The Myths Behind Content Creation
Everything you think you know about content creation is wrong.

You’ve heard these types of tips before: Keep your videos short, because people don’t watch past two minutes. Make sure your headlines are short and punchy. Content marketing experts say the average content viewer has a short attention span. But it’s not about attention — it’s about anomaly.

In this episode of Real Creative Leadership, you’ll learn why anomaly is essential in creative marketing. Adam Morgan explains the science behind emotions and memory, and how to apply these concepts to your marketing strategy.

Tune in to hear Adam discuss:

  • Four key facts about the brain, and how they can boost your marketing
  • Three things to stop focusing on when designing content
  • Why you should always incorporate anomaly and emotion into your work
mentioned in this show:
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Adam Morgan
Executive Creative Director Adobe
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The Stoke Group
Digital Marketing and Full-Service Content Agency

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Transcript

Adam Morgan:

When you think about those content truths, short headlines, short videos, above the fold, it's all about the wrong things. It's all focused on speed and length, and it shouldn't be focused on all that at all. It should be focused on, is it unique, and is it emotional? In other words, is it creative?

Adam Morgan:

Welcome to Real Creative Leadership, a place where creative leaders can find insights and practical guidance on the day-to-day job of being a creative leader. We focus on real issues, topics and insights on creativity in the business world. Join me as we explore the best strategies for developing your team, getting others to embrace your vision and generating amazing experiences.

Adam Morgan:

This webinar series is produced by The Stoke Group. I'm your host, Adam Morgan, Adobe executive creative director, author of Sorry Spock, Emotions Drive Business. And this is Real Creative Leadership.

Adam Morgan:

Today we're going to talk about the myths of content creation. The first thing I want to talk about is that there are a lot of rules out there about making good content, and they're almost like these rules that everyone talks about, but we really don't know anything, the science behind them or why they're there. Some of these rules are things such as all content has to be ... the best content has to be above the fold. Like people are always pushing in website design, put everything above the fold. It's got to be above the fold. People don't scroll.

Adam Morgan:

Another myth is headlines. We can never have a long headline. They've always got to be short and punchy. I'm not sure about you, but in my experience of content creation, we always get feedback that is like, "This headline is way too long. Make sure it's shorter and punchier and just faster, right?"

Adam Morgan:

Another myth is that video creation ... Sometimes we say, "Oh, no one's going to watch a six-minute video or a four-minute video. That video has to be two minutes long, or else you're going to lose the audience." And really when we're thinking about it, all of these myths or all of these truths in content creation are all about attention span, right? People believe, "Oh, we've got the attention span of a goldfish. Therefore we have to hurry up. We've got to make it shorter, faster, quicker."

Adam Morgan:

It's kind of this mentality that if you're in your feed, if it's not super, super fast, that we're going to lose people and therefore the content will be worthless. It even culminated in the last year or ... Yeah, last year in March 2019, there was a study called ... from the Mobile Marketing Association. It was all about the one-second strategy. Here's what they came up with. They had done all of these tests with content, and they came to the fact that people in a mobile feed will look at an ad and within what was it? It was 40 nanoseconds. They're going to make a judgment call on whether they like the content or don't like the content.

Adam Morgan:

And so from there, their response is that because if we want to get attention, we want to get people's minds and focusing on your ads, then we have to create a faster strategy. While we used to have 15- or 30-second TV spots, now they're really saying you need to now focus on that attention span of 10 seconds or eight seconds, but you really have one second to get everyone's attention. One second. The focus is all about creating content that really gets at people's attention in that one second.

Adam Morgan:

I don't know about you, but it's hard enough if you've ever created a 15-second TV spot or a 30-second TV spot. I can't imagine if we ever go to a one- or a five-second or two-second TV spot. [inaudible 00:03:43] are six, and I can see we've gotten some in there and that's just helping with that. But it was all about this idea of going down to the one-second strategy.

Adam Morgan:

Now that we've gotten all those truths out, all of those content truths, I really want to talk about ... I want to raise my hand and say, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. I want to challenge all of this." Not just the one-second strategy thing, because they actually got some of the data right. But I just believe that for all of these truths, we're focused on the wrong thing when we're creating content. They're all focused on speed, length and time, and I really want to talk about what are the things that we should focus on if we really want to earn people's attention and hold their attention.

Adam Morgan:

Some of the truths in that study for the one-second strategy, they got some things right. The brain does work remarkably fast. And in fact, when I was working on my book these last six years, as I was doing all the research on my book, I found a lot of great, interesting insights in neuroscience as I interviewed neuroscientists or read studies on it. And so what I want to do right now is I want to ... As part of my book, I wanted to find answers like this. Like, why are these truths? Why are these myths about content creation out there, and how do we get a real answer?

