What is Search Engine Optimization?

I’ve always been curious about search engines. As a marketing student curious about understanding digital consumer behavior, I know how integral search engines can be in a consumer’s path to purchase, as they can potentially make or break your business. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to take a digital marketing course at York University, where we were taught the intricacies of SEO and paid search in great detail.

However, for those who are unfamiliar with SEO and why it’s important for the future, I just wanted to share a great video from Search Engine Land that explains everything in simple language which really helps you understand the whole process.

Hope you enjoy!

Brand Diagnostic: McDonald’s (U.S.) – “Signs” Spot

The following brand diagnostic was taken from an assignment for my brand management course.


Earlier in 2015, McDonald’s launched an ad during the Super Bowl and the Golden Globes which was called “Signs” (Beltrone, 2015). The American spot, which was produced by Leo Burnett, focused on how McDonald’s franchises in various communities have used their roadside signs to support, celebrate, or acknowledge local and national events; ranging from the 9/11 tragedy, to the Boston bombing, to the 30th wedding anniversary of a loyal customer. The purpose of highlighting the signs was to show how McDonald’s continues to play an important role in the local communities it serves in America. It is also part of a broader brand rejuvenation through a platform that refreshes its long-running “I’m lovin’ it” tagline by putting more emphasis on the “lovin'” aspect; this is all during a time of steep sales declines caused by cluttered and unpopular menus, as well as perceptions of poor quality. All of these factors make it difficult for the brand to appeal to the health-conscious consumer who is gravitating towards healthier, more socially responsible, fast casual companies such as Chipotle.


Based on the “Signs” spot – which places little focus on individual products and sub-brands – it is clear that McDonald’s wants to build its corporate brand equity on the dimensions of corporate credibility, specifically trustworthiness. According to U.S. CMO Deborah Wahl (Morrison, 2015), McDonald’s intends to become a more modern, consumer-centric company in an effort to combat current negative evaluations. The broader “Choose Lovin'” platform in America echoes its recent transparency push in Canada (i.e. as shown by the “Our Food. Your Questions.” campaign, or its animated “Archenemies” spot), which makes it evident that McDonald’s is using “transparency” as a means to achieve a point-of-parity with its perceivably more “trustworthy” competitors such as Chipotle; all of whom are fighting for the health-conscious consumer’s share of heart and wallet. Through this ad, it seeks to position itself as a trustworthy restaurant (POP) that is the only one to have been firmly embedded, present, and supportive of American communities through all of their happiest and darkest moments (POD). By attempting to build a positive image of the corporate brand through its marketing communications, McDonald’s hopes that it will elicit favorable attitudes and evaluations that will positively influence consumer associations with the brand – which, right now, appear to be “cheap” and “unhealthy”.

McDonald’s: Archenemies

McDonald’s: Our Food. Your Questions. (U.S.)


In diagnosing the problem, the development of this communications campaign simply exacerbated the problem of a lack of trustworthiness and transparency, with 59% of readers viewing the spot as “crass” (Spary, 2015), and an arguably “insincere” point-of-differentiation. While there may be discrepancies in evaluations of the ad across geographies (i.e. UK vs. Canada vs. US), the campaign essentially fails to build the consumer confidence it intended. It attempts to convince people to move away from negative associations and instead associate the Golden Arches with the big four-letter word: “love”. The “Signs” spot, specifically, extended this overarching theme by attempting to evoke a sense of “patriotism” – both through its choice of song and recognizing a sense of community for the McDonald’s brand across all of America.

