Supercharging Creativity in Marketing
ME: There’s something called the ‘Broaden & Build’ theory which basically means that when you have positive emotions, you’re more likely to be accepting and open.
You can have a bubbling up of change, of behavioural change, if you give people the space and the control to work through what they need.
BH: Hello, and welcome to the No Bull Marketing Ideacast. I’m Becky Holland.
David Ogilvy, who you’ve probably heard of, famously once said ‘all our greatest assets go down in the elevator at 5pm.’ But if people are the greatest asset to every marketing department, to every agency, what are doing to serve those people? What are we doing to make sure they continue to be creative, to be innovative?
How do we make sure we’re doing our best work in 2022?
Today, I am so excited to welcome Madeleine Evans on to the show. Madeleine is someone who I’ve been working with for almost a year. She has this amazing SaaS brand, Levell. But I’m not going to explain to you what Levell does, I’m going to leave that to Madeleine.
Hi and welcome to the show.
BH: Could you introduce yourself and let everybody know why you’ve agreed to come on the podcast with me today?
ME: Thank you, Becky! It’s so great to be here. I’m Madeleine, I’m founder and CEO of Levell. Levell is a wellbeing measurement company, founded with the mission to help people globally achieve peak performance without burnout.
BH: Awesome, thank you so much for agreeing to come on the show today! So, we obviously know one another, we’ve been working together for a little while. So, I know a little bit about what you do and how passionate you are about it [wellbeing measurement]. But, clearly wellbeing, wellbeing management, mental health, is a really big issue in agencies. In marketing departments. All around the world at the moment.
It’s really prevalent in a lot of conversations. So, how would you interpret wellness and why is it so important in marketing particularly?
ME: So, this is super interesting, and I would reiterate, it is everywhere and increasingly burnout is also prevalent in conversations everywhere. Wellness is not really a technical term. I think when people [say] what they really mean is their health, and by that we mean physical and mental health. Or we mean well-being and our well-being is more holistic. There are two angles that the world's researchers and policymakers take on well-being which is objective and subjective.
The objective view looks at wellbeing as a set of attributes or characteristics that can be measured by anyone from the outside. That usually has to do with traditional areas that we think are important in life like the number of hours we spend outside. Or [the number of] close connections you have, or years of education.
But then the subjective view looks at wellbeing as really something that is more emotional, spiritual and experiential. Therefore, it’s only able to be judged by you as an individual. It comes from a long-standing tradition of philosophical theories and academic research about you think and feel when you are truly in your optimal state for performance or living a good life.
ME: I guess it’s worth noting here actually, also, when we’re talking about subjective wellbeing, again. Researchers and policymakers have actually whittled down those theories into three main elements.
Life satisfaction. Daily experiences and a sense of purpose and meaning. What is interesting about that, is that your day-to-day experiences, in the workplace, are a key driver of both your performance and also your health.
If you think about how we’ve traditionally organised work, and maybe you weren’t thinking. We have our businesses and even like a whole economy to organise ourselves around, measuring and monitoring and driving for output usually, right?
So, [this involves] task lists, hours, work absenteeism and even the GDP as an output measure. This has been happening at an increasing rate as we industrialise our economy for the last 100 years. So, what we’ve seen, while we’ve been focusing on driving for output and trying to get the the most out of people, we have created work-related stress, burnout and then subsequently diagnosed people with mental health [problems], anxiety, depression, problem drinking and even some of those stress-related and type of deprivated issues and physical kind of diseases.
That is clearly not an effective way of approaching working because you end up then having to address problems that are occurring. I wish I had kind of a visual here, but you’re driving for performance – from an output perspective – from one side. Then you’re trying to treat all these mental health and physical health issues on the other side, and it turns out that your personal wellbeing is actually a driver of both those things.
So, if we focus just on our individual wellbeing, and optimise for that, which then has links to both performance and work, but also really positive and physical health impacts, then we kind of get both in one.
BH: I guess I just wanted to get a little bit more personal. Because that’s the sort of stuff that’s gets people interested. Like, why is this topic of mental health and experience and wellbeing so important to you and how did you get into this in the first place?
ME: So, I started my career as I’ve always been really motivated, energetic, [a] high-performer in work. [I] was an athlete in college, running track and field, always managed to look after my physical and mental health and simply had that experience where I was definitely not in that great state, and was definitely delivering the output. Until I wasn’t.
