Marketing + Communications

The glorious messy middle

How the chaos of the messy middle can give birth to your best ideas

If you’re familiar with the term ‘messy middle’ you might have learnt of it from the book of the same name by Scott Belsky. Written about the failure of many start-ups and their inability to get out of the start-up phase and into a position to affect the market, it offers guidance on how to navigate the difficult middle point in a start-up’s journey.

The book extols the virtues of perseverance in times of chaos, self-awareness during trials and tribulations and focusing on areas that work well. It’s a fantastic read and mandatory reading for any start-up.

The idea of the messy middle isn’t just applicable to start-ups though. It can be applied to any process with a start, a middle or an end. That could be the construction of a new housing development, or in our case, a new brand, a marketing strategy or a PR campaign.

In this short blog, we’re going to discuss the magic that can come from this messy middle and how you can prospect solid gold amongst the chaos.

Creativity is messy

By its nature, creativity is messy.

When it comes to the creativity required for marketing, it generally goes like this:

  • You take a brief of the work required, getting to the bottom of what it is you (or in our case – our clients) want to achieve.
  • You set clear targets to measure success against, outlining costs, deadlines and how to monitor impact
  • You do the work required
  • You deliver the work successfully, sit back and uncork the wine!

I know what you’re thinking. The third bullet point is a bit vague…

That’s the messy middle at work. In every creative process, there’s lots of experimentation going on. Lots of trial and error. Lots of mining for gold. Because every project is different, every process is slightly different. There are always some guiding landmarks, but the guts of the creative process is messy.

Structured improvisation

Think of the great jazz improvisers. When they’re playing, they’re often feeling out where to take the melody next on instinct. They have all the embodied knowledge of where they can go with the melody, including scales, modes, arpeggios etc, but inside of those creative boundaries, there is a touch of freedom and chaos. This is where magic things happen.

Likewise, when creating something new, whether it be a marketing campaign or an innovative building design, you’re playing your own improvised solo. You know the boundaries but operate with creative freedom within them.

Rulebreakers

Then there are those moments where a jazz player steps out and breaks the rules. As the old adage goes, before you can break the rules you have to understand what they are. If a musician breaks the rules without proper thought, they’ll end up playing a discordant mess. If however, they do so carefully and with a proper understanding of how to do it, it will take their audience by surprise and create an invigorating, totally fresh sound.

This notion of breaking the rules applies to any other project or creative endeavour. When Innocent smoothies started using cheeky copy on their product, it hadn’t been seen much before. It birthed a legion of brand imitators eager to capture their youthful voice for their products.

Likewise, when Apple released the first iPhone, it completely turned the market on its head.

These are all the results of the magic that comes from toiling in the messy middle.

Navigating the swamp of complexity

To distil beautifully effective results, you have to navigate complexity. The brief, your or your client’s goals and the needs of your/their target audience throw up all kinds of considerations that create beautifully complex landscapes. You’ll need to traverse these landscapes to get the result you want.

It’s not easy, but it’s the only way to go if you want to get the perfect result.

Need help navigating the messy middle of your project? Give Luma Marketing a call and will guide you through.

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