The issue, however, is that these associations fail to effectively form a positive image for the corporation. The values that McDonald’s wants to convey through the ad are conflicting with deeply-held associations with the brand that have been formed over a long period of direct experiences and word-of-mouth. As John Oliver effectively summarizes, current consumer associations of McDonald’s are typically “the makers of the world’s most affordable heart disease”. Trying to alter these through indirect means (i.e. advertising) only results in weak and unfavorable associations, which consequently have a negative impact on McDonald’s positioning. The campaign’s attempt to strengthen and enhance a corporate image of “we care” has a negative correlation with current nodes such as “high calories”, “obesity”, “minimum wage”, not to mention the damaging link that this spot creates with “national tragedies”; all of which seem to contradict the intended image of a “loving” brand. Speaking of “love”, it is also difficult for McDonald’s to uniquely own the “love” platform in a credible and trustworthy way, especially in the midst of countless brands tugging at the same heartstrings (e.g. Coca Cola #MakeItHappy, Dove #SpeakBeauty), which again, weakens the campaign’s effectiveness. All of these factors contribute to McDonald’s failure in convincing consumers to buy into any of its reasons-to-believe in its attempt to redeem the brand’s image.

Testing: ZMET

Ways of conducting further research and testing this hypothesis (i.e. the effectiveness of the “Signs” spot) would involve utilizing the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET) to uncover potentially hidden thoughts and feelings towards McDonald’s. The test could be conducted with two separate groups of consumers – one that has been exposed to the “Signs” spot and one that has not – and instructing them to collect images and photos that indicate what McDonald’s as a company means to them. After having respondents sort their images into meaningful piles, the test would ideally focus on constructs which are linked to the brand’s imagery (i.e. personality, values, and perceived user profile). ZMET would test the exposed group for originator constructs and determine whether they are congruent with McDonald’s intended communications of a sincere, honest, and warm personality. The metaphors to be tested are that of a “patriotic, local community leader” (originator), and determine if this is indeed leading to a connector construct of “being cared for” or “being listened to”, which ultimately arrive at McDonald’s intended destination construct: “feeling loved”. These results would be compared to the non-exposed group, who may have potentially collected more negative images such as an “obese American” (typical user) or an “old white man in a suit” (corporate personality) – of course, this is in addition to the more likely photos of “golden arches”, “fries”, or “hamburgers”. If the test reveals a discrepancy between the two groups, then there may be enough evidence to infer that McDonald’s new “Choose Lovin'” platform (via their “Signs” spot) is indeed having a positive effect on consumer associations with the company.


If McDonald’s wants to build a destination construct of “feeling loved”, then it needs to show that they are really listening to their customers through actions, not words. In other words, it should remedy these associations not through marketing communications, but through the customer experience at the restaurant. The core issue is that judgments of McDonald’s quality – in terms of food, wages, service – is low; and no amount of communications will alter evaluations of products which remain unchanged. McDonald’s should instead focus efforts on enhancing their offerings and their processes. First, appeal to the health-conscious customer through less-fatty, less-oily cooking processes, or – similar to Chipotle – give the option for customers to customize burgers with locally-sourced, high-quality, fresh ingredients. Second, uphold tactics that stay true to one of McDonald’s strongest and favorable associations: convenience; this could be done by simplifying their menu to remove complex items or even implementing mobile ordering to speed up in-store lines. The third – which may be a stretch for the global giant – is to disassociate the corporation with “minimum wage” by simply paying higher wage rates to employees. Again, these are actions (not words) that build consumer confidence in the brand by creating positive associations to “freshness”, “high-quality”, “innovative”, or even “fair wages”. Ultimately, it is through positive direct experiences that McDonald’s will create the trust and transparency that it aims to achieve in order to create the image that of a truly “lovin'” brand.


Four Lessons Learned from an Account Management Internship

This past summer, I was extremely fortunate to have had the amazing opportunity of completing an Account Management Internship at LoyaltyOne’s in-house advertising agency, Squareknot. In my role as an Account Coordinator, I was responsible for managing and executing digital (email) and direct mail CRM campaigns – my responsibilities ranged from attending client briefings, creative brief writing, campaign deployment, and general project management of different departments at the agency (e.g. creative, digital, production).

During my four months, I was immersed in an unbelievably fast-paced environment where I was always on the move and there was always a project to move forward. And quite frankly, not only did I enjoy this “go-go-go” speed of an agency, but the experience also allowed me to learn a lot in a short period of time.

