Say you’re in charge of marketing at the Discovery Channel. It’s the tenth anniversary of Shark Week, and you’ve got to decide on what kind of communications you’re going to use to promote the event.
As you search for the right promotional messaging, your team presents you with something unusual: a surfboard that appears to have suffered a sizable shark bite, branded with logos for Shark Week, the Discovery Channel, and its sponsors.
You like your team’s unconventional thinking and sign off, and the surfboards are spread across popular beaches to be found and examined. Quickly, you’re getting feedback: “I thought it was brilliant….at least I think this kind of promotion would work for me as I would remember the program!!!”
This is what it looks like to embrace creativity in business communication.
This is not to say you should delete that email you’re working on and send a surfboard instead, but to encourage you to ask: what is about a creative approach to business communication that makes it effective?
Creativity adds a human touch to communications that might otherwise be dull or impersonal. When you use humor and emotion to reach someone, you show them that you value them as a person, and that you took the time to have a more sincere communication with them. Promoting yourself in a human way is a smart and profitable business practice.
Being creative in business communications can also mean stretching your typical vocabulary. Reliance on buzzwords and vague, abstract terms can take a toll on your communications’ effectiveness. Laura MacPherson urges the inclusion of sensory images in business communication.
Sensory images excite the mind and promote reader engagement. Think of the difference between ‘a cloudburst of feedback’ and ‘a large quantity of feedback’—you’re probably a lot more interested in the one you can see (and hear, and smell) in your mind.
Even when your business communications are directed internally, creativity has high utility.
Being creative in communications internally can help employees to “feel valued as highly as external customers” and increases their productivity, loyalty, and engagement. How, then, can you leverage creativity to get these benefits for your business?
Consider an enterprise social network (ESN) like Slack for your business. This type of software often allows whimsical emojis, images and .gifs to accompany intra-office communications, adding some creative levity to workplace discussions. Promoting ESNs and other unconventional communication styles and practices such as video and gamification have helped many businesses experience the benefits of creativity in their communications.
But what if you’re not the creative type?
How can you apply a creative approach to your communication in business?
- Part of the answer is simply to try it anyway. Sensory images are a good place to start—even if you don’t feel particularly creative, you can still take an extra few moments before hitting ‘send’ on your message to pepper in a few standout images that make the brain light up more than normal language.
- Another way to increase creativity in your business communications is to partner with your fellow employees in the effort. In-person collaboration on communications can unlock new ideas or phrasing that can make your message truly different for your recipient. New perspectives always increase creative possibilities.
- And perhaps most importantly, remember that even the most creative people make mistakes. For every Shark Week surfboard, there’s a creative misstep like the big-headed king of Burger King. So, if you experiment with a creative communication and the results are disappointing, try not to be discouraged. “[A] drive to never get things wrong can lead to lower innovation and competitiveness for companies,” points out Aura Innovation.
Creativity requires some trial and error, so give yourself credit for the trial and don’t take errors to heart. Instead, figure out as much as you can about why your efforts didn’t pan out, and try again.
Finally, a word on restraint.
Creativity in business communication brings it a multitude of benefits, but there is a reason that many businesses undervalue creativity.
It can carry a danger—the Kenneth Cole Cairo Tweet kind of danger.
It’s not that there’s an abundance of situations that cannot incorporate creativity; it’s that there’s an abundance of situations that can only incorporate creativity in certain ways, carefully.
It might help to think of creativity’s variability here. In other words, don’t get in the habit of thinking “creative” means “funny,” or “pretty,” or any single descriptor. The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling once said of the creative drive that “Imagination[‘s] limits are only those of the mind itself.” So, when composing a message or reply, think about what kind of creativity makes sense to attempt.
In the case of Kenneth Cole’s insensitive tweet, we can imagine various creative ways the company could’ve addressed the situation. They could have posted a painting promoting togetherness, or an inspirational quote, or a heartfelt statement of solidarity. Their mistake wasn’t being creative—it was thinking that a bad joke was the right kind of creativity.
With a little forethought, the risks of creativity are far outweighed by the benefits. As long as your business communications are creative in a useful, inoffensive way, they’ll increase your team’s productivity and show external contacts that your business is personable and novel.
Got coworkers who question the value of adding some creativity to their business communications?
Ask them what about creative communications concerns them, and try to explain the benefits of creativity. Then, propose a way that you, your coworker, or your office can try out the creative approach in communications.
Guarantee that creativity is safe through oversight. Suggest the collaborative approach, with several team members composing the creative message and one or two approving it before it’s sent.
Let customers see you at your most relatable. Let coworkers see you at your most open-minded. The creative approach to business communications can increase productivity, satisfaction, and revenue alike.
Focus on the right way and time to insert creativity. If you’re not sure about your message, ask for someone to look at it with you before you send it. Like most of business, creativity in communications is both an independent and a team effort.