Creative development is not an easy process. Anyone involved in it would have, at some point, experienced the sense of frustration at not being able to “crack” the brief, or the despair at watching beloved ideas being shredded to pieces by focus groups, argues Sharlene Zeederberg, director at Bedrock Insight.
But there are things both clients and agencies can do to unleash the creativity needed to develop breakthrough advertising that engages with consumers and enhances your brand.
Embrace the Iterative Nature of Creative Development
Clients need to remember that the act of creativity is an iterative process, one which requires space and freedom for exploration. It is not a linear process. It is far more chaotic and disorganised than many left-brain thinkers are comfortable with.
But the backwards and forwards approach is central to creative development. Ideas are not birthed fully formed. They need to be explored, tried, developed, reformed. New directions emerge from the ashes of old ideas.
Ideation requires sources of inspiration – lights come on from seeing things in action. Strong ideas are built through trial and error – taking learnings aboard and trying out a different expression or taking them in a new direction.
Understanding and accepting this natural creative process will help you engage with creative agencies better and give you a much better chance at developing meaningful communication with your consumers.
Develop a team mentality
It has been my observation over the past 20 years that quite often there is a sense of us and them between clients and agencies. Agencies are given a brief and expected to go away and deliver something that clients will like.
Agencies are seemingly held to account through the research process, as though the people who suggested the advertising, and not only the executions themselves, are being judged. And it is the agencies themselves who are blamed when advertising “fails” the research test.
However, the process would be better served with a team mentality. Firstly, everyone has a role to play in delivering a successful outcome. The quality of the advertising developed is a direct result of the quality of the brief and the level of understanding of the target market. Secondly, being able to access knowledge holders to ask questions and share thoughts (without it being judged) means that agencies have another source of inspiration for their ideas.
Having a partnership mentality means everyone – clients, agencies and researchers too – can pool their skills and knowledge appropriately so that creative ideas are built upon. Instead of the engagement being continually evaluative, it becomes a journey of discovery and shared development.
Single minded focus (in a human-centric voice)
Good advertising is developed from good briefs. And good briefs have sharp clarity and a single minded, consumer orientated, focus around the job the advertising is required to do.
Resist the temptation to put in everything you hope the advertising will do into your brief. Focus on the one thing you are trying to change or get people to do as a result of seeing the advertising.
And write it in a human centric voice. This is not about saying you want people to buy more of your brand. Of course you do. This is about addressing the underlying issue that is stopping people buying your brand.
It is about understanding what drives people to value the particular widgets you are selling, and tapping into this deep human truth.
At its heart, the single minded focus is the distillation of a deep understanding of your target market, brand and competitive context and the threats and opportunities on your horizon. It might seem like a one liner – but it takes a lot of work to get there. And it needs to be done before you even think about briefing a creative execution. Consider engaging your ad agency to develop the brief with you, so that you are partners in the process from the start.
Let go of the constraints
Okay, so you very concisely distilled everything you know into a single minded issue. But if you want creative advertising, you now need to scratch out the 27 bullet points that you’ve amended to the brief, laying out the rules and restrictions for the ad. If you really want the advertising to solve your problem, then you have to give your creative team the space to think and explore without continually tripping over “should-haves” and “better-nots”.
You may well come back later on and review the advertising through the prism of your corporate or brand constraints but asking them to be part of the creative development process will only hinder it.
Creative thinking requires air. Let ideas out of the box and you may just find, that in letting go of the constant restrictions, you end up in a far more energetic and rewarding space than you could have imagined.
Rethink your research process
One of the biggest issues I’ve experienced working client side is trying to force fit a linear evaluation process onto what is ultimately an iterative and very non-linear development process.
While there are clear stages that the creation of an execution will naturally pass though, using qualitative research as a gate-keeper from one stage to the next doesn’t reflect the way creative ideas are developed. Not only is it not helpful, it can quite often be destructive.
The traditional use of focus groups are often not used dynamically enough to explore and build ideas. In effect, they become testing regimes – an engagement with consumers at a static point in time , where ideas are passed or failed, rather than developed and further explored.
While having check points along the way is sensible (and we recommend quantitatively testing executions at the end of the process), if qualitative research is approached attitudinally as a transition stage rather than a developmental one, the risk is high that after a great deal of work, you can walk away from the research with nowhere to go and nothing to show for it.
Engaging with consumers creatively
Consumers can be employed more responsively, flexibly and dynamically in a way where research is not seen as judge and jury, but rather as a partner in the creative development process.
Using consumers as springboards for insight and idea development, utilising conversations with them to see what is working and how adaptations change their perceptions can all be done without the use of traditional focus groups. Immersions, consumer conversations, mini-groups, panel work, co-creation workshops, digital diaries and so on are all ways in which consumers can be employed more gainfully, and cost effectively, in the development process.
Key is building on these learnings by applying imagination techniques and the knowledge and skills we have as planners, advertisers, marketers to extend, improve and develop ideas. Through this process, poor ideas will naturally fall away while good ideas will be honed and developed giving you a better chance of achieving a successful outcome.