Here are four key survival tips lessons that I learned which I wanted to share:

1. Keep Your Brief Brief

brief-underwearSuperior written communication skills are a must. Part of my role as an Account Coordinator was to understand a client’s campaign objectives and then translate that ask to the creative department via a creative brief. In that creative brief, I needed to talk about the brand, the target, the insight, the communication objective, the competition, mandatories, project description, legal requirements, versions, etc. etc. With all that information in one document, I could see why a busy art director or copywriter reading this brief would want everything to be as clear, specific, and concise as possible.

Even going beyond creative brief writing (which btw was pretty awesome), written skills apply to every piece of communication I sent out in the office. My busy colleagues and execs already have overflowing inboxes and don’t have the time to sift through a four-paragraph email just to find out at the bottom that they were only CC’d as an FYI. In this internship, I really learned the importance of being able communicate succinctly in a legible and easy-to-read manner, while ensuring that those on the receiving end understand who the message is for and thoroughly comprehend what the message is asking of them. In other words, being a good communicator meant being able to get to the point quickly and effectively.

2. Be a Chameleon


Oral communication skills are even more important. In almost every job application, we usually take for granted one of the most common requirements which is “excellent communication skills”. Seems pretty basic, at first, but boy, in four months, I was so wrong to underestimate this. In an office environment, being able to confidently and effectively communicate orally across a wide range of audiences is paramount (although this might not always apply, especially to roles outside of marketing): whether you’re briefing a creative team, pitching your team’s idea to the client, or providing feedback to an art director.

One of my managers told me a really interesting advice to succeed in account management: “Be a chameleon”. The way she explained it was that, as an account person, our job is to act as the liaison between the client (e.g. AIR MILES) and the rest of the agency (e.g. creative, studio, translation). She told me that, as the liaison, you have to be able to put on different “hats” and be able to speak eloquently and authentically enough to each department that you come off sincere, without sounding condescending or just being a “yes” man to the client.  You need to be able to relate and understand the needs of each person you are speaking with.

For example, let’s say the client says, “We don’t like the header in red, change it”. Do I relay that feedback word-for-word like that to my creative team (who may have spent hours on that piece)? Or is there a better way of wording it? As a creative team, which feedback would sound better to you:

  1. “We don’t like it in red, change it”
  2. “The client was wondering if there was any way we could try a version of the header in red – do you think we could look into that? Perhaps a blue? What do you think?”

Again, this lesson may not apply everywhere, but I found it extremely useful – particularly roles that involve communicating with different parties on a daily basis. You have to communicate like a chameleon.

3. Your Notebook is Your Third Hand


Your notebook is your life. Interning in account management (or even marketing, in general), I was always working under a deadline and information was flying everywhere. At any given moment in the day, I was managing multiple projects and had a lot to remember. And at any point, I could bump into my manager in the hallway who might give me a new assignment or some new detail that I could possibly forget by the time I got back to my desk. As such, carrying a notebook with me everywhere ensured that I was documenting everything: from meeting minutes, to my daily to-do list, to deadlines, to docket numbers, to a random idea for a pitch.

I learned that bringing my notebook everywhere helped me stay extremely organized throughout the day – it kept me calm when there were fires to put out, it kept me on track if I was leading a briefing, and it basically kept me on the ball throughout the day.

4. Be ‘Intern’-ested


Show that you’re interested in the work. As an intern, I find us to be in quite an advantageous position. In most organizations, we’re never really expected to be much off the bat, so it’s actually easy to stand out and exceed expectations, especially if you demonstrate that you’re passionate and willing to learn. As such, I realized that to make the most out of my internship, I should take every opportunity to learn and go beyond my daily responsibilities. I made time to grab coffee with my managers or even our president because I was genuinely interested in the agency and the industry. I constantly asked questions about people’s roles, processes, what they like about the agency life, what they don’t like, etc. and took notes in my handy-dandy notebook.

