Creative Strategy Process

Have you ever received an email that seemed to know exactly what you were in need of, or seen a post in the internet (ad or not) that did the same thing? You might be someone’s ideal client.

How does that happen?

The fuss around the creative process and the race to “talk” to the ideal audience plagues business owners and is actively ignored by Brand Designers on a disconcerting level. Sure, we all know how to make a half decent business card, but what about the messaging that captures the consumer? What about taping in their needs and offering just the right thing at the right time?

Creative strategy is what bridges the gap between the business and their clients. There’s no denial that to have a great brand, you need a great strategy. However, the process can be a bit fuzzy to both Designers and their clients: a lot of that stuff is not really covered in Design school (trust me, I’ve been to two).

Strategy can be a scary word. But strategy is all about tactics, connecting the dots, figuring out a solution to a problem in a creative and repeatable way, so simple that it hurts.

Understanding your client’s client

Guys, your clients aren’t the point, despite what they think. Whatever it is that they love (a colour, a shape, a flower), we need to take a step back and understand their clients first. Sure, that can be an interesting process since most people are very set to thinking that their ideas are great, that they need to use their favourite colour, and don’t really see it from a business perspective. You don’t want to work with that kind of people, right?

From our eBook:

1. The point of the strategy is not us
2. The point of strategy is not our clients
3. People care about the things they already care about

2. The point of strategy is not our clients 3. People care about the things they already care about

And that’s usually their own ideas, tastes, and themselves. It just how humans operate and we need to have that in mind. It’s very hard for humans to let go of their personal tastes in favour of what would actually attract their ideal clients. Brand personality does carry a depth of the owner’s own values and personal tastes; however, the whole business should be treated as its own entity. Unless, of course, the person is the business. Just like with babies, we don’t put brands in the world for just ourselves, otherwise it wouldn’t be profitable.

The Benefits of Strategy for your creative business

Offering strategy to your clients adds an immeasurable amount of value to your whole process. Imagine if you could support every design decision with data? Imagine if you knew exactly what to avoid design and have clear guidelines dictated not by you, nor the client, but by actual market information? Strategy is a turning point for the creative process since it uncovers the true nature of the market, and helps you leverage the business you are working with in that environment.

Can you see how that could results in better brands, better work and better pay?

Sure, a lot of clients will want to gain control of the process just because they are like that. Well, say no early and move on. You don’t explain the value of strategy, your job is not to convince anyone of that. You should be focusing on creating for those people who are aching to make a difference. Our job is to communicate the benefits our creative and strategic work, make the process evident and well documented and not hide that stuff for just ourselves.

The benefits of strategy for your clients

Look, the truth is, most of your prospects will not see the value of strategy, unless they see the unfathomable data and value before hand before they ever contact you. And then they decide whether it is what they want by themselves. You can’t convince anyone of anything. However, you may communicate your ethos, process and strategy data in a way that will entice them to buy.

Strategy is the part of the process where we, as creatives, help our clients make the most of their business and put them in the road to reach their goals and serve their industry.

What the clients expect and see are the pinnacle of the strategy, or the touchpoints of their brands. Logo, business cards, websites, you get the gist. However, what we do is helping they solve the gap between their goals and their clients. The biggest benefit of strategy is having a crystal clear tactical approach for their goals to come to life.

Want to learn more? Strat It Up! is an ebook that spells out with no fluffs the information gathering process for a successful strategy. It comes with printables that will assist you on gathering that information, organising and making heads and tails of it, so that you can build a successful messaging and further push the brand identity according to what suits that particular business the best.

Research and discovery: navigating information

Uncovering the essential data about your client’s industry and business is the first step to adding context to your project. That goes beyond the regular brief that designers and clients are so passionated about. In truth, when prospects come to me with a ready brief, I will automatically discard it. They maybe right in the end, but I like to be sure if first of all, we are a good fit. And second, what’s their current business context. However, most of the times, these clients aren’t the ones that we end up working with just because of the mindset.

Where do you find data about the company, though? What if the business is new? Brand audits are a great way to covering your bases regarding what the market thinks about the said brand. When the business is new, you will have very little to work with and the process is reverse: instead of finding what the potential audience thinks of the product, you will need to stalk the most direct competitors and see what’s missing in their product or service that you can leverage, for example. That are many ways to experience and validate a product or service, and depends on the business’s context and its nature.

Brand audits

Mission, vision, what their customers think of their brand, current touchpoints, sales history, reviews and feedback from their clients, their most selling products, business strategy, market environment… Quite a list, uh?

Organising the information is the biggest challenge you will face during the phase of brand auditing. Giving attention to the data you collect can be both daunting and an enlightening task.

Dig deep into your client’s available data: site analytics, social media analytics. But also take it personal with observation, on site visits, focus groups, interviews and such.

Gaining clarity

When you are creating the strategy you need to put in consideration the future, challenges, messaging, who their audience is, what differentiates them in the market (although positioning needs extra attention), and how they will manage all of that. It’s not enough to have all the information and not know what to do with it, and that’s where the challenge lies.

As far as it goes, collecting all the data is relatively easy. The real break here is reaching the level of clarity where you can see how things unfold into tactics and practical approaches that the client and their team can easily keep up with and — most important of all — believe in.

Having clarity is also a deal breaker when communicating the aspects of the strategy. How and why certain deliverables will work best, and how to test them in the market. How and why certain palettes with help them stand out in social media, and how they can be used in their website or print just effectively.

Decisions are more impactful when you are aware of the context

Strategy is a context game. Where the business is located, versus who they are marketing with. What the audience expects versus what the business wants to achieve. Who are the key players in the business, and what role they play in the business’ growth. What kind of ROI they expect after 3 months following the launch, and what kinds of tactics they can apply preceding the launch.

There is not one framework for strategy, there are approaches and steps you need to do in every of them in order to achieve a framework. Sorry if that was confusing. When I speak about framework, I mean the step by step guideline that people expect when learning something. First you sketch a bunch of logos, then you pick the best three, then you refine one and proceed to vectorizing it. With strategy, your framework is a less meticulous approach and a more broad set of workflow process. Collect data, read the data, and leverage the data in creative and tactical forms, that spell out the messaging, benefits, identity, mission and vision of the brand in a way the target market gets hooked in.

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