Take a moment and think about the last truly creative, inspiring idea you had for a project… did you make it happen? Did it even make it off the drawing board? If you’re like many people, the answer to those questions is “no.” But why not?

Unfortunately, we frequently play it safe for fear of failure. The realities of client relationships and project workflows can lead us to choosing safe ideas that have substance, but not much soul.

iStock_000003980872_MediumAgile methodologies drive us to secure incremental wins that allow teams to learn from victories (and failures) to continually drive growth. While we may plan for the occasional moonshot, the core of any project tends to push predictable victories upon which we build future plans.

Coca-Cola’s content marketing plan is a great example of this approach: 70 percent of marketing or design work should be your “bread and butter” offerings that you know resonate with users. The next 20 percent should be slightly more risky, innovating on what you know works. The final 10 percent – the moonshots – are the projects that keep you up at night, with no idea if they will take you to the moon, or blow up because of faulty engines.

But that final 10 percent is also the most rewarding work, even with the high risk of failing spectacularly. So how can we ensure that our big ideas – our most exciting work – will actually resonate with users and achieve our client’s goals?

At INBOUND 14, Mark Johnstone, VP of Creative at Distilled, shared some simple criteria for evaluating work and ensuring big ideas have big impact. Johnstone borrowed from Chip and Dan Heath’s Made To Stick, which says that ideas should be created and evaluated using SUCCESs: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and a Story.

(The final S is silent, for those of you who think I’m losing my marbles.)

Simple – Users are consuming more content than ever, which means your idea must be distilled into something digestible and compelling. In the frequently repeated (and for good reason) words of Simon Sinek, you need to find your idea’s “why.” It’s important to note that “simple” may not necessarily mean minimalistic. In fact, simplicity can often be detrimental to user experience. Instead, focus on the simplest idea that a user can wrap their minds around.

Though it was a project that took more than a decade to realize, the core idea of the Rosetta mission was simple: let's go land on a comet. Image from European Space Agency.
Though it was a project that took more than a decade to realize, the core idea of the Rosetta mission was simple: let’s go land on a comet. Image from European Space Agency.

Unexpected – It’s not always easy to take people by surprise, but as content creators we have to find ways to pique the interest of our users. Creating curiosity gaps – like those created by Upworthy’s loathsome/genius headline style – can pull users in, but your content has to deliver on the promise of your title.

Concrete – Simplicity is important, but users require tangible connections to their world. It may not be my favorite food, but Taco Bell’s idea of Fourth Meal connects directly to the lifestyle of its core audience.

Credible – “I read it on the Internet, so it must be true!” doesn’t fly anymore. Most people have learned to question what they read online, so your idea has to be credible enough to be believable. Consumers today are savvy enough to spot fluff, and most have the skills to uncover the truth on their own. Find the sources and statistics to bring your idea out of the clouds.

As far as emotionally resonant ideas go, this one was a doozy.
As far as emotionally resonant ideas go, this one was a doozy.

Emotional – You’re passionate about your big idea, but to have impact it must also spark that passion in others. The best ideas have deep, specific emotional appeal. A great example is the anti-littering campaign Don’t Mess With Texas, which appealed to and resonated deeply with the pride and strength of Texans, and continues to be effective today.

Story – The best content is never about your products or services – it focuses on the stories that intersect with your brand. People connect with stories – they’re inspired by them. As much as we want figures and statistics to inspire user action, it just won’t happen. Your idea needs a story that can show your audience where you can take them.

Taking these ideas and turning them into actual creative takes insight into your product and competitors, but these basic criteria provide a framework to determine which ideas are worth pursuing.

And eventually, one might just take you to the moon.

Image credit: Austin Ban


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