From an account management perspective, I made it my duty to take an interest in each of our clients’ business. This meant conducting research on their company, looking into where they operate, who their target audience is for the campaign, and getting an overall familiarity with their objectives. This allowed me to share informed ideas during our meetings. Asking questions was also a plus. For example, during a client briefing, our client started off right away by getting very specific with their ideas for how the creative should look. But I thought it would be appropriate to ask, “But given that your audience aren’t necessarily active AIR MILES Collectors, could you tell us a little bit more about what exactly is in it for them? As in, why should they listen to the message?” Scary at first, isn’t it? Although it takes some guts at times, it definitely doesn’t hurt to ask questions, especially since as an intern it can really let you shine and show that you are vested in the work.

Above all, making an effort to learn more unlocked opportunities for me to go beyond my responsibilities. For example, it allowed me to work closely with our Group Account Director in developing various creative pitches, which involved conducting research, synthesizing, and actually building the deck that will be presented to potential clients; duties which would have never included in the intern job posting.

Overall, my four months spent at Squareknot were some of the most rewarding months in my four years in university: I learned so much and I could not have asked for a better experience spending it at Squareknot Agency.

Digital: The New Moment of Truth

A few years ago, I went to Value Village with my friend because we needed to buy a board game and we were on a cheap student budget. Based on literally the colors of the box, we narrowed it down to two games that, at the time, neither of us had heard of: a game called “Hear Me Out” and another game called “Settlers of Catan”. Of course, this was a huge ($4.95) investment so the game needed to be absolutely perfect. But we didn’t know any better.

So my friend did something strange. He pulled out his phone, typed in some words on Google, and then two minutes later he goes,

“This one has better reviews. Let’s go with Settlers of Catan.”

“What just happened?” I thought to myself.

You see, back in 2012, I attended a conference hosted by the York Marketing Association where I got to listen to a workshop hosted by a guest speaker from Google. In that workshop, the guest speaker talked about a really neat concept called the “Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT)” (ps. definitely worth a read if you haven’t yet!)

According to the author, Jim Lecinski, ZMOT is that moment “when you grab your laptop, mobile phone or some other wired device and start learning about a product or service (or potential boyfriend) you’re thinking about trying or buying.” It’s the moment where marketing, information, and consumer decisions collide to determine the success or failure of a brand in winning over your wallet. It’s where we, as consumers, go to verify our decisions prior to grabbing the product we want off the shelf. It’s what we do before we do anything.


Over the past four years studying marketing at York University, I’ve always enjoyed the process of understanding consumer behavior, particularly the way people make decisions and the steps we take to arrive at those decisions. And looking back at what happened that day, when my friend and I made the decision to buy Catan, a terrifying and exciting thought dawned on me: the Internet has forever changed the way we make decisions.

Our shopping journey has been revolutionized – we’re increasingly making decisions at the exact moment when we have a need or question that we want answered online. Brands that are present with the right message at that “moment of truth” are the ones that are winning: whether your customers are Google searching you through a smartphone, a tablet, a netbook, a laptop, etc. Given the fact that consumers now have access to so much information at any time and any place, and the number of channels that brands can use to connect with these consumers continues to grow, digital marketing has not stopped evolving.

According to SAS, these are just some of the future challenges for digital marketers everywhere:

  • Proliferation of digital channels. Consumers use multiple digital channels and a variety of devices that use different protocols, specifications and interfaces – and they interact with those devices in different ways and for different purposes.
  • Intensifying competition. Digital channels are relatively cheap, compared with traditional media, making them within reach of practically every business of every size. As a result, it’s becoming a lot harder to capture consumers’ attention.
  • Exploding data volumes. Consumers leave behind a huge trail of data in digital channels. It’s extremely difficult to get a handle on all that data, as well as find the right data within exploding data volumes that can help you make the right decisions.

In fact, according to Smart Insight’s Managing Digital Marketing Report, an astounding 46% of companies still do not have a defined digital marketing strategy. But it’s getting there:

  • What are the new ways that brands will be using to understand the behavior and decisions of their online customers?
  • How are companies planning to gain the trust of the ‘always-on’ Millennials and Generation Z, especially now that they are growing up and able to make bigger decisions on their own? Who are these generations consulting with now?
  • How are brands going to continue to create an integrated consumer experience across so many channels from social media, to search engines, to in-store, and (now) wearables?