Adam Morgan:

What I'm going to do is today I'm going to talk about how we make decisions. I want to try and find an answer for us as to why we shouldn't focus on those things, and focus on something else, but I don't want it to be subjective. Oftentimes whenever we're talking about marketing or advertising, the go-to response is let's find some case studies, right? Let's see who else has done it in the market, and if they've had success, therefore that's truth. But I want to take away the subjectivity, because you could take those same case studies and prove something completely different.

Adam Morgan:

What I want to do is I want to talk about some hard science. First of all, I'm going to start out with a quote here, but I really want to talk about a little neuroscience, and what really happens in the brain when we're making decisions, and then relate it back to all of these content myths.

Adam Morgan:

Here's a quote from Dr. Scott Steffensen, who I interviewed. And he said, "When our brain is doing its job at predicting our surroundings, our subconscious is in control. Only when there is an error, or something doesn't match our predicted reality, does the conscious brain kick in. Only then do we become aware and notice the element that's different". Why am I bringing this up? Well, let's start with some of the scientific truths. The human brain is a massive organ, and it takes a lot of energy, a lot of energy. And so when it comes to getting attention, it really is asking the brain a lot to focus on something that it's not planning on focusing on. It uses up a lot of energy doing that, and so it's all about predicting things.

Adam Morgan:

If you've ever been on autopilot ... The brain is designed to focus on things that are out of normal, so what we call anomalies, and that's when our conscious brain is notified. Otherwise, our subconscious is doing a lot of great stuff, but when our conscious brain is notified is when something is different, something is different than the predicted reality, just like Dr. Steffensen said. It's something that we're not focused on. We didn't know it was happening until it was there.

Adam Morgan:

In marketing, a lot of times we talk about, "Oh, we've got a million ads and you have to break through all the ads," and it takes something unique and something different to stand out. The reality is if you're really talking about the brain, it's because ... Let's talk about it in terms of like a computer. The brain, if it's like a computer and all of your peripherals are like the mouse and the input devices, those are our senses. Think about all the data that's coming into our brains, into our computers constantly, all of the ... everything from vision and sight and sound and smell and touch.

Adam Morgan:

If you really think about all of those senses, that is tons and tons and tons of data that's constantly flooding our brain. Most of it is ignored. Most of it, we don't pay attention to it, because it's just going underneath the radar, and you can't attend to everything. And if you don't attend to it, it's gone. That's really like ... Attention span isn't this thing where it's like, "Oh, I only have a limited supply of five to eight seconds, and if I use that up then after eight seconds, it's gone." No, that's not it at all. The way attention works is your brain has to focus on it and attend to it. And if it attends to it, then there's a greater chance of it being retained. In other words, if there's an anomaly, if there's something different, your brain is going to perk up and notice that thing that's different.

Adam Morgan:

Let me just give you an example in vision. In vision, if you think of your vision as just a big screen with all of these pixels, the reality is our eyes cannot take in every single pixel of information and constantly bring that into the brain. Just think about it. Your brain would fill up so fast, because that's so much information, of all those millions of pixels constantly flowing in. But what we know in science is that there are actually more [inaudible 00:08:46] flowing from emotion, which is our limbic area, to rationality, which is our frontal lobes. In other words, it's not a whole bunch of information out here going in and then storing in our brain. We're actually predicting, so even in vision, it's like there's just a couple of cones of information that we're bringing in, and then the rest of it's being predicted.

Adam Morgan:

If you've ever done that test where you just stare at a blank wall, after a while your eyes just shut off, because there's no new information. It's just blank and nothing's changing, and so it just shuts off. In other words, we're only going to see the things that are different. If it's not different, we're just going to predict it away. Just like if you're on autopilot driving home, you're just going to ... Sometimes you just show up at home and you're like, "Wow, how in the Hades did I get here?" It's because your brain is just predicting all of that stuff. Nothing's different. Only when there's something stands out, like you see a car accident, is your brain suddenly going to go, "Oh, something's going on here," and then suddenly you're focused and you're conscious of it. That's number one. Our brain is predicting all the time, because we're not bringing in all that information, meaning the only way to avoid the prediction model is to create an anomaly, something different. We have to find something unique. It's called anomaly detection.

Adam Morgan:

All right. The next important thing is now once we have that new thing, how does our brain make a decision beyond just the predictions? The first thing that the brain does ... Okay, let's say there's a new experience, or let's start with an old experience. An old experience. There's a big flame of fire. Your brain looks at that and says, "Okay, I ..." First thing it does is it takes that experience and does a cross-reference with everything else that it's already experienced. It'll say, "Okay, fire, I've experienced that a dozen times. I know if I put my hand in it, it's going to hurt. It's going to burn it, right?" So it does that ... It kind of goes back to the catalog and makes sure that if you've already had that experience, it's going to give you an emotion.

