Fresh thinking for a fast changing world.

It’s not creativity you need, it’s empathy.

EmpathyThis was written for Campaign’s Feature Issue on the Top 1000 brands in Asia-Pacific, June 2013. Image via lorib.me

Advertising, media and marketing people talk about creativity all the time.  There are departments and teams and processes that employ the word with such abandon that it’s been reduced to a cliché.

But real people don’t think (and certainly don’t talk) that way at all.  Creativity is  not a common social currency.  Have you ever heard people on the bus discuss Rihanna or Beyonce using creativity as the denominator, “I like Beyonce because she’s sooo creative.”  People either like the music or they don’t.  It connects with them or it doesn’t.  How about film? “The Place Beyond the Pines kicks Iron Man 3’s ass because it has more creativity in it.” Er, no.  People love stories and experiences that transcend mere communication and connect with them, they’re not looking for a tangible creative quotient.

It’s increasingly the same with brands.

That’s why getting on this Top 1000 list is tough.

Let’s face it, 1000 might look like a long list but spare a thought for gazillions of brands that never made it onto the radar.  So what’s the difference between the elite few here and the vast majority of also-rans?  Empathy.

These 1000 brands understand people, they’re relevant and meaningful and they have a role to play in the real world.  In the absence of those connections no amount of conspicuous creativity is going to help.

By far the most potent types of creativity are baked into the brand from the beginning in ways you can’t see, but are built on deep empathetic foundations.

Samsung is living proof. The new Galaxy4S responds beautifully to natural behavior – put your hand over it to mute music, turn it over to send a call to voicemail.  No buttons, or slides, just a clear understanding of human beings.  When you make remarkable products, sure enough people will remark on them.

You might say technology is an easy category to pick but the principle holds true everywhere.  I just saw an example in the detergent space with Method taking on Tide over the evils of the plastic filler cap through formulation and product design. If it’s an issue for users, it’s an issue.  Empathy.

It may be harder in commoditized categories, but not impossible.

My point is this.  For all the fanfare around creativity it’s not the obvious kind that matters, it only works if you’ve taken the time to understand people first.

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