Four creative process tools for the right-brain marketer

Mike Trigg

June 30, 2016

This is an updated version of this post, originally published in April 2015

Wanamaker store advertisement19th century department store tycoon John Wanamaker is credited with inventing the money-back guarantee, hiring the first full-time copywriter and being the first retailer to realize the power of full-page newspaper ads. Despite his belief in the power of advertising, this pioneer of modern marketing was also enough of realist to recognize its limitations, as summarized by his famous quote:

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Lacking the analytical tools to understand cause and effect, advertisers in the golden age of Madison Avenue considered marketing as more of a creative endeavor dependent on intuition, inspiration and a sprinkling of stardust. Measurements of quantitative return on advertising spend were, at best, approximations based on focus groups and consumer surveys or assumptions made when a boost in sales coincided with a new campaign.

The internet and e-commerce has swung the pendulum dramatically in the opposite direction. In the modern era of advertising, there are a plethora of analytical tools for measuring every online campaign right down to the nearest penny. Search engine and display ads track impressions, clicks and conversions while cookies can tell you if a new customer saw your ad weeks before they actually purchased your product.

Which side are you on? 

Pop psychology often defines creativity as right-brained, while scientific people are considered left-brained. In reality the brain is far too complex to be so neatly segmented but to use the convenient metaphor, marketing has increasingly become a left-brain exercise thanks in part to software that’s focused on quantitative analytics rather than intangible artistry.

What would John Wanamaker think of a world that could replace copywriters with software programmed to fine-tune SEM ads, much like how news agencies use algorithms to write articles? He may delight in knowing exactly which half of his advertising budget was being wasted, but he would probably also realize that modern consumers need more than just keyword-optimized copy.

Great marketing has always been a symbiotic union of the left and right brains. You can’t simply peddle a product when today’s consumers are more interested in brands that connect with them at an emotional level – with who they are and the lifestyle they lead. But how does a CMO or marketing manager balance the demands of the left and right brain? Do you need to be a modern-day factotum or middle-brain savant that is both highly creative and deeply analytical?

Too much process, not enough creative

As a peddler of SaaS software myself, I believe the answer lies in the tools you use. The marketer’s left-brain is buzzing with a range of software solutions that analyze everything from website traffic and email conversions to ad views and SEO clicks. There are all-encompassing tools like Google Analytics or Adobe Marketing Cloud (still known as Omniture to most) and a myriad of niche apps that excitedly offer ever-advanced insights. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t receive a left-brain buzzword-laden email boasting of “big data analytics that will identify the best customer prospects through advanced machine learning.”

New Tech City white board with Post-it notesMeanwhile, the right side of the marketer’s brain is atrophying. With a paucity of software tools built for the creative process, many marketers still manage creative projects with an esoteric mix of Post-its, spreadsheets, overly complex project management tools spitting out Gantt charts and that great creativity killer, email. Perhaps the creative process, which is messy, spontaneous and has as many dead ends as successful outcomes, is not disposed to control by software?

Not so. Finally, the marketer’s right brain is getting the help it needs. More and more vendors are beginning to understand the unique needs of marketers with their visual creative files, extended teams of freelancers and agencies and often very-uncreative stakeholders and managers. The following four creative process apps are innovative ways for marketers to enhance creative collaboration with their internal and external teams.

Trello
Kanban is a project management system widely used in manufacturing and software development. Trello is a simple and elegant take on Kanban that lets you easily progress projects using cards that are organized into stages. We use Trello at Hightail to manage the backlog of ideas we want to test on our site. As ideas turn to rough mock-ups, initial designs, and ultimately coded pages, the cards progress across our Trello board.

Hightail
Our creative collaboration features, Spaces, is designed to help you share visual files like images, videos, PDFs and presentations, collect feedback on them, manage updates and get approvals in one simple place. Share a photograph or design with your team and they can add comments directly on the image file. Upload a video or audio file and people can leave time-stamped comments so you know exactly what they’re talking about.

Hightail Spaces all-comments view

Asana
For more complex creative projects, Asana is a simple yet powerful project management tool to keep track of tasks and deliverables. In addition to shared projects, Asana provides the ability to have conversations based around projects and tasks, which is ideal for the creative process.

Rocketbook Wave
Described as a “notebook from the future”, Rocketbook Wave is designed for people who still like the physicality of using pen and paper, but also want the convenience of digitizing their notes. It combines a special notebook and pen with a mobile app that photographs your notebook pages and crops and enhances them so they look amazing on your phone and computer. But even more mind-blowing is that if you put your Rocketbook Wave notebook in the microwave, it erases everything so can you reuse the notebook.

Rocketbook Wave app before and after

These four apps will bring organization and efficiency to that hard-to-pin-down creative process. By solving pieces of the overall creative collaboration puzzle, they help the marketer’s right brain in the era of left-brained big data analytics tools.