*cue my Dungeons & Dragons nerd voice* … this stuff excites me.

These are exciting times to be working or entering into this field. If digital will continue to revolutionize the way we make decisions, then the future of marketing will continue to change with it. In fact, digital marketing not only belongs in the future, but it is happening now.

So why are there not enough marketing students who are ready for it? According to The Guardian, by 2018 the US is predicted to lack around 1.5 million managers and analysts with sufficient technical and digital know-how to make effective decisions. Increasingly, traditional marketing academia is growing the gap between the skills that marketers have and the skills that they need for the workforce (i.e. can code, understand analytics, manage social media from a business perspective, etc.)

As marketing students continue to graduate everywhere*, the question we all need to ask ourselves is this: how are we going to be ahead of the curve?

The real moment of truth is that digital is already here. Are we ready for it?

* well, fingers crossed for me, that is.

3 Building Blocks of Marketing – Part 3: Curious

Going back to my discussion on Part 1 and Part 2, I mentioned how there are three building blocks which together form my passion for the marketing industry – the first two being “Creative” and “Strategic“.

Disclaimer: Oh BTW! Before I move on, it might be necessary to point out that I am in no way considering myself an “expert” in anything I have or ever will talk about in my blog. Everything will always be based on previously learned experiences (school, internships, extra-curricular, competitions, etc.), advice (networking, professors, etc.), case studies, books, and articles… and then some sprinkled-on personal opinion. You know, just in case you felt like putting away your grains of salt.

Anyways, in this last post in this three-part series, I just wanted to quickly share what I believe is the most important building block for any budding marketing student:

3. Curiosity

Being creative and being strategic is not enough. Marketers and marketing students alike have to show a child-like nature of inquisitiveness: the desire to learn or know about anything.

How does this apply to marketers?

Curiosity drives unique consumer insights. Many of the best campaigns over the last century have been founded on unique insights born from a combination of rigorous analysis and (as mentioned previously) creative problem-solving: re-framing problems in a new way by asking questions like “why?” or “what if?” Why do people do things that way? What if there’s a deeper reason? It’s a way of continuing to look at things that haven’t been looked at before; asking questions that haven’t been asked before:

  • Why do we really drink coffee? What if it’s really about waking up – and the real “wake up” that happens is to the smell of coffee in the morning before we even get to take a sip?
  • Why is it that we only think about the most boring product imaginable only when we’re out of it?
  • Why did people really buy big, gas-guzzling shiny hunks of metal known as “cars” in the 1950’s? Why did a car need to be about the size (ps. both the car and the ego)? What if there were people who didn’t need to express themselves based on size? What if these people are more interested in thinking small?

Curiosity unlocks knowledge. And it is with that unique knowledge that marketers from Folgers, the California Milk Processor Board, Volkswagen, and many others from around the world can go on to create and strategize the most memorable marketing campaigns.

Why should this apply to marketing students?

Curiosity drives passion. From what I’ve seen so far, “passion” is a word that gets thrown around fairly easily in anybody’s resume. It’s easy to claim that you’re “passionate” about something. Be honest, when you’re asked in an interview to “Tell me about yourself”, how many times does the word “passion” appear within the first three sentences of your answer? (Seeing a few nods in the audience…) Well, here’s what I believe: outside of the interview, passion is not something you claim. Passion is something you do. And keep doing.

So what is it exactly that marketing students and soon-to-be-new-grads-and-forever-done-with-school should be doing?

In short: keep learning. And never stop learning. The reason why I believe this is important is that in today’s hungry, teeth-out-claws-out job economy, everyone is so eager to demonstrate how much experience we have to offer – whether it’s from a creative standpoint or a strategic standpoint – that we sometimes forget to let go of our egos and admit that we still don’t know everything. And we never really will.

