Creative versus strategy

Creative versus strategyCreative versus strategy. For as long as I’ve been in advertising and marketing – there’s been that age-old tug of war.  Should advertising and marketing tools be creative/clever/funny/pretty or should the emphasis be on strategically driving the sales message?

As you can imagine – the real answer is both.  An ad, website, brochure, e-book etc. that is visually interesting and has a compelling message is much more likely to have impact when it comes to trial or purchase of whatever is being sold.

But sooner or later, compromises need to be make due to budget, timeframes, or other considerations.

When it comes to the creative side of the equation, your materials need to be:

Aligned with the visual brand: Carry the look and feel of your brand through everything you do.  Don’t ask your consumers to try to play connect the dots.  You should use creative elements to link each piece back to your brand.

Professionally produced: Yes, I know you can make a brochure in Microsoft Publisher.  That doesn’t mean you should.  I can use a pair of my own scissors to cut my hair too.  But I think we can agree it’s going to look better if I let a pro cut it.

Using graphics/photos that connote quality and that you do this for a living: Unless what you sell retails for $3.99 or less, clip art isn’t going to cut it.  There was a day when it was new enough that people found it cute or quirky.  But today, it just screams cheap.

Attention grabbing:  If your ad look like every other ad in the paper – no one is going to look at it.  Whether it is with words or visuals – you need to pop from the page, whether that’s on the web, newspaper or trade show booth.

Everything should be on purpose: Think through every element of your piece from font selection to size.  If you can’t explain why an element has to be there or be a certain way – it should go.

On the strategic side of the equation, your materials need to be:

One piece, one message:  If there is a universal sin in marketing – it’s that everyone writes too much.  Cut the copy in half.  At least.  You can’t possibly tell the whole story in a single ad or marketing piece.  So focus on one core message and make your point powerfully and succinctly.

One piece won’t cut it: Consumers want multiple pieces, in multiple places so they can browse, download and review over time.  They’re going to be shopping you for a while, so don’t bore them with only one thing to look at.

WITFM:  Your audience wants to know how what you sell is going to make their life easier, better, etc. They need to know you’re credible so unless your brand is a household name, you do need to tell them a little about you. But they want the focus to be on them so think 80/20 and no, you’re not the 80.

Location, location, location:  If I can’t find you, you don’t exist.  And I want to find you in multiple places.  Being found on Google and the other search engines is mandatory today. But you also need to know where else your consumers go to look for you and be there with bells on.  Don’t assume that online is the only game in town.

Most B2C marketers tend to lean too heavily on the pretty (think the Super Bowl ads) and most B2B marketers are a bit like the old Dragnet’s Joe Friday – the facts ma’am, just the facts. (Think most niche B2B magazine ads).  The key is finding the balance between the two because at the end of the day creative versus strategy isn’t an either or.  You need both.

Is creativity bad for marketing?

funny eggs with facial expression: scared screaming and being terrified.As a writer just typing the question – is creativity bad for marketing – hurts a little.

Advertising and marketing people pride themselves on their creativity. After all, it’s one of the lures of the profession for most of us.

But does it serve our businesses and our business goals?

On the surface, it’s easy to argue that creativity is essential to good advertising and marketing. Whether it’s strategic nuances and insights, being innovative in your brand and how you express it, or marketing materials that capture the audience’s attention and imagination – all of those are built on a foundation of creative thinking.

But I’ve been in some situations recently where it was evident that the long-term objectives were not being well served by an infusion of creativity. Then, sadly the answer is yes…. creativity can be bad for marketing.

So let’s look at how the very thing we work so hard to capture can also be a detriment.

Too many ideas: This can be a killer. When a team is on fire with great ideas and falls in love with them all, the end result can be a mess. Sometimes the team tries to pack in all the ideas so rather than building a message hierarchy where you lead with your key message and then support that message — you get five pounds of ideas shoved into a one pound bag. That results in a lot of superficial messaging rather than a well-developed story with depth and relevance.

The other possible outcome of too many ideas is that the team decides to use them all sequentially. That typically means that no one idea is left in place long enough to really take root. Remember, about the time that we as the creators are getting sick of the ad/brochure/tagline etc. is about the same time the intended audience is just noticing the communication. If you pull the plug too soon, you lose all momentum and have to start all over.

Unbridled creativity: As the brainstorming pendulum swings, it often goes to an extreme that’s beyond the audience’s sensibilities. Sometimes a team can get so enamored with being provocative or wildly creative that they forget who their audience is. We’ve all seen ads that were very outlandish and got a lot of attention but in the end, were too far over the top and the company ended up issuing an apology or retracting the ad.

Marketing has a very simple purpose – to sell something. It might be selling a product, or an ideal or a candidate or a charity’s cause. But it does not exist to entertain, provoke a reaction or win awards. If it sells AND entertains, all the better. But it needs to do its job. Which means the audience’s perspective must always be front and center.