Adam Morgan:

The way the brain communicates to us is through neurochemicals. Think about things like dopamine and serotonin and oxytocin, and really all those things are, they're short little bursts of neurochemicals in our brain, but what they create is are all those feelings of emotion, feelings of pride, of love, of hate. All of those things are created through those neurochemicals.

Adam Morgan:

When we encounter that new situation, the fire, and the brain does a cross-analysis, the way that it's going to communicate back to us, that past memory, is a quick hit of neurochemicals. If we suddenly see it and it's like, "Oh nope, okay," it'll flood a quick little thing and say, "Don't touch that fire because it's going to burn your hand." The way we know that without getting too crazy into it is things like spindle neurons that are winding around inside our brains, and it could instantly flood our brain with just a little bit of dopamine or serotonin. That's important to know. So if we find a match, we do cross-analysis.

Adam Morgan:

Now what happens if we don't find a match? Let's say I come across a new situation where there's green and purple fire. I've never seen green fire, right? I don't know. Maybe many of you have. You're into magic and stuff. I don't know. But if we see this new experience, so it's an anomaly, and the brain doesn't find a match, then a new set of criteria happens. That's when we can become conscious and aware, and everything slows down.

Adam Morgan:

What happens is the first thing it does is it goes to the prefrontal cortex or the CEO of your brain or your logic, and says, "All right, slow down. Hold on here. This is a new situation. We need to make a decision, right?" And once the conscious brain figures that out and makes that new decision, then we send an executive order from the little CEO, and send it back to the rest of your brain and says, "All right, I don't think we should put our hand in there." Or maybe I put my hand in there and it gives me magical abilities. Whatever that thing is, that experience, that decision, once it's made, then it's sent back to the rest of your ... kind of like your hard drive.

Adam Morgan:

The way that it locks in a memory, so the way we burn in a memory after the decision is made, is with anomaly detection and neurochemicals, which are emotions. Those two are really, really important things. So anomaly, meaning we notice the new thing, and then we lock that in with a memory trace through emotion.

Adam Morgan:

Let me talk a little bit about a memory trace. So a memory trace, if you think about ... Again, we're talking about data. It's almost like when we're burning on a hard drive. It's ones and zeros, right? If you look inside the brain, there are what, 86 billion neurons in there. And each of those neurons has a little synapse on the end, and the way they communicate between each of those neurons is just a little burst of neurochemicals between neurons, right? And it makes a pattern. And so creating that pattern, obviously with millions and millions of neurons in there, we can make millions and millions of different patterns, but by firing those neurons in a pattern, that is what we call a memory trace.

Adam Morgan:

It's built when those things fire in a row, and so really it's like our brains are just full of ones and zeros until we lock it in with those emotions, those neurochemicals. Those neurochemicals are those little bursts between those synapses that are making that pattern. And so just like on a hard drive, that's how we lock down a memory. We see an anomaly, and then we use emotion ... Emotion has to be present. Again, neurochemicals. Emotion has to be present, and when that emotion is there, then it will lock in that memory trace. It's biology; that's exactly how we lock in a memory. Emotions, neurochemicals and anomalies. That's it.

Adam Morgan:

Now what about retrieving memory? It's the same thing. Once that trace is already locked in our brain, in order to retrieve that back, we have to have emotion present. Think about really traumatic experiences, or a big moment in your life, and you'll recall that memory, and you'll feel those same feelings, because the way it's communicated back to us, back to our conscious brain, is through those same neurochemicals, right? So the same emotions.

Adam Morgan:

For example, and here's an important truth with that, the more emotion that's present when you're making a memory trace or retrieving a memory trace, the more powerful the memory. Sometimes in media, we talk about how many exposures does it take of an ad before people get it? And it's three with a repeating ... Every so often you have to keep reminding them about it. But with our brains, it doesn't. It's not like we need five, six, seven exposures to remember something. Sometimes it can be one exposure.

Adam Morgan:

I often talk about big traumatic moments. Someone could have PTSD from a traumatic experience, or they could ... Everyone remembers 911, the moment 911 happened. It happened one time, but I guarantee most of us can recall exactly where we were, who we were talking to, what we were doing that day, everything we felt, even ... because it was an intense, emotional moment. That's the important part. When you create or retain and bring back memories, the more emotion that's present, the stronger the memory.

Adam Morgan:

Okay. I want to bring all of that neuroscience now back to why this has anything to do with marketing. The key takeaway is to increase your chances of your audience seeing your content, paying attention and making a memory about it, they need two important ingredients. They need an anomaly, and they need emotion. Those two things. You have to have something unique and different, and then you have to have a lot of emotion present. And together, those two things are what is going to create a great memory.