So, my insight was really personally, OK, obviously if I could have this performance, but it wasn’t sustainable that I obviously missed something. So, I was optimising for something, but it was probably the wrong thing, and I had an opportunity to go into pretty deep into [studying] the academic research, understand that, meet some of the key people who are pioneers in the research in burn out or organisational psychology, health and performance and [I] realised there was a gap in performance management. Really, and the best way to both address, theorising physical health and mental health crisis and allow ourselves to unlock a new phase of performance, is to focus first on measuring and then managing and improving our wellbeing.
BH: Wow, thank you so much for sharing your story.
BH: How do you measure wellbeing?
ME: Such a good question. Since we’re here talking about, for example creativity, which is one aspect of performance. There’s a lot of body of research that shows strong links between creativity in your experiences. Or experience [or] wellbeing. I would pull out that there’s a least three or four really important dimensions to talk about.
So, the first dimension that’s important for creativity in work is pretty simple. Which will be your energy levels. So, pretty basic but you obviously need to have a certain level of energy in order to put in the mental effort to do the work. If you’re tired, nothing good’s going to come out, right?
So, that’s step one and that’s sort of the basic context. The second dimension which is interesting to focus on might be a little bit intuitive as well, which is your mood. There’s a volume of really interesting research around creativity and mood which comes from emotions and motivations research. It turns out that, when it comes to the quality of ideas that you implement, although you might think for example, negative emotions would be good for creativity, for example, cause, you’re frustrated, and it pushes you [you’re] even more creative. You’re trying harder to solve a problem. That from the perspective of the quality ideas that you implement, positive emotions, or being in a positive mood is what I think links to creativity.
There’s something called the ‘Broaden & Build’ theory which basically means that when you have positive emotions, you’re more likely to be accepting and open. To new and interesting ideas. Or you’re more likely to be accepting of new and interesting ideas because you are a bit more open.
So, we’ve talked about energy. We've talked about positive emotions, being in a positive mood but there is actually another dimension, and I was quite surprised by this, but stress is a pretty big killer of creativity.
BH: Marketing departments thrive on stress. That’s kind of how it works surely?
ME: No! So, it’s interesting and that’s where you really have to kind of take a hard look at [whether] you’re thriving on stress. But what are you working on? What are you really delivering and what's the output? You might be working fast but are you really being brilliant are you actually delivering something that's really new and different?
BH: So, that’s three things you’ve talked about. Energy, mood, and stress…
ME: Yeah. So, this is also, of course, assuming that you’re motivated. So, the fourth dimension we look at is motivation. That you’re actually motivated for work, and you actually want to be creative in the first place.
The other point is that, although they’re [dimensions] important for your life, there is a lot of research that specifically links life satisfaction to workplace creativity for example. On the other hand, there is substantial research, that we’ve talked about, that links specific dimensions of that experienced wellbeing. That piece of your day-to-day, that life journey, to both your health, but also your work performance.
We talked about creativity, but there are also links to effort, to customer experience areas etc. these specific dimensions of experience are also key determinants of your mental and physical health.
BH: How do you measure these things?
ME: We built a really simple tool that’s easily downloadable to your phone as an app. Or it’s accessible on the web. It uses techniques applied by academics to sample people’s experiences. It’s called experience sampling. It uses techniques applied by academics to sample people’s experiences day-to-day in order to drive wellbeing measurements for research.
But it helps you apply that in life and work for your own performance, creativity, and health.
So, the factors that we [Levell] focus on are your mood. Whether you are experiencing positive emotions or negative emotions. Your energy. Whether you’re having high energy or whether you’re experiencing fatigue.
[Whether] you’re calm. So, whether you’re calm or [have] high levels of stress, and also your motivation and whether you’re motivated or feeling bored. It’s pretty simple, right? This is [a] self-reflection exercise and you have to be thoughtful about how you design the interface and how people actually engage with it. [At] Levell, we use emojis, we use sliders as our framework for the four levels.
Ultimately, we’ve wrapped that all up in a mobile app that just reflects the right techniques that are usually used by academics for wellbeing measurement for research.
BH: How easy is it to get people to reflect in that sort of way?
ME: Yeah, so it’s so easy. It’s really simple. [It] just simply takes maybe two seconds. It’s something you can do when you’re on the go and you’re driving into work, you want to do it at your lunch. That would be fine.
Most people really value it cause it’s an interesting prompt and actually [a] chance to just take a step back for a second and reflect.
You can use it [Levell] on a reactive basis. You can go in whenever you want and do it. Or you can do what we call ‘Youth and Proactive Mode’ which is you’re trying to really positively to build it as a habit. That’s probably the best approach and then we make it really simple because it [is] actually enabled to set yourself reminders and it takes about two seconds and [a] really quick self-reflection [exercise] that is really valuable every day.
