These days, almost every business believes that optimization is its main competitive advantage. But the obsession over doing what everyone else is doing actually produces a stale result: all of our content looks the same.
More often than not, creativity is placed on the back burner because producing content that games an algorithm or follows a best practice can help marketing teams achieve their short-term goals, such as a certain number of views or leads per month.
However, almost every algorithm update and best practice are public knowledge. And brands that are laser-focused on optimizing their content for them blend in with their competition and barely innovate their work. In the long run, this plummets engagement and severs their emotional tie with their audience.
So how do you captivate your audience’s attention and keep them emotionally invested for the long haul? Science says you should provide creative, novel marketing experiences.
Contrary to popular belief, creativity isn’t just a self-indulgent pursuit of happiness. Evidence from neuroscience proves that it’s a brand’s most powerful differentiator — and optimization isn’t. Below, we’ll explore some insightful findings from neuroscience that prove creativity isn’t actually a risk for your brand — it’s your safest bet.
With all the watered-down content flooding the internet today, you may think your new video series or podcast will struggle to find an audience. However, saturation is actually a good thing for creative marketers. The human brain is wired to pay attention to novelty, so crafting creative, novel content (even on saturated platforms) can draw an audience’s attention, especially if all of your competitors churn out the same type of content.
Paying instant attention to novelty is an evolutionary trait. In prehistoric times, the odds of becoming lunch for a saber-toothed tiger were sky-high, so anything new or different in our ancestors’ environment, like the rustle of a bush or a snap of a twig, would instantly grab their attention.
Nowadays, our tendency to lock onto novelty isn’t as crucial for survival. But it can help truly creative brands survive and even thrive because they can grab their audience’s attention more effectively than their competitors can.
“Our tendency to lock onto novelty isn’t as crucial for survival, but it can help truly creative brands survive and thrive.”
Novelty isn’t only useful for grabbing your audience’s attention — it’s also highly effective at retaining their attention and dialing up their passion and loyalty for your brand.
According to researchers at Emory University and Baylor College of Medicine, experiencing unexpected pleasure triggers the release of more dopamine, a chemical that plays a huge role in motivation, reinforcement, and reward, than when you experience an expected pleasure. In other words, people enjoy pleasant surprises more than the things they already like.
Additionally, according to researchers at the University of Edinburgh, when these pleasant surprises trigger the release of dopamine, the neurochemical helps us form long-lasting memories of the experience and its surroundings, so we can remember exactly how to experience those feel-good chemicals again.
This phenomenon dates back to when our prehistoric ancestors would search for sustenance and stumble upon a new, fresh stream of water or patch of berries. Finding as much food and water as possible was necessary for survival, so when our ancestors experienced the pleasant surprise of uncovering a new source of sustenance, their brains would reward their actions with a flood of dopamine, which seared the path they just traveled into their memories. This boosted the odds that they would seek out more sources of food and water and vividly remember exactly how to find them.
For many of us, we have clean water piped into our homes and berries available year-round just miles from our front doors. However, we still crave novel experiences and will always come crawling back for more. For brands, that means prioritizing creativity will help you build a truly engaged, passionate, and loyal audience and, in turn, contribute to your business' growth. After all, your audience is likely to spend more time with your brand when they have positive experiences with it. And the more time they spend, the more likely they’ll become a customer and brand advocate.
Optimizing your content by following a popular best practice or churning out the same type of work over and over again are proven audience repellents — our brains stop paying attention to a stimulus after repeated or prolonged exposure to it.
“Optimizing your content by following a popular best practice or churning out the same type of work over and over again are proven audience repellents.”
This evolutionary phenomenon is called habituation, and it scrubs constant stimulation from your awareness, such as the soft touch of your shirt on your skin, to focus your attention on new stimuli that could potentially extend your life, like fresh water, or end your life, like a saber-toothed tiger.
The majority of your target audience is habituated to the listicles and ultimate guides drowning our space. Producing more of them won’t attract any new audience members because they won’t even notice it in the first place. If you truly want to attract and retain their attention, you must provide enough novelty to trigger the release of dopamine — the chemical that rewards humans and incentivizes them to repeat an action.
Without doing so, you’ll fail to connect with new audiences, your bond with your current audience will crumble, and you won’t be able to convince either of them to stick around.
According to Antonio Damasio, chair of neuroscience at the University of Southern California, when consumers are making a purchasing decision, they attach the emotions they felt from previous, related experiences to the products or services they’re evaluating. Soon after, these emotions produce preferences, which drive their decision.
In a nutshell, memories about emotional experiences not only help us reminisce about the past but they also inform our future decisions. As a result, we pursue the things that have rewarded us in the past and avoid the things that haven’t.
That’s why placing pleasant memories in your audience’s mind is so crucial. If you can insert a positive memory of reading a blog post in their brains, you’ll boost the odds that they’ll read another one.
“If you can insert a positive memory of reading a blog post in their brains, you’ll boost the odds that they’ll read another one.”
But how do you get your audience to remember these interactions with your brand? From what neuroscience has taught us, you must grab and retain their attention with creative, novel experiences. And if you can develop a reputation for crafting creative content, your audience will rely on your brand for the jolt of novelty that they crave in their lives, rocketing your brand to the top of their minds and getting them hooked on your content.
Conventional wisdom and industry gurus will tell you that optimization is the key to marketing success. Because if everyone else does it, it must work, right? Wrong.
If you truly want to slash through the clutter clouding your space and make an impact on your audience, trust the neuroscience — creativity is the only path forward.