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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Creativity Has No Meaning

If you claim you are "creative," you better be able to back it up.

Author's note: I am on vacation. In an effort to truly unplug for the first time in about ten years, this will take on the form of a "greatest hits." An earlier version of this blog was originally published by PPAI in 2016. This is one of my personal favorites as it truly speaks to the need to show clients the value of what we provide as promotional products professionals - I hope you enjoy. Fresh blogs will resume on July 8, 2024.

Recently, I spoke in front of approximately 100 promotional products distributors and posed the following question: "If you position yourself as 'creative' to differentiate yourself from your competitors, please raise your hand." I would like to tell you that I was surprised when about 85 people raised their hands, but I wasn't. In an effort to be different than their distributor competitors, far too many in our industry reach for the easy - and possibly baseless - claim of creativity.

For those of you who are leveraging your creativity to garner the attention of prospects and clients, I have some bad news: creativity in your company doesn't exist merely because you say it does.

Think about the illustration above – 85 percent of your competitors use the same exact word to express to their target customers how different they are. If you're part of 85 percent of anything, you're part of the crowd and the polar opposite of different.

Furthermore, like the parameters for being elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, creativity is wildly subjective. An idea that one client might think is fabulously creative another might perceive as horribly old and tired. In other words, you are raising your clients' perceptions and expectations by proclaiming your creativity. Just saying you are creative doesn't deliver on that promise.

Here's an example that has happened to many in our industry: you work tirelessly to find and develop what you believe is the most creative solution for a client's marketing challenge, only to find out during the presentation that she used the same product last year for a different promotion, and it failed. Or, even worse, your competition presented the same merchandise solution the previous day. Suddenly, your proclamation of creativity has done the opposite of setting you apart – it's only reinforced the perception among many clients that you are merely a product person, not an idea person.

If you want to leverage your creativity with your clients, you have to do much more than just announce it – you have to show it. The first thing you need to do is ask the right questions:

  • What products have you used in the past?

  • What has worked and what hasn't worked?

  • What type of experience do you want your target audience to have when receiving and opening the merchandise?

  • What does your competition do that makes you insanely jealous?

After you know the answers, you can use case histories, share relevant stories, and produce spec samples with complete packaging and delivery systems to showcase your creativity. More than just saying you are creative – which is meaningless – you are developing the perception among your clients that you actually are creative.

Remember, it doesn't matter what you think is creative; it matters what your target audience thinks is creative. If you are going to use "creativity" to set yourself apart from your competition, do so carefully and be prepared to prove it. Like art, creativity is a subjective term with many associated risks – unless you can back it up.

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