BH: How can we – or CAN we – use this to supercharge creativity? Can we use it to creative competitive advantage for our brands? Like, what do we do with this information? Cause surely that insight is only useful if we use it?
ME: For really strong, sustainable performance I recommend using Levell in a more proactive mode. Which is you’re checking in on yourself daily, so that you can set yourself up to be really effective every day as a positive habit. Then you can see, easily in two seconds, stopping to think, checking in on yourself, morning or perhaps early evening, what’s my state? [And] you’re recording it so you’re starting to see actually data that’s totally personal to you.
Lows, highs. Anything that’s persistent. You know, daily patterns and use that as a reflection tool. It’s like ‘OK, well fine. Every week let me ask myself ‘which of these levels do I need to focus on in order to get into the state for my optimal performance every day next week. Or, even this year.
BH: It sounds great, this idea of being in this optimal state. I guess, clearly when you’re looking at these things, they’re going to be some people that are flying, they’re supercharged, they’re being creative. Maybe being creative is making them [employees] energised and this self-fulfilling thing that’s great that’s going on.
Then, there are other people that are finding it much more difficult to stay motivated. We’ve not really talked a lot about remote working. But obviously that’s a key part of this. Some people thrive on it when they’re working from home. Some people find it really difficult. Particularly, I’m thinking about young people in marketing departments and agencies that have, maybe, come out of college. Did uni[versity] sitting in their bedroom and now they’re at work, still sitting in their bedroom.
What should agencies, what should marketing departments do, if they discover you do have this big gap, I guess, between some people that are performing well and have great – I’m using the wrong terminology here – but great levels of experience in wellbeing and other people that don’t?
What do you do?
ME: So, there is a really simple framework to use to think about what determines your well-being and how it affects your performance and overall health and there are three things. So, the first is really your, the individual person, individual employees, use of time habits both in and outside of work.
The second is the team which is going to partially the individual responsibility, but also team leader’s responsibilities management and balance of work and resource. The dynamics there and also some a bit about the micro-team culture, and then the third is they'll look wider wrap around which is your organizational culture and work environment and so you can want to kind of address each of those three things.
I like to start with individual [perspectives], that’s, you know, me. We’re kind of the centre of all this so this is really an education piece, or even your training pieces, which [when] you’re asking a question, you know.
‘OK, speaking of remote work, do I, or anyone else in my company, in my team, actually have the skills to manage myself well? In terms of my habits and time. So, that I am at my happy [level], I’m energetic. I’m feeling calm, I’m feeling motivated in this remote, hybrid work environment.
You know, there are best practices out there like matching your energy type to how you start your day. Reducing strain by matching tasks, having your non-negotiable habits for your own personal, physical and mental health. Being intentional about meeting times, you know.
People just don’t necessarily know all about this. So, we like to set clients up, for example, with Levell, at first, with what we call our 30-day sprint to give teams a bit of training on, just, these key self-management skills. With the support of our coach network.
So, that’s the first bit, about me and how I manage my life, right? [And] work that I have control over.
The second piece is about the team, and getting people working together, better, as a team. So, with Levell, we set up dashboards for the team. [We] see averages on these key areas for everyone, overall.
We’ve also built in assets [for] sharing and feedback features. This allows people to actually [conduct] report sharing anonymously or not. What is draining their energy? What’s causing frustration? What’s causing stress? We call these blockers. Also, actually, ideas for improvement.
Then we help the team leader, we do a bit of training on how to set up a little bit of time in the day. We suggest maybe once a week to go in [and] check the dashboard. See what’s going on, are people sharing feedback? Respond to it and that two, five, ten minutes actually goes quite a long way to people feeling heard.
We also, by the way, automatically send team leaders their highlights [and] a. reminder email once a week to go in and check on their team and you can also get mobile phone notifications when things are shared. So, [it’s] super straightforward and getting that feedback loop working is also pretty important. I think it’s more important in the remote work environment that we have today.
The last piece is really the company-wide piece that I mentioned. Which is that do the leaders really have the information about how people are doing on average, overall, across the company? What teams are doing well? What teams are not? But also, what are the key themes that are common issues for people across multiple different teams? That’s where they [leaders] should really prioritise their effort to improve the company.
One of the things that’s been interesting has been to see how many companies are just spending – wasting money really – on initiatives that maybe have something to do with engagement or wellbeing. But [they’re] not really sure, they’re not really kind of responding to what’s actually needed. So, this is a much more efficient approach.
