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Marketing research

Marketing and the Imagination

By Jaime Clark


“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to. Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: ...So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Some of the most talented professionals I have met in the A/E/C industries during my career are natural creatives. These individuals have an aptitude for managing both right- and left-brain abilities, allowing neither to overpower the other. Instead, by remaining curious and allowing the brain to work in unison, in a state of flow, they achieve a maximum capacity of skill and talent. These individuals often engage in intriguing hobbies outside of work, and conversations with these people can evoke inspiration and innovation. From my observations, these professional geniuses can be found in all vocations. For this discussion, I will focus on the creative mind as it relates to the careers of marketers for professional services.

The Neuroscience of Creativity

Imagination is somewhat elusive, as there is no single, predictable process in brain activity. As described in “The Mind’s Tapestry: Weaving the Neurological Threads of Imagination.” (June 2023, Neuroscience News), there are some known key factors in achieving the ability to visualize scenarios and see beyond tangible evidence–into a place of wonder and new ideas. The following are identified foundations of neurological creativity:
Imagination is a complex process engaging multiple brain regions and networks, including the hippocampus, the frontoparietal control network, and the default mode network.
The hippocampus, typically associated with memory, also plays a pivotal role in creating mental images of potential future scenarios, thereby driving imagination.
The concept of a core imagination network suggests a dynamic interplay among these regions, forming the complex operations underpinning our capacity to imagine.
The science behind imagination and the brain leaves many questions unanswered. One thing most researchers can agree upon: There are many ways for the brain to evoke creativity.

Tapping Into the Unconscious Mind

“The unconscious mind is far more suited to creative insight than the conscious mind. Ideas are free to recombine with other ideas in novel patterns and unpredictable associations. It is also the storehouse of everything you know, including things you can’t readily call into awareness. Further, the unconscious speaks to us in ways that go beyond words, including the rich feelings and deep imagery of the senses.” – Goleman and Kaufman, “The Art of Creativity.” (March 1992, Psychology Today)
For some people, tapping into the creative imagination is far easier than it is for others. “According to research from Cerebral Cortex Communications, the terms aphantasia and hyperphantasia were coined to describe the extremes of visual imagery vividness. On the one end of the spectrum lies hyperphantasia, referring to those whose imaginations are incredibly vivid and almost sight-like. However, most of the population would fall within the middle of the spectrum—where our mind’s visual imagery is less vivid than genuine sight, but still comprises a distinct visual experience.” — Mark Travers, “A Psychologist Explains Aphantasia: The ‘Mind Blindness’ Effect.” (2023, Forbes)
Putting the imagination on a continuum allows us to measure and improve the process of accessing the available creative resources in our minds. It also helps us comprehend the marketing techniques required to reach decision-makers with high levels of aphantasia. Imagine this (yes, I did that)—a member of the selection committee has high levels of aphantasia, or mind blindness. This member is otherwise intellectual and qualified for this process. As a marketer, you are selling to a person with a blank canvas and no paint. They are filling in exactly zero voids in your proposal for this project. Your submission is going to be processed for exactly the words and images you select, nothing more. Good luck.

Always Assume a Blank Canvas

After doing the activity, if you were able to sketch anything at all, you do not have mind blindness. Remember that. Now try to empathize with the person who drew nothing—not even a stick figure. What do they need to create a memorable mental picture? They need you. Your words, your imagery, your creative abilities to help them see what you saw without any detailed prompts. In your profession, how will you communicate and differentiate your brand in a way that becomes meaningful to someone with a blank canvas?
“The marketing imagination is the starting point of success in marketing. It is distinguished from other forms of imagination by the unique insights it brings to understanding customers, their problems, and the means to capture their attention and their customers. By asserting that people don’t buy things but buy solutions to problems, the marketing imagination makes an inspired leap from the obvious to the meaningful. ‘Meaning’ resides in its implied suggestion as to what to do—in this case, find out what problems people are trying to solve. It is represented by Charles Revson’s famous distinction regarding the business of Revlon: ‘In the factory we make cosmetics. In the store we sell hope.’ It is characterized by Leo McGinneva’s famous clarification about why people buy quarter-inch drill bits: ‘They don’t want quarter-inch bits. They want quarter-inch holes.’ It leads to Professor Raymond A. Bauer’s famous point that when buyers select a known vendor or known brand over another it is more meaningful to think of the choice as an act of risk reduction rather than as the expression of a brand preference.”
— Theodore Levitt, “The Marketing Imagination.” (Excerpt, Time Magazine)

