kind of content they want and how they want it delivered. Brad Shorr suggests a few
ways to weave them into the process:
Initiate a customer
session that meets
periodically to critique past
content and brainstorm on
phone interviews with
loyal customers to get
Insert links to surveys on
various content pieces to
elicit immediate feedback
on the value they provide
and how creatively they
Email surveys that ask
for content suggestions
and/or evaluations and
opinions of previous
Ask your customers to
share their preferred
content formats — video,
Mine customer inquiries
and FAQs for additional
topic ideas that
speak directly to their
“Writing about a writer’s
block is better than
not writing at all.”
What if you don’t consider yourself to be a naturally creative person, or often find that your
brainstorming efforts are still not producing enough actionable ideas?
To get yourself out of a creative rut, CMI’s Michele Linn suggests trying some of these ideas for
Become a student of visual design: You don’t need to be a design expert to be
considered creative, but it never hurts to pay greater attention to visual content
examples, and share them with your design team to get the ideas flowing.
Realize there are different types of creativity: Stop thinking of yourself (or any
of your team members) as a person who is not creative; instead, spend that energy
finding where your creativity lies, and then look for a way to use that in your content
Exercise your creative muscles: Do something outside of your comfort zone. Don’t
be afraid to travel “down a rabbit hole” once in awhile and see where it leads you.
The more open you are to exploring creative potential, the more prepared you’ll be to
channel the creativity you find along the way.
Foster the pursuit of passions unrelated to marketing:
Even your everyday interactions can likely give you
some “Aha! moments,” if you’re open to them.
Sleep on it: Though we often rush to produce
creative solutions in quick bursts of immediate
output, sometimes it’s best to let ideas
simmer so your mind can process them.
Want additional ideas?
Read 10 Ways to Inspire Your Inner Content Creator.
“Inspiring content sends you on a quest. Useful content helps me choose. Entertaining
content drives loyalty.” —Content Marketing World 2014 Keynote Speaker Andrew Davis
In his Moments of Inspiration #CMWorld Twitter Chat, Andrew Davis asked the community, “What
inspires you to be more creative?” Here are some of the great ideas and inspirations that were shared:
Connect. Discuss. Rely on your community — no
shame in curating/crowd sourcing ideas!
I’m a talker, so a good conversation is always a
great starting point for inspiration. Enthusiasm is
contagious! —Erin Palmer
Old #TedTalks are great for inspiration on topics
and ideas as the talk might be old but usually
logic is spot on! —Brian Fanzo
For content inspiration I have imaginary
conversations with specific prospective clients.
Take a step back try something completely new.
It’ll clear your mind give you a fresh perspective.
The smallest thing can be an inspiration. If you’re
only looking for grand stories, you’re missing many
opportunities. —Stephen Abbott
I save brand blogs/posts/quotes I like in @pocket
and look back to them if I need inspiration before I
start writing. —Molly Buccini