10 Ways to Increase Your Creativity

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As a creative professional I often am asked how I manage to keep coming up with new ideas. The truth is, I work hard at it just like any other job. Of course, I have developed several tricks over the past 20 years that make the work go a little faster, run a little smoother and end up being a lot more fun.


Here are 10 tips for improving creativity:


1. Start with the customer. Create a full profile of your customers. You might end up with a small group, say, three women and two men. Give them names and faces, fill in their backgrounds. Figure out why each one buys or should buy your products. Ask your marketing department to help with this, as they usually have lots of information about your customers' preferences.


2. Get everyone on the same page. Identify the three most important points your customers must get from every communication your company puts out and ensure that everyone on the project has them handy. A Post-it Note is really all you need, but it never hurts to remind people with the occasional e-mail or meeting. Examples are price, free shipping, 50 years experience or rated best by leading consumer magazine.


3. Make a purchase from your own catalog. This is a great way to put yourself in your customer's shoes. The simple act of choosing an item to buy is one we too often take for granted. Make a list of questions you had. Place your order three ways - from your order form, online and by phone. It's amazing how many times this exercise produces an "Aha!" moment that can eliminate a barrier to ordering.


4. Go to a store that sells your products and watch customers shop. This is one of my favorites. You see what customers are attracted to, what turns them off, what questions they ask and, most importantly, who they really are. It can be an eye opener. The better you know your customer, the more you can tailor your creative focus to their needs.


5. Change the scenery. Move your creative meeting off site, away from e-mail, phone calls and other distractions. This can be tremendously effective in getting people out of ruts and giving them the luxury of focusing on being creative. To think outside the box, you need to move outside the box.


6. Add new team members. Invite new people to your creative sessions. A fresh perspective can make all the difference. Creatives from other areas in the company frequently have unique insights that can spark new thinking. Sometimes just being forced to explain where you are and what you are trying to do to another person becomes the starting point for a great idea.


7. Start a swipe file. Find magazines, competitors' catalogs, ads and books that you like. You don't want to steal someone else's idea, you want to use their creativity to inspire your own. Look for great copy, eye-catching color schemes and interesting layouts. You are looking for inspiration, so don't narrow your choices. The inspiration for my company logo came from a 1950s parking lot sign. Why did I pick that as a starting point? I don't know; something just clicked.


8. Get everyone involved. Designate a wall, room or open area that everyone can use for spawning creative ideas. Ensure that paper, pens, markers and plenty of pushpins are available. Keep ideas fresh and interesting by changing the wall's content regularly. Put the best ideas in an "ideas" file and keep it in a place where the creative team can share them.


9. Don't stop with the first good idea. Explore more than one solution to a problem and/or give the same problem to more than one team. This keeps people from focusing on one solution. It also keeps the ideas coming so that everyone doesn't stop after one good idea. Frequently there will be a hands-down winner, but parts of the other solutions will be used to improve the final piece.


10. Wander through a bookstore. If I had to pick one place to go to find inspiration, get new influences and get the creative juices flowing, it would be a bookstore. Try sections that touch and inspire people like culinary, home decor, history, children's books, design and travel.


In direct mail, creative presentations are always selling something, and great creative presentations are the ones selling the most. One way to keep presentations fresh and selling as hard as they can is to change the way you go about developing creative.


But don't forget, the exercise is not about making your presentations more clever, it's about presenting your product benefits more clearly.


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