Cart before the horse creativity: Believe it or not, good creativity is actually the outcome of a very disciplined process, at least in marketing. To truly be creative in a way that nets the desired results, you have to do your homework before you release the creative juices. Until you define the goals, identify and get to know your audience and understand your unique position in the marketplace – you hold your creativity in place.

When you unleash it too soon, you may come up with the most compelling marketing tools that drive the audience to action, but they might be the wrong audience, might be taking the wrong action or might play to one of your competitor’s strengths.

Like most things, creativity isn’t good or bad, at least not in the world of marketing. It’s how we use it that makes it either a huge asset or a hindrance to us achieving our ultimate marketing goals.

 

Want to up your creativity?

idea_lightbulbNo matter what you do for a living, you need to be creative.  Innovative and fresh thinking are always in demand, whether you’re a cop, a plumber, or a marketing pro.

Unfortunately, on the job, we can’t wait for the muses to strike.  We need to be creative on demand because there are clients, deadlines and projects waiting.

Want to up your creativity?

Having a career that demands creativity every day has forced me to find ways to keep that particular saw sharp.  Here are some of my favorites:

Exercise your brain: My goal is to keep my brain cooking at all times, so if I need to call on it, it’s already fired up.  I love brain teasers, word games like Scrabble, games of strategy and even lumosity.com which is like a brain obstacle course.

Simmering: When I’m stuck or every idea I come up with seems tired and overdone, I tuck the challenge in the back of my mind and let it simmer.  I do other things, concentrate on something else entirely and just let my subconscious work out the knots.

Blood, sweat and tears: Okay, skip the blood and tears part.  But sweating really works.  When we move our bodies, all kinds of endorphins are released.  Those magic chemicals put us in the perfect state to create.

Hang out with creative people: This is not only effective, it’s great fun. Actively look for opportunities to talk to creative people about creative things.  Listen to the language they use, the stories they tell and even how they use their body to enhance their tales.  If you live in Central Iowa, you have the perfect opportunity this Thursday.

The Iowa Creativity Summit is Thursday night from 6 – 8:30.  Come hear from David Burkus, the author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas.  Check out the event here.  I promise — you’ll get your creative juices flowing for sure!

If you’re like me, your creativity is a tool you rely on.  Like any tool, it’s my job to keep it in tiptop condition so it is ready when I need it.

So how about you — how do you keep your creativity flowing?

 

 

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How does your paper resume stack up to this?

The world has changed.  Things are different.  This is the new normal.  This ain’t your grandaddy’s marketing.

We can say it a million ways but some folks just aren’t going to get it.  Or at least not yet.

With the tools out there, the connections that can be made and the audience’s diminishing tolerance for being shouted at — there are many things we need to do differently.  Including finding a job.

Check out this slideshare (PPT) presentation that Lorenzo Galbiati sent me as he embarks on a job hunt.  (Email him here if you want to chat about career possibilities)


Imagine you need to hire someone.  You get a standard paper resume and this PPT.  You can only interview one candidate — who would you choose?

We need to re-think everything and there are plenty of sacred cows that need to be done away with.  If someone ever says to you — this is how it has to be done or this is the standard — ask more questions, think beyond the “usual” and remember that the world has changed.

The last thing you want to demonstrate is that you haven’t been keeping up.

 

Can’t see the PPT?  Click here to view over at www.slideshare.net

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How does your customer use what you sell?


An exercise we don’t do often enough (especially if you sell a service rather than a product) is taking a look at how our customers actually use what we sell them.

When you make the time (not take…make) to actually dig into the functionality, the how and where they use it, and what they have to do to it to make it more practical/useful, etc. you learn some very interesting things and it’s a great way to innovate an existing product.

How do you suppose Puffs came up with the tissue box that fits into your car’s cup holder?

 

Advertising can’t just be funny

Don’t get me wrong.  I like funny.  Most of my favorite movies are funny.  The TV shows I watch — usually funny.  And I appreciate a funny ad.

But…it still has to sell something.  That’s the ad’s reason for existence.  No company runs a TV commercial just to entertain the viewers.

So when I see TV spots like this one for the California Milk Producers.  But for the life of me, I can’t understand why they thought it would inspire anyone to drink more milk — let alone California milk. (email subscribers, click here to view)

Am I missing something?  Did watching this spot make you run to the fridge and pour a cold glass of ice cold milk?

My big issue with this series of TV spots is that it doesn’t even try to sell us on the benefits of the product, make the brand of the product cool or…even show the product.

Contrast that with the TV spots for Mike’s Hard Lemonade.  They’re funny but they’re also talking about the product. (email subscribers, click here to view)

AdAge and their partner Bluefin Labs have been studying how we react to TV spots in terms of social mentions.  Their findings — we TV viewers are beginning to view commercials as movie shorts and it’s pretty clear that TV viewers are increasingly willing to talk about ads in the same way that they talk about shows: as bits of entertainment.

All the more reason to make sure your TV spot (or any advertising for that matter) keeps its eye on the prize — selling your product or service.  If the viewing population is more likely than ever to talk about you, I’m thinking you want to give them something besides the funny parts to talk about.

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