I’m a marketer. As such, it’s my god-given duty to fall in line and write an end-of-year thinkpiece about marketing.

So I grabbed a cup of coffee this morning, wolfed down a container of delicious Fage yogurt (peach), sat down at my desk, opened a note pad…and stared at it blankly for 20 minutes.

The truth is, lately this has become a more common phenomenon than I’d like.

I’m a B2B SaaS marketer, and over the last five years, I’ve written 437 blog posts, dozens of white papers and guides, as many studies, given talks, lectures, hosted podcasts and webinars, and pontificated until I was blue in the face about best practices in our field.

Does that sound familiar? As marketers, we’ve exhausted most marketing topics because we’re all writing the same thing; preaching the same sermon; spitting the same game.

So as I sat here staring at my screen, letting my coffee get cold, I asked myself: How did this happen? When did my well of content ideas go dry? Where’s the inspiration? Shouldn’t it just be flowing through me? I’M A CREATIVE PERSON DAMMIT.

Creativity Is F***ing Hard

While every unemployed author sitting in a Starbucks will tell you they’re “a creative type” and that they’re just waiting for the inevitable lightning bolt of inspiration to strike, people who’ve actually found success as “creatives” will tell you that you can’t wait. You have to seek it out.

Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is the result of the best work habits. – Twyla Tharp

I’ve worked in digital marketing for over a decade, most of which has been spent either producing content or overseeing content teams.

When I started working at my first B2B company, six or seven years ago, the tactics were new. Not just to me, but for many companies. Tech was evolving, the entire business model was disrupting the software world, and “pipeline marketing” was evolving with it. Oh, and it was ALSO brand new to me. I’d come from the consumer space, and had a relatively unsophisticated approach. I was clueless about SaaS models, MQLs, and CAC.

Since then, I’ve gained a better understanding of how the business works. Which is great. But it also means that sometimes, my ideas of how things should be done are cookie cutter. There are best practices when it comes to SaaS marketing and demand generation. There are best practices for a company blog. There are best practices for social media, website development, PR, and customer marketing.

This is important, because it means we can all access that playbook and make informed decisions. But this can crush creativity because there’s an easy way out. All we have to do is follow that playbook and we don’t have to think outside the box. We don’t have to try new things.

Keep a Startup Mentality

It’s easy to fall into this rut. We know what works well enough to keep doing it, but the growth curve stops hockey-sticking. We get frustrated, but we keep doing what we’re doing.

I started to pay attention to this when we were building out our 2017 plan, and I caught myself saying “Man, if I had more budget, we could do this.” and “If I had the headcount, we could do that.” Don’t get me wrong, budget and headcount are important for scaling, but they’re not everything.

Five years ago, I was the first marketing employee at my current company. I was forced to do a LOT without budget, and do what I could with the human resources we had. This forced me to think creatively and try new things. As a company grows, budgets and teams increase, and this mentality is all too easy to lose.

Fast Forward…My team and I did a LOT of creative work in 2016, and I look back on many projects, events, and publications with a ton of pride. But I also stuck to the status quo in plenty of areas, and the growth, creativity, and originality wasn’t always to the level I should expect of myself.

Failure’s Gonna Happen…Let It

The truth is, not all of the creative work we did landed. I’ll be the first to admit that at least one project was a colossal failure and my ego is still crushed by it. But, you know what? I’ll take that over doing the status quo any day. We took a swing. We missed. We course-corrected, and we learned a lot from it. Had we not taken that swing, and taken the safe way out instead? We wouldn’t have learned anything, and would still have mediocre work to show for it.

Creativity is hard work, and it doesn’t always pay off the way we want it to. So we sacrifice and play it safe. But this dulls our skill set and makes what we do…well…boring.

The truth is, the landscape we work in is constantly shifting. And regardless of our company size or stage, we can’t afford to play it safe.

Creative marketing isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.

I’m Asking Creativity to Go Steady (Again)

In 2017, I’m planning on setting big hairy audacious goals, spending the time developing exciting creative plans, and then executing the crap out of them. I’ll continue to find peers I can talk to to bounce ideas off, complain about roadblocks, and find ways to break through them. I’m going to make sure my team feels heard, and feels a sense of ownership when it comes to creative direction, and I’m going to hold them accountable for their own creativity. If you work in a creative field, I challenge you to do the same.

If we can all commit to more creative work in 2017, we’ll have more interesting to content to consume…and of course, the 2018 thinkpieces will be way more exciting than this one.