The Art of Storytelling

It’s not just rhetoric, it’s the foundation to what marketers do every day. The stories we tell are committed to memory; they paint pictures for those with no paint.
I’m going to share an experience with you in two ways. Be cognizant of your imagination as you read these words:
  1. From my office window, I have a view of the interstate, the light rail, and other office buildings. I can see the sunrise in the mornings.
  2. From my second story, east-facing office window in the Denver Tech Center, I can see the sunrise through the pine trees, which were strategically planted to obstruct the bustling of traffic along Interstate 25. The RTD light rail train is slightly visible as it swiftly transports people along the elevated tracks lining the backside of the tops of the trees. The distant silver high-rise office buildings reflect the orange and yellow of the rising sun until I surrender and lower the automatic window shade and return to my computer screen.

Most likely, the mental picture resulting from the first description was different from the second. With the addition of descriptive words, a more accurate picture is brought to life. For someone with a blank canvas, adjectives help, but I recommend adding further details.

A Message Repeated is a Message Remembered A Message Repeated is a Message Remembered

“Every sunrise is a poem written on the Earth with words of light, warmth, and love.”
—Debasish Mridha
Including this endearing quote to my description above adds sentiment to my watching the rising sun. Where the canvas may have been blank before, a feeling now exists. With my initial story, it may have seemed the sun rising was an irritant due to the need to lower the window shade. Here, the attitude of appreciation is shared.
Emotion is a memorable ingredient in storytelling—and one worth repeating. This is where you, as the creative marketer, incorporate the skill of hyperphantasia. The more vividly you can see the messaging, the more effective you will be in communicating it.
Imagine a graphic of a professionally dressed woman, leaning with interest toward the large window, taking in the first rays of morning sun while sipping a visibly steamy cup of coffee—a grin of contentment on her face. For someone with mind blindness, this would provide the missing image.
We now have three elements of messaging:
1. Descriptive Text 2. Quote Communicating Sentiment 3. Graphic Demonstrating Imagery and Emotion
An iteration of the message is helpful in finalizing the painting. The message can be achieved with a tagline, short mission statement, or a simple takeaway. In this example, a caption under the graphic reading, “Finding joy in the small things” is a perfect way to communicate the intended information.
The story you tell must be authentic and true. It represents your brand and communicates the ways in which your services help your client succeed. Understand what your client needs and take them there.

The Guided Journey

By incorporating the skills of neuromarketing and empathy, a creative marketer can guide decision-makers through a customer journey designed with memorable storytelling. Knowing which way to go is as simple as understanding where you want to be.
“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place.”
— Daniel H. Pink
Jaime Clark is part of the Small Giants team, serving as the Marketing/Business Development Manager in the Denver office location. She is an SMPS Hawaii Past President (2021-2022) and current chair of the SMPS Colorado One2One Mentorship Program. A personal honor was receiving Marketer of the Year at the 2022 Marketing Excellent Awards gala.
Jaime is a University of Colorado alumnus, holding a Master of Arts in Information and Learning Technologies and a Bachelor of Science in Business, emphasis in Marketing and Organizational Management. Outside of work, Jaime enjoys spending time with her fiancé, kiddos, and Aussie Alani. Mindfulness is central to Jaime’s life and leadership styles.
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