Creative Strategy Definition
A creative strategy is a blueprint for how your brand identity will deliver on your company’s goals and objectives. An effective creative strategy defines your strategic goals and outlines creative methods for meeting those goals. In your strategy, you should define your target audience, identify valuable actions you want them to take, and explain the tactics you’ll use to make it happen. The creative strategy should adhere to the overarching company strategy.
Having a creative strategy is important because you have limited resources and must align the entire team around a focused course of action. A good strategy document will give the creative team a clear idea of how they should make decisions and what they should have in mind when creating deliverables. If your creative strategy is poorly defined you’ll spend all of your time policing off-brand activities and fail to make meaningful progress towards your objectives.
Creative Strategy: Key Areas
There are a number of areas a creative strategy covers, all interrelated and internally consistent. An effective creative strategy will cover all areas, and will be related back to and consistent with your overarching brand strategy.
- Audience: What customer personas are you targeting and how do you define them?
- Concepts: What content will you make, what will it say, and how are you different?
- Activations: What will you do to trigger the consumer to take actions valuable to your business?
- Narrative: What story we are trying to tell? How does it relate to the target audience?
- Identity: What will your brand assets look like, is there a visual theme or set of guidelines?
The difficulty of pulling these areas together is that they’re all joined together. If you change one aspect, everything else changes. My advice is to work from the top down: if you figure out which audience you want to serve, you can pin down what concepts would work for them, and that informs what activations or tactics will be appropriate.
In order to understand how best to create content for your audience, you need to be able to relate to them. We can’t relate to a faceless mass of millions of people, so a clever technique is to create a persona for that audience: a fictional character that personifies the interests, behaviors and demographics your audience has.
It’s more effective to build your persona based on likes and interests, rather than demographics. The reason is that people of the same demographic group can be wildly different, whereas people who like the same things or buy the same products are closer in affiliation. Take for example a Male, born in 1948 in the UK, married twice, wealthy, famous and lives in a castle. You could be describing either Prince Charles or Ozzy Osbourne!
Rather than demographics it can be more helpful to describe your target audience in terms of their memes. For example Ozzy Osbourne is defined by the rock music memeplex and Prince Charles by memes related to royalty. In order to determine this for your audience code the things they say in interviews with tags and see what categories emerge.
Values & Benefits
The most visible and impactful part of your creative strategy will be the values and benefits you position your product as having. Of course there are multiple benefits and value propositions for every product, but you need to focus on one or two in order to not dilute the message. What are the most impactful and distinctive or differentiated values you can lead with?
Here’s a winning formula for writing features & benefits:
1/ Write down the feature 2/ Ask, “so what?” to find the benefit 3/ Contrast the old way with your new way
Once you’re done, invert the order so number 2 goes first as the headline. Then number 3 follows as the first sentence of the hero text, then number 1 completes the elevator pitch.
Example features & benefits:
2/ Build better products by talking to your customers
1/ Install live chat on your website in 4 minutes. 3/ Talk to customers taking specific actions rather than unfocused and infrequent interviews.
Production of creative assets is expensive, so it’s important that the assets you produce are reusable and transferrable across formats. This will let you chop and change the materials you have at your disposal in order to reform and remix them for new creative tests. Think from a first principles point of view to figure out what the most important elements you need are. They will be the building blocks which you piece together to create your finished assets.
- Shoot in the highest quality possible: it’s easy to decrease size, near impossible to increase it
- Think mobile first: don’t fall into the trap of creating an asset that only works on big screens
- Scale fractally: a 180-character tweet could be a blog title, a blog could be the basis for a video
Creative Brief Template
Having a creative strategy is essential, but not sufficient. Your creative strategy shouldn’t change very often, but you’ll need to run multiple campaigns over the year. Each campaign should fit with the overarching framework, but there are endless creative options available even within the most focused strategy.
Communicating with the creative team so they can produce appropriate assets for your campaigns is an essential skill. If you make the brief too complex, you risk poor motivation and confusion. If the brief is too permissive, you risk getting back assets that don’t fit with your expectations.
It’s hard to go wrong with the Get / Who / To / By framework:
- Get - Target consumer
- Who - Consumer Problem
- To - Desired response
- By - One message/action
Great creative campaigns usually start with a strong insight. Through your observations and research of the target audience, you discover something surprising about their behavior. Observations and statistics tell us what people say and do. Insights tell us why.
Examples of insights:
- Women don’t like most beauty product ads because they portray women who do not look like 95 percent of women. (Dove Real Beauty)
- People tend to buy milk when they run out and don’t want to be out of milk when you need it most. (Got Milk?)
- Most people aren’t athletes and struggle with motivation, but we should celebrate the every day heroes who keep at it. (Just Do It)
From whatever insight you discover, you can fill in the Get / Who / To / By framework. Usually you focus on one target customer, so it’s normal practice to zero in on one of your marketing personas for the ‘Get’ section. The ‘Who’ section is the observation you made in arriving at the insight. The ‘To’ section is the valuable action or perspective shift you want to trigger with this campaign. Finally the ‘By’ section is where you deliver on the insight, creating a space to insert your brand.
Example of a completed brief:
Insight: People have a tendency to get attached to their furniture which stops them from buying something better.
Get: young urban professionals
Who: are attached to their existing furniture and reluctant to get something better
To: buy new furniture
By: making them realize that they shouldn’t get attached to inanimate objects
Campaign: IKEA Lamp