Because true learning doesn’t come from a course syllabus or by someone else telling you what to do. True learning is a result of your own curiosity to learn more: to learn skills outside of a classroom, to learn industry trends outside of the office, to learn underlying reasons for people’s random quirks, etc. Only when we admit that we’re curious enough to keep learning and striving for more… only then can we truly claim that we are passionate about something.

According to Thomas Friedman, “The winners won’t just be those with more I.Q. It will also be those with more P.Q. (passion quotient) and C.Q. (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools to not just find a job, but to invent one or reinvent one, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime.

By now, I hope you can tell that I’m moving the conversation away from “marketing” and letting you see how this mantra can really apply anywhere, across any industry, to whatever goal you set out to accomplish. As always,  tomorrow is what you make of it.

So be creative. Think strategically. Stay curious. Keep asking questions. Never stop learning. This is how you build passion.

3 Building Blocks of Marketing – Part 2: Strategic

Okay, we’re back!

The following post is a continuation of my previous post in this three-part series where I just wanted to share my personal brand mantra and why I believe that “creativity”, “strategy”, and “curiosity” should be the foundations of any budding marketing student.

So where were we?

2. Strategic

To me, strategic-thinking, is what sets apart a great marketer from just a “creative” marketer. Whatever the campaign may be, there’s always an objective – whether it’s communications (e.g. awareness, preference) or behavioral (e.g. trial, conversion), or the underlying marketing objective (e.g. market share, volume). And whatever that objective may be, there needs to be a strategy – the means to achieve that objective.

While there’s a million and a half approaches to marketing strategy, if there is one rule that I’ve learned in my four years studying and doing internships in marketing, it is the “bullsh*t test”: will your audience call “bullsh*t” on you?

What this really means is that for every “crazy creative” tactic and execution in your strategy, you need to ask yourself: Is everything we’re doing aligned with our target? Is this what they really want? Is this what they like? Is this where they will be looking?

Perfect example! Does anyone remember when Chevrolet threw a car out of a plane?

In 2011, Chevrolet launched their new Chevy Sonic, which was tailored towards the 18- to 30-year-old target segment.

The Objective?

Build awareness and consideration for the Chevy Sonic amongst millennials.

The Barrier?

Milliennials such as myself, who are first-time car buyers, looked at Chevy and just thought King of the Hill-billy. To us,  it was a brand synonymous with “gas-guzzling trucks, irrelevant and out of touch”. How could you possibly change that perception?

The Strategy?

Leverage the insight that for people our age, everything to us is a “first” right now: from first time moving out, first condo, first girlfriend, first B A+* in university, and of course, first car. Show how the Chevy Sonic is the vehicle for trying new things for the “first” time.

(* my mom likes to read my blog sometimes.)

The Creative?

The Chevrolet Sonic ‘Firsts’ Campaign: Let’s Do This (developed by Goodby Silverstein & Partners)

Why Did It Work?

Not only did this multi-phased campaign increase brand lift and consideration, but Chevrolet went on to make a Super Bowl commercial out of it. It truly shifted perceptions. As Tomorrow Awards puts it, “How do you go from “Not for me” to “F—k I want one!”?

There are several reasons why this campaign worked for me; from well-targeted media strategy to just insane creative that hit home with the target. However, at the end of the day, it is our (millennial’s) passion for first adventures that gets us excited. Keep your content true to that passion, keep it relevant to what we like, and you’ll truly engage us in an authentic way (and not just another “bullsh*t” car commercial). If you can do that in a believable way like how Chevy Sonic managed to do it, you can be sure we’ll be talking about it and spreading your message like wildfire.

So whether it was skydiving a Sonic for the first time, streaming that skydive stunt as in-stream ads during the Red Bull “Stratos” jump, or even literally letting the Internet launch the Sonic – the campaign’s seemingly random string of “crazy creative” stunts does an effective job of falling back to a single strategy that is, not only original, but well-aligned with the target.

And that, my friends, is the second reason and foundation for my passion for marketing.

