Intelligent Risk and Intention: 5 Creativity Lessons from Pharrell Williams

June 30, 2015

pharrell williams cannes lions

Exactly one week ago, I was sitting in the Grand Audi auditorium in the Palais des Festivals at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, listening to Pharrell Williams share insights into his creative process. The 10-time Grammy award winner has sold over 100 million records, teamed up with the UN to promote the International Day of Happiness, and strongly believes that that different areas of creativity can come together to make the world a happier place. In addition to his more tangible accomplishments, he continues to appear not a day over the age of 27 (despite the fact that he is actually 42).

Read on for five takeaways for marketers from Pharell's session, Creating Constellations: Unleashing Creativity Through Collaboration.

It's not a real collaboration if you're not learning something.

A curious mind is a young mind.

Pharrell said "a curious mind is a young mind." His apparent secret to maintaining his youthful looks lies in his ability to seek new collaborative experiences with fellow innovators. On average, he says, ten different people are involved in the process of developing one song. He doesn't box himself into a certain genre or sound, but rather focuses on the energy. "Everyone gives off an energy" he said. "They might not even realize. It's not what they say, but the way the room feels when they enter." He cites energy as a crucial part of collaboration and yet one that often too quickly discounted.

Similar to recording artists, marketers are particularly curious creatures. In the ever-evolving marketing landscape we face, having a strong sense of intellectual curiosity is the key to survival. The beauty of collaboration within our industry is that it can be executed both internally and externally. Internally, we can collaborate by breaking down the silos in our organizations to spark creativity and work towards similar goals. Externally, we can collaborate with industry thought leaders to gather insights and gain a fresh perspective on more specific subject matter areas.

Emotion plays an important role in content marketing.

It's cool that you heard my song, but how did it make you feel?

Pharrell proposed that every song is attached to a memory. Songs that really stick with you are those that resonate emotionally. In order to create content that is remembered, you have to truly know your audience. His content is emotion-based and extremely authentic. He said he's not creating music to make money, he's creating it because he feels passionately about something and is able to effectively put it into words and attach a pleasing melody.

As B2B Marketers, we now know that 90% of the buying cycle is complete before a prospect raises their hand to speak to sales. We also know that on average, a prospect will consume 10 pieces of content before making a purchase decision. Therefore, it is more important than ever to take the time to get to know your audience - their needs, goals and pain points. Take time to conduct audience analysis so your content can be as relevant as possible and therefore, resonate emotionally. It's also important to point out that it's not always about the hard sell, it's about helping prospects and customers to achieve their marketing goals. As Jay Baer says, "If you sell something, you make a customer today, but if you genuinely help someone, you create a customer for life."

Intelligent risks are the essence of creativity.

Pride yourself on individuality because that's your identity.

A lot of Pharrell's work doesn't sound like anything else out there, which is completely intentional. "Brave people try new things and see if it works out," he said. Pharrell attributes much of his success to his ability to be open to new sounds. When asked how he has become confident enough to take on so much risk, he replied, "I'm not sure if it's confidence as much as blind delusional ambition." Not all of his musical risks have become chart-topping hits, but through his failures he iterates and remains grateful for those who have given him the space to learn.

Failure as a necessary step for ultimate innovation was a common theme this year at Cannes Lions. During one panel discussion, Lou Paskalis, senior vice president at Bank of America, said he “empowers failure to empower success.” At LinkedIn, we live by the rule: "Always be testing." We A/B test headlines, creative, CTAs, copy...and the list goes on. Not everything we publish is a home run, but we learn from every piece of content we put out there.

Intention should be your #1 priority.

Millennials can see straight through unauthentic artists, which makes everyone step up.

"The kids can tell when you're doing something for money," he said. "Make sure the main ingredient is intention. If you're intentions are pure - even if they don't like what you're doing - they will respect you." In an increasingly noisy musical landscape, Pharrell says this unapologetically honest generation has pushed artists to be better. "You can't just do surface stuff anymore," he said. "And that pushes everyone to be better."

Millennials continue to have more and more power when it comes to B2B purchase decisions. It is imperative that we create content experiences with clear intention to gain their trust. Similar to the music industry, there is more content being produced that ever before. Make sure your content rises above the noise by being transparent, by being relevant and by humanizing your brand.

To be the best, surround yourself with the best.

How do I remain grounded? Because everyone around me floats.

Finally, Pharrell stressed the importance of surrounding yourself with people smarter than yourself. The people you surround yourself with doesn't just stop at your colleagues, it extends to your prospects and consumers. Pharrell wrote nine other songs about happiness before he wrote "Happy." "The success was not engineered by me. It was prompted by all those people who decided they liked it enough to share it," he said. Furthermore, Pharrell reflected on his appreciation of social media to reach those top-notch fans and brand advocates: "We're blessed to live in an era where ubiquity means connectivity and therefore interaction," he said.

At LinkedIn, our success as a brand is entirely shaped by the talent we acquire, develop and maintain. However, our content wouldn't take flight without the brand advocates and influencers who share it. Our "turkey slice" approach to big rock content also helps us get our content in front of the right people at the right time. People spend time on other social networks, but they invest time on LinkedIn. If you're not taking the time to share your content via Company Pages, Showcase Pages, Groups and the Publishing Platform, you're simply missing opportunities.

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