Adam Morgan:

When they're bombarded with millions and millions of messages and data, from everything from their senses to ads, to conversations, to everything else in marketing that we're trying to throw at them, the only way they're going to engage, the only way they're going to connect, or what we sometimes could call attention span, is if we have those two things: anomaly and emotion.

Adam Morgan:

Okay. So when you're creating content, the question you need to ask is, is it unique and is it emotional? Therefore, advertising and marketing that's very dry, that's boring, that just goes underneath the radar and they don't even notice it, that has no emotion present, they're not going to pay attention. It's done.

Adam Morgan:

Okay. Bringing it back to all those other truths, a lot of those truths that we talked about earlier, if you really think about it, focus on three things. They focus on time, length or speed. In all these truths about content marketing or making content, people are always too hyper-focused on saying, "It's got to be faster. It's got to be shorter. It's got to be this length." There's only a little bit of time, or it's got to be done in small little snackable chunks, right? And then now that we're down to this point of, "It has to be all in one second," but if you stop and think about how the brain works, it's not about attention span that's being used up. It's about gaining attention and holding attention.

Adam Morgan:

The way you do that is through an anomaly and emotion. That's it. When you think about those content truths, short headlines, short videos, above the fold, it's all about the wrong things. It's all focused on speed and length, and it shouldn't be focused on all that at all. It should be focused on is it unique, and is it emotional? In other words, is it creative?

Adam Morgan:

As creative people, we're always trying to add emotion into our experiences, and emotion has to be present. That's how the brain makes memories. You need to have creative emotional stickiness there as well as a unique idea, right? You know all of this more than me. Content is about the value we give our audience. So if you want to get more from our efforts, you have to focus on the right things.

Adam Morgan:

We shouldn't just focus on the process of content. When I say the process of content, that means length, speed, time, all of those things. We've got to stop focusing on that, stop focusing on those elements, and start focusing on value. What do I mean by value? The value of content is if it's holding that attention, meaning it's hitting on a unique idea that they care about, and then it's emotionally present, which means it has some creative heft to it. It's wrapped up in this emotional blanket. That's what you need to focus on.

Adam Morgan:

You need to focus on how do I find the right information? You could use all the data sources you want in the world. You could use your analytics. You could use in-person interviews, whatever you need to do. Find out the things they care about, and then make sure you give them something unique, an anomaly around that topic. And then once you have that anomaly, then go and create an experience that is emotional, whether it has nostalgia behind it, whether it's funny, whether it has something, but you have to elicit an emotion.

Adam Morgan:

Stick those two things together, anomaly and emotion, which is finding something they care about and then making it creative. Put those things together, and people will give you all the attention you want. That's how content sticks. It's not about fast. It's not about quick. It's about value. It's about anomaly and emotion. That's it.

Adam Morgan:

The answer to our content needs is to make sure it has substance first and foremost. It needs to be creative and unique, anomaly and emotion. Only then will our audience give the necessary amount of time, the necessary amount of attention. The length, the speed, that's the aftermath. They will give those things if you hit the most important value things first.

Adam Morgan:

There we have it. All right, so that's the big point I wanted to get across here in this session. Let's focus on the right things. When you hear truths, if it starts to sound like it's all about speed, length, time, all of those kinds of things, think that's the process that should happen after. If I'm focused on attention, I need to worry about creativity, value, topics they care about, things that they can feel. Things they can feel: that's really, really important. That's how we're going to build better content.

Adam Morgan:

Well, I want to thank you for listening to this session on the myths of content creation, and thanks for tuning in. Again, if this is your first time, we'd love it if you would subscribe on whatever podcast platform you're listening from. If not, you can always go to realcreativeleadership.com and you can sign up and watch these videos live. We'll send you an email when the next one comes out.

Adam Morgan:

You can find The Stoke Group at thestokegroup.com. Again, this is produced by The Stoke Group. Super grateful for them. I wouldn't have it if it wasn't for them, so if you need help with any of these things as a creative leader, they're the agency that can help you.

Adam Morgan:

If you want to connect with me, you can go to adamwmorgan.com. You can see where I'm speaking next, information about my book, or articles that I'm writing, but as always, the best place is realcreativeleadership.com. Thanks again for listening, and hope to see you next time.

Adam Morgan:

Thanks for listening to Real Creative Leadership. I'm your host, Adam Morgan, and this series was brought to you by The Stoke Group. For the most effective marketing, use both sides of your brain to align your strategy, creative execution and analysis. Connect with The Stoke Group for help designing each step of your marketing plan and creating a coherent vision. Visit thestokegroup.com to learn more.