If you didn’t make it to Google #Firestarters don’t worry – I was there frantically taking notes for all of us. There are a lot of experts in content marketing. And I had the opportunity to see one of them speak at the #Firestarters conference. But if you need to follow one person, then Dave Trott is probably the most honest “guru” you will find.

And a legend.

Here’s why…

1. Style or creativity? 

There’s a difference between style and creativity.

Styling is where you make a slightly better version of an ad/campaign that is already out there and creativity is when you make something that is completely different.

As it turns out, most creatives are actually stylists. Don’t just be a stylist. Creativity is how you do your job, not what you do.

2. Content Marketing and its complexity

As an industry, we’re so in love with complexity that we don’t even know what our job is anymore. Is it native advertising, big data, content sourcing, site analytics, SEO, CRO, CRM, “the only three letter word missing is WTF” (Dave Trott). We’re so afraid of simplicity, so afraid to be called dinosaurs, that we forget how powerful simplicity really is.

A variant of Richard Feynman’s famous quote is “if you can’t explain your idea to an 11 year-old then you don’t really understand it”.

Don’t disguise things in lengthy words. Lengthy, over complicated documents just show you can’t provide a viable solution. It disguises the fact you didn’t quite understand what you’re trying to propose or what the real problem is.

Go beyond complicated: simplicity is key!

3. Creativity is the last legal unfair advantage we can take over our competitors

The problem is not trying to find a solution. The problem is the way we look at the problem. Upstream thinking is when you change the problem. If you don’t understand the problem you’ll come up with the wrong solution. There is a famous advertising story of the tiger running after two people in the jungle.

‘Two explorers are walking through the jungle. Suddenly they hear a tiger roar. One explorer sits down and takes a pair of running shoes out of his backpack.

‘You’re crazy, you’ll never out-run a tiger,’ says the other explorer.

‘I don’t have to out-run the tiger,’ he replies. ‘I just have to out-run you.’’

This is upstream thinking: when faced with a problem, challenge the context. You don’t have to outrun the tiger just the other person. As the tiger only needs to eat one of you. Form follows function: If you have 60 minutes to find a solution to the end of the world, you should spend 55 minutes on the problem that caused the end of the world and five minutes coming up with the solution.

“Creativity is about surprising, exciting solutions to problems. Getting upstream and changing the context does that. That’s predatory thinking.” Dave Trott

This is just a snapshot of the concept that Dave explains in his book Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass in Out-thinking the Competition, which I am eagerly awaiting to be shipped to my house.

4. The marketplace changes

Everything is invisible: out of 2,000 ads a day we may remember one. To quote David Abbott (founder of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO):

“Shit that travels with the speed of light is still shit when it gets there”

If the quality of your ad is low, it won’t work no matter what channel you use to promote it. We’ve always had ads distributed through different channels throughout time.

Channels always will change! The only thing that won’t change is the human mind. Things go viral in the human mind not in the channel.

People make things go viral, not social media.

5. The world of content marketing

There’s two worlds:

  1. The agency to client world that needs to sound as complicated as possible to make it credible to the client
  2. 2.  The creative to consumer world that needs to be as simple as possible


Impact  – creatives/copywriters

Communications – Planners/strategists

Persuasion – Marketing

The pyramid that shows the three different stages you need for an ad/campaign/message to be effective.

With no impact there’s nothing else. Impact means to get on the radar of your recipient.

89% of advertising fails at impact.

Don’t assume your ad will be seen (have impact) but this is where everyone fails. Facebook gives you reach but everyone assumes there will be reach anyway because of Facebook.

That is why we all fail at impact. We assume. But if your creative is not good enough, then your ad will have no reach/impact.

6. Your mind is a pattern making machine

Our mind groups everything that is similar but separates the things that aren’t. This is called binary thinking. To cope with all the things we are exposed to on a daily basis, our brain needs quick answers to everyday problems. Tea or coffee? Black or white? Heels or flats? Etc.

Being different has real business advantage because your mind is more likely to remember things that stand out of the pattern and not just an improved version of the same thing.


The “Os” are the same ad with slightly improved versions. But it’s still an “O” so your mind creates a pattern and groups all the “Os”.

We ignore the “Os” because they’re the same and after a while, our brain created a pattern for it. But when we see an “X”, our brain doesn’t have a pattern for it, so we instantly remember it.

What happens is, creatives then go on and create “X”s instead of “O” that then become another pattern.


In January 2009, Comparethemeerkat.com became an “X” when they introduced Aleksandr Orlov. The furry character with a Russian accent forced its competitors to boost ad spend and became nothing short of a marketing phenomenon.

Soon after, all comparison websites created “characters” to represent their brands: Gocompare opera singer, Churchill the dog, and honestly my favourite that came out this year, Money Supermarket’s #EpicBuilder and generally “epic” campaigns.

Now they’re all “Xs”.

Creativity means to create something else that is distinguishable from the patterns. Be the “X” in a world of “O”s.


What can help is framing the question in a different way. Reposition the competition.


What if I ask you how the 35th President of the United States was removed from office?  You’ll probably struggle with an answer.

But if I ask how John F. Kennedy died, you will know the answer in a second.

It’s the same answer by the way.

Don’t be in the pattern. Stand out and own the question to solve the problem.

More stuff from the man Dave here. We all need a bit of Dave in our lives.

Best thing about what Dave is saying is that we have the capability to own the problem and put the customer first with the help of data. We just need to shift the way we think about the problems.

All speakers had the same points:

You need to understand the problem before looking at a solution. It all starts with the consumer. Understanding human psychology and how the brain works will give us a competitive advantage.

Don’t work to please the client, work to please the consumers because they are the ones that drive sales and make the client happy.