BH: So, could you give me an example?
ME: So, at the company level, it’s interesting cause it can split out into anything. Ultimately [into] the things that are in the company’s control, when you think about it, right? You have your policies. Any particular official processes around things. That can be things like leave policy, that could be benefits. That could be things around inclusion, DEI, it could also be around things for example, health and safety.
We also do sometimes see things that a company ride around learning and training and learning and development. Where there are unaddressed sub-segments of people who are feeling frustrated, who are feeling overwhelmed and stressed. It’s cause they actually haven’t gotten the rights for specific resources or training to do their job.
So, that’s also super interesting for companies. The other piece that can come up is things do with, if you are working in an office, or if you’re working from home, but you have company-provided tools is inappropriate, or, but as a sense of inefficient workplace tooling. Software [or] laptops breaking, IT problems.
Which I’m sure everyone’s aware of: the laptop’s breaking!
Also, your physical environment. Too hot, too cold, lights, set up you know, [office] stuffiness. Things that, you know, they think ‘okay those are subtle but actually they do really affect me’ right? I may not be realizing that unless I’m actually thinking about it.
The company's definitely not realizing it unless they can see the patterns and [start] hearing from people about what they need and. Of course if there are any specific dynamics, like on the individual-side, related to their own personal habits or related to work and resource management that are pretty endemic then those would also show up as company-wide patterns and that might be something where the company has to take a call on whether they want to implement, for example, a new benefit scheme that's going to support people on that or they want to address how people prioritize work and give people training on more agile and more effective prioritization and work scoping.
BH: Do you have any final thoughts or reflections or ideas for all the kind of marketing leaders and CMOs and agency bosses that are storming by their thousands to listen to this podcast before we before we wrap up?
ME: So, there were a couple of things I was going to say related to that.
First off, just for me, I use my own app and I use the Levell app in the process of my own personal re-thinking of my life and recovery.
BH: So, can you use it as an individual or, you’ve kind of been talking about it as a company-wide, agency-wide tool. But you’re saying [to] just use it as an individual person. So, somebody could just test it out and use it for themselves?
ME: 100%, 100%! Absolutely, yeah.
Just, as any individual looking for a tool to just start thinking a bit more effectively and proactively about what’s going on in their life and are they living the life they want and is it allowing them to achieve what they want to achieve?
Levell’s a great platform and a great beginning. Then, from a key, takeaway perspective, I think the other thing I just want to say is that in organisations…in a way you can have a bubbling up of change, of behavioural change. If you give people the space and the control to use something like Levell or a similar app, and work through what they need and give them the power and the agency to make the changes.
But, in other cases, there are elements where the culture of the organisation is still pretty dominant and individuals don’t have a lot of control cause of the dynamics of work or being subject to the whims of the clients’ side. Then, it does really start from the top. So, the people at the top do really set the tone for these things and so we always would recommend, and we [Levell] love to work with organisations, especially larger ones, where they do have a lot of things like this going on.
They have high rates of attrition, they’re trying to get the most out of it, they’re paying a lot for benefits and health [schemes]. They’re not seeing the improvements. That kind of stuff. [The solution] is to just sit down with the people who are setting the tone and talk through some of these things.
BH: Do you want to tell us a little bit about the types of company you're working with? Who you think is going to be most important for, and who's really going to benefit from this?
ME: We’ve seen a real interest in Levell from high-performing organisations from all industries. Creative industries [but] also technology industries and also even health. We’ve been working with Babylon Health who, you might know, is a leading tele-health provider. Recently, IPO-d in the US to support their remote, clinical, tele-health base, in what is, a very demanding job and [with a] very high risk of burnout to be at their best in making diagnosis for patients and [for] taking care of themselves as well.
BH: Thank you so much, that is absolutely brilliant. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you today, Madeleine. Thank you for joining me on the show. I wish you the very best of luck with everything and [would] love to have you back here again very soon!
ME: Thank you, and if anyone wants to check us out or download the app, work with us as a company, were are Levell and that is [spelled] L-E-V-E-L-L.I-O.
BH: Thank you so much, that’s awesome!
BH: In the next episode, I’ll be talking technical with James Colborn. We’ll be exploring the way the rules around tracking and third-party cookies are changing. See, now I MAY need to buy some actual cookies in honour of the event. Maybe bake some. Anyway, this the cookieless world episode where we’ll find out about the outstream, what it means for marketers, both agencies and brands.