How many times has a customer said that they are looking for creative ideas from you? Or that they value innovation? Stop a moment. That may not be how they really feel. We’re generally inclined to believe that creativity is a good thing. But according to researchers from Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of North Carolina, creative ideas actually make many people uncomfortable...
Thanks to Andrew Bruce Smith who brought the study to my attention (from a PR perspective) through the CIPR Conversation. You can download the full academic report here, but in summary, the study found that:
- Creative ideas are by definition novel - and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people feel uncomfortable
- As a consequence, many people are inclined to dismiss creative ideas in favour of ideas that are purely practical - tried and true
- The bias against creativity is so subtle that people are generally unaware of it - causing them to reject even high-quality innovative ideas
Jack Concarlo of Cornell - one of the co-authors of the paper - poses the question “How is it that people say they want creativity but in reality often reject it?” I’d like to go beyond the scope of the initial research and offer a handful of thoughts that may be relevant to the B2B buying decision process.
Creativity, Innovation and the Adoption Curve
Experience suggests that creativity and innovation are more highly valued by organisations that are see themselves as early adopters than those who see themselves as mainstream buyers or laggards when it comes to technology adoption.
To the left of the chasm, being seen as being an innovative, creative organisation can be helpful in winning these early adopter customers - but you are unlikely to be successful in crossing the chasm to mainstream markets unless you change the balance of your messaging from innovation to safety.
Innovation and the Absence of Existing Solutions
It seems that acceptance of innovation is also associated with the need to solve a critical problem - or exploit a high-value opportunity - for which there are no existing solutions. Innovative ideas thrive where there are high levels of pain and serious consequences associated with allowing the status quo to prevail.
But you need to be aware that your creative and innovative messages are likely to resonate most strongly with that small subset of your addressable market that are on a burning platform and simply cannot afford to stay where they are.
Creativity and the Burden of Proof
The study also showed that even objective evidence of the validity of a creative idea might not motivate people to accept it. Given how many apparently rational decisions have a strong emotional element to them, this should not be too surprising.
But is also suggests that in order to successfully promote a creative or innovative idea to a potentially (if unknowingly) sceptical audience we should take care to ensure that we address both the rational and emotional sides of the decision - as well as establishing believable proof points of our claims.
Execution Trumps Creativity
In most - particularly post-chasm - B2B sales and marketing situations, certainty (and sound execution) trumps creativity. It might be a good idea to review your current marketing campaigns - and the natural biases of your PR and marketing agencies. Are they balancing any needed creativity with the necessary focus on solid, effective execution? And are they positioning you as the safe, proven choice?