Strategy gives discipline to creative ideas. Without a guiding strategy, creativity is a loose cannon. Of course, there’s other parts that go into strategy – but above all, a marketing campaign needs to make sense for who it’s meant for. Especially in this age of “Big Data”, marketers now have a plethora of tools to really understand people’s habits, interests, and activities; which makes it even more important to ensure that your “creative” is strategically aligned with your audience. What would we like and where would we want to see it?

For me, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that while creativity will always be a part of marketing, at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves: “Did we solve the problem?”

A “yes” to that means you have a solid strategy.

“Creative. Strategic. (Stay tuned for Part 3).”

3 Building Blocks of Marketing – Part 1: Creative

Woo-hoo! My first-ever blog post! So let’s see, where to begin?

Ah, yes! Concerning: Hobbits Marketing Students

As a 4th year marketing student, a lot of people have asked me what my personal statement means: “Creative. Strategic. Curious.” Is it just another fancy phrase to add to the long list of advertising slogans we all know and (sometimes) despise? Maybe. I’m looking at you, Wal-Mart.

To me, however, these three words form the basis of my personal brand mantra. That is, these are the three building blocks that I live and stand for. These three words best represent who I am and, together, they are the foundations for my passion in marketing.

Over the course of the next three posts, I’ll be talking about how and why I personally believe each of these three elements is important to have for any budding marketing student:

1. Creativity

“Mom, I want to go into marketing because it’s creative,” said every first year marketing student. Like many other budding marketing first years, I knew that I wanted to go into this stream purely for the creativity. I thought marketing was the “fun” part of business where you get to design posters, film commercials, and come up with catchy slogans. Well, at least, that was the early definition of “creativity” for me.

Over the years, of course, I learned that this way of thinking was limited: just one page in our $(overpriced).99 hardcover marketing textbooks. That’s not to say that it isn’t true – I mean, just talk to any copywriter working on their latest copy deck for the new Volkswagen print ad or any art director finishing up their latest set of feedback for Coca Cola’s latest YouTube sensation. Creative sparks will always be flying. And don’t get me wrong, I love fiddling around with Photoshop and editing videos on FCP. But here’s what I really learned about creativity…

True creativity is about re-framing and solving a problem in a new way: creative problem-solving.

To illustrate my point, here’s a perfect example of one of my favorite campaigns from IKEA (developed by Leo Burnett):

The Problem: IKEA was opening a store in Richmond Hill and needed to attract 10,000 people to come on its opening day. The problem was that opening day was on a Wednesday morning. So how do you get people to show up to a store on a Wednesday morning?

The Generic Problem-Solver says this: “Let’s tell them about how they can get 60% off on all furniture only on that day. Let’s promote this through newspapers and bus shelters. That ought to get ’em coming.”

The Creative Problem-Solver says this: “Well why would someone want to pay attention to this opening? What’s in it for them? *5 hours and 3 coffees later* … hmm, people like coupons, right? Well, why does the coupon have to be paper? Why can’t the people be coupons? Let’s call them ‘Human Coupons’: just by bringing yourself to the store on opening day, you can get 60% off on all furniture. Could this work?”

Exact same solution. Radically different approach. Check out the awesome campaign here:

… and this, folks, is exactly why I love the “creative problem-solving” side of marketing. Not only was the creative amazing (e.g. the poster design, the aesthetics), but the solution itself was absolutely brilliant.

Again, going back to my personal brand mantra, I believe that a passion in marketing requires a passion for creative problem-solving. Whether it’s low brand awareness, stagnating sales, declining market share: how are you going to take your problem and look at it in a new way?

Here’s what I learned, based on my experience and from what I’ve learned from others…

The key to creativity is to ask a lot of questions. Ask questions that go beyond the surface-level. Dig for the root of the problem. Keep asking the golden question: “why?” Why is this happening? Why should I care about this? Why should I even pay attention? Ask lots of “what if” question. What if the real problem is actually this? What if the reason why Consumer X isn’t responding is because of Factor Y? … Y U NO ASK QUESTIONS?

Anyways, my point is that asking these questions will you able to think outside the box and come up with truly bold and new solutions: true creativity.

Stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3!