summer / 2018

The magazine of branded content
The Creative Curve
Juliet Stott
Allen Gannett explains how to develop the right idea at the right time
Juliet Stott
Sep 6, 2018

Allen Gannett is the founder and CEO of TrackMaven, a marketing insights platform whose clients have included Microsoft, Marriott, Saks Fifth Avenue, Home Depot, Aetna, Honda, and GE.

He has been on the “30 Under 30” lists for both Inc. and Forbes.

He is a contributor for where he writes on the intersection of technology and human nature. Previously, he was a co-founder and General Partner of Acceleprise Ventures, the leading SaaS start-up accelerator.

Gannett talked to Content Magazine about his first book The Creative Curve, what it is, why it is important and reveals why everyone has the potential to be “creative”.

Content: In your book you say that most marketers are failing. What are they doing wrong?
Allen Gannett: When you look at the results, most marketers are not hitting their goals.

Their idea of marketing is stuck in the 1960s. There’s a belief that there are people who have 'it,' a knack, an ability to tell stories, and be super creative.

The reality is that the people who we look up to in our culture as creative achievers, whether they be marketers, entrepreneurs or artists, what they actually have in common is that they view their creative process as the product.

They work systematically and they’re not waiting for lightning in bottle. They have a process that allows for ‘ah-hah’ moments to flourish and really come to light, and so that’s the part that most marketers are getting wrong.

What should marketers be doing to improve their practice?
The key thing to understand is that in today's world, where there's so much noise, there's actually very little room for error.

In the book I tell the story of Ben & Jerry's, and their flavor creation process. Every year, they whittle unlimited ideas down to 200, create samples and test the flavors with their audience to see if they like/dislike them.

They follow a process. It’s not magic.

The Ben & Jerry's story is an important one, because it demonstrates that you have to go out and consume lots and lots of materials, research trends, inspiration, and use the data early on to understand what your audience wants.

Successful marketers need to use data early on in the process, release their product or campaign, then get more data to see if what they’re doing resonates. If it doesn’t, they should try to understand what happened.

Marketers should be less fearful of having a campaign or a product that fails because ultimately, even those failures can help them to refine their process.

Why do you believe that everyone has the potential to be creative?
When you look at experiments and studies around this, what they show us is that everyone has about the same levels of creative potential, and yet, there's a big difference between creative potential and creative achievement.

The reality is creative skills are learnable. They're transferrable. They're things that you can actually work on.

I don’t think it’s something that’s nature driven or biology driven. I think it’s just an accumulative result of someone's experiences.

What is this creative curve and why is it important for marketers to understand this area of creativity?
When it comes to what drives human preference, we think it’s this magical, mystical thing. The reality is we've actually been studying preference in psychology for years and have a really good understanding of what drives human behavior.

There are two fundamental things that are really important when it comes to creativity; humans have two urges that seem to be contradictory.

On one side, we crave the familiar because it makes us feel safe. We're scared of the unfamiliar. We're worried unfamiliar things are going to harm us.

On the other side, we also create the novel, the new, because we also, as former hunter-gathers, are looking for that next source of reward, of pleasure, of food, of calories. We're wired to get the novel.

Now, these two things, obviously, are direct contradictions, right? Almost making no sense. We seek out the novel for potential reward, and we seek out the familiar for safety.

What science has found is there's this upside view, this bell-shaped curve relationship between familiarity and preference. The term academics use is the inverted U-shaped relationship between familiarity and preference, which is not a good book title, so I renamed it ‘The Creative Curve’.

Studies show when you're first exposed to something, it’s actually too new. We tend not to like it, but then as we're exposed to something more and more, we like it more and more, as it feels safer but then, at a certain point, our novelty seeking wins out and we start to get bored of it. We start liking it less and less each additional time we're exposed to it. The result is this upside-down U shape.

This phenomenon is actually incredibly important, because what it says to us as a creative is that the ideas that tend to take hold within our culture, and gain significant recognition, are ideas that are a blend of the familiar and the novel.

They're familiar enough to feel safe, but they’ve novel enough to feel new and interesting. We're not actually looking to create radically novel ideas, no. We're looking to create ideas that are a blend of the familiar and the novel.