Creativity is a skill that seems like magic. The responsibility to understand and connect thousands of insight from observation, research, and empathy might feel overwhelming. The skill to create clarity and direction might feel completely out of reach. For the majority of professionals, this type of problem solving was never taught; yet creative problem-solving is quickly becoming one of the most sought after skills in the business world.
While it may not be the best term to describe the final outcome of professional creativity, creative strategy provides a cross-media plan that provides direction to designers, marketers, web creators, app developers, motion graphics studios, musicians, event planners, and many more. A creative strategy is an overarching plan that connects a paradigm, or particular point of view, with an audience to convey a specific message. It’s a strategy to bridge business speak to everyday Joe, in whatever language Joe speaks, and does it in a way that is unique, sticky, and creative.
Where we come from
Look, in the creative world, we know that coming up with new and exciting ideas is the fun part. More than a few times we’ve answered phone calls from strangers announcing they’d like to know how to get into design or advertising. They always come up with great ideas, they say; even their friends think so. They want to start a career and see where that gets them. Maybe come up with a headline or two — or send over some of the photos on their phone to see if the shots are any good. They don’t understand the training necessary to elevate the skill of creativity to a career.
Professionally, the creative part is the most rigorous and requires the most time and talent investment. Creativity requires research and understanding. Interpreting and synthesizing massive amounts of information into a coherent story. More than fancy design sprints and brainstorms, creativity means building trust with clients and respect in expertise. Without research and understanding, creativity will not produce a viable solution to a client’s problems. For example, a baby shower for a senator might take a different approach if it were an election year gala celebration versus a family-only event. If we were hired by the senator and a campaign team, we’d probably play up wholesome family values, bringing another life into this glorious country, and providing for all the constituents and their families. In the very least, this requires a massive room and balloons, streamers, and punch. The event would be a community celebration of life. For the family event, we’d opt for a banner over the dinner table, cake and sparkling cider.
The difference is in the audience and the messages being conveyed. One message says, “Vote for me. I have a family and so do you. Let’s build our children’s future together.” It’s hokey, political, sales-y and way over the top. The other message says, “Hello friends and family. Relax. Share our joy. And let’s keep it low-key.”
Back to trust
That’s why trust and understanding is important. The solutions created are based on the message and values we wish to portray. The delivery — the tone and tenor or look and feel — might vary depending on the audience, customers, guest list, timing, and experience. Our clients trust that we’ve taken all of the variables into account to present them with solutions that are, not only viable and creative but, outstanding. An outstanding solution is one that is different and designed for uniqueness. These types of solutions are remembered.
Branding and the status quo
The majority of creative firms offer their own take on strategy. That is, they create a plan that can be carried throughout their specific work. While there’s hundreds of ways to create strategy, some return on invest varies in value. Graphic designers are notorious for delivering work that reflects their own personal tastes. Photographers may capture beautiful photos and miss the opportunity to reinforce a brand narrative. Marketers might get too focussed on the media plan to drive sales and spend less time on effective value messaging for their target customer. No option presented here solves a problem because the problem wasn’t listed at the outset. The problem solved by the senator’s gala? Get more voters on her side.
The strategic solution
Understanding the problem is one half of the key to creating a successful creative strategy. The problem will inevitably involve other people; so the audience is the second half of the key. In the baby shower example, the small and intimate home gathering would never work for a community-building election-year event because it would send the wrong message. Similarly, the giant event might be fun for a small family and friends get-together, but it would be much less likely to get votes. Further, it could seem like an over-expenditure of money to the community, causing bad brand-building. The right creative solutions fit the audience and the problem being solved.
The creative mind
The skill of creativity is built through both wide and deep exploration. Once we know the problem, we start research. This involves looking up similar brands, work, events, or people and analyzing what makes them successful. It involves exploring trends and speaking with audiences to gain an authentic perspective. And it involves a hint of inspiration with a dash of unique perspective.
How to explore
Wide exploration involves listing a range of topics and brainstorming tangential ideas. A mind map often captures these type of ideas that grow outwards and interconnect. Words, images, smells, and sounds can be included to build the depth of the thinking, for example, a Jazz band for the election-year gala shower. Concentrating on a single topic and examining more about it is an example of deep exploration. How does the jazz band look? How many members might they have? Is there space at a venue? What does the music sound like? In the course of an event, when is the band silent? When do they strike up the music? As you can see, the deeper you go, the more you start to create an experience in your head centered around that topic. In the act of exploring that experience, you start to tell a story — the story of the event for each guest that night. The story of how they meet the senator, how they all feel like part of her family, and how she won their vote.
Where does this go?
Ultimately, in creative strategy, we’re crafting stories that help people, businesses, and brands connect with each other. The application of the story might be diverse, breaking a writer out of writer’s block or creating a new local goat cheese. Creativity combines skills of research and understanding — people, places, and cultures — as well as exploration and fortitude. It involves finding answers that create a desired outcome amid millions of possibilities. Creativity combines multiple ideas to create new, novel solutions that stand out in an overwhelming crowd of same-ness. Creativity includes curiosity about psychology, science, travel, and relationships. And creativity is a driving factor in finding new solutions for business today. Solutions that set companies apart, reduce competition through branding, and convey a messages audiences understand.