The best brand leader plays the most crucial role in the creative advertising process. While they are not designed to be experts, they need to know enough to make advertising decisions, but never enough to do the work.
With the increasing speed of advertising, brand leaders have taken one step in and often find themselves embedded in the creative development. If you are now doing the work, then who is critiquing and who is deciding if the work is good enough and if it fits your strategy? Even using “internal agencies” creates a blind spot. Brand leaders need to step back and let the creativity unfold.
There is a leadership advantage in being the least knowledgeable person in the room. While it may sound strange at first, when you are a layer removed from the specialist who does the work, it allows you to think, question, challenge and make decisions on choosing the right advertising. Focus on the strategy, but stay clear-minded enough to judge if the advertising is good enough or reject if it is not.
Leading the creative advertising process
Brand leaders must be able to inspire, challenge, question, direct and decide, throughout the creative advertising process. If you knew that being a better advertising client would result in better work, would you do it? As we engage experts, the respect we show can either inspire greatness or crush their creative spirit. Being better at all elements of marketing is something you can learn through a combination of marketing training and on-the-job experience.
1. Strategy pre-work
The brand positioning and brand plan homework make it easier to write a great creative brief. Go deep on finding the consumer insights and consumer enemy, understand the brand positioning, and brand idea. In your brand plan, make sure you write a tightly focused brand communications plan. Only after you have done your homework should you take a pen to the creative brief.
2. Focused creative brief
Sit with your agency and turn your homework into a creative brief. Debate every point. Keep it focused. Think of the brief like creating a strategic box the ad must play within. The brief must have one objective, a tightly defined target market with rich consumer insights, one crystal clear desired consumer response of whether you want consumers to see, think, feel or do, and one main message you know will motivate the consumer target to respond positively. For added confidence, lay out your brand positioning into a brand concept you can test and validate with consumers.
3. Creative expectations
Just after signing off on the brief, request an informal meeting with the creative team to help convey your vision, passion, strategy, and needs. An informal meeting is your first chance to inspire the team and begin the push for great work. It always surprises me that the first time most marketers meet their creative team is at the first creative meeting, which is usually three weeks after the creative team has started to work on your brand. That is crazy. It seems like an old-school way for the account team to control both the client and creative team, keeping them at arm’s length. I believe the best advertising comes from a highly personal relationship with your creative team.
4. Tissue session
When you have an entirely new campaign or you’re working on a high-risk campaign, you should ask to hold an informal tissue session where the creative team presents roughed out conceptual ideas, usually with hand-drawn visuals, with a simple headline and description of a story. This meeting is an excellent chance to get your hands dirty, understand where the team wants to go, either encouraging them to further explore some ideas or talk about how some ideas might not fit. You get to see behind the creative curtain. Do not abuse this privilege by adding your own ideas to the mix. Focus on big ideas and use the meeting to inspire and push for better.
5. Creative meeting
How you show up at the first creative meeting is crucial to the entire project. You are now on the “hot seat,” and you should feel the pressure. You are being judged as much as you think you are there to judge the work. Think of the first creative meeting like a first date. I have seen the relationship fizzle within seconds. Be on your best behavior. Stay positive and focus on big-picture decisions. Give direction and make decisions. Stop thinking that your job is to fix or change the ads you see. Do not get too wrapped up in small details, as there remains plenty of time to keep working on those details. Use your feedback to inspire the team.
6. Feedback memo
Work it out with the agency ahead of time that you will give a feedback memo 48 hours after the creative meeting. This memo is your chance to gather your thoughts, balancing your creative instincts with your strategic thinking. The memo should clarify details you did not have a chance to talk about in the creative meeting. Where you are stuck, frame it as a problem, but avoid giving your specific solutions. Use the memo as a chance to create a new box for the creative team, an evolution from the box you created with the creative brief. Give them your problems, not your solutions.
7. Advertising testing
The use of ad testing depends on timing, budget, or degree of risk. Where you have a new major campaign, test the ideas you feel have the best chance to express your brand positioning, communicate the main benefit, break through the clutter, and motivate consumers to purchase. You can use qualitative focus group feedback to help confirm your instincts, or quantitative testing to replicate and predict how it may do in the market. I am a big believer that you should only use ad testing to confirm your pick, never to make your decision. Choose in your mind, what you think is the best ad. In case the results are close, go with your gut and select the one you chose before the test.
8. Gain approval
It is essential to keep your boss aware at every stage. Use your first meeting with your boss to state your vision for the project. Through each update meeting, keep your boss aligned with every decision. However, you always need to sell-in the ad! With every great ad I ever made, there were many resistors. However, with every possible bad ad on the table, I seemed to be the only resistor, who was trying not to make it. Own your vision, own your favorite ad, and find a way to make it happen.
The production process can be a very complicated element of the project. Remember, you have zero expertise in any production area. Do not even pretend you do. Your main role is to deliver as close to the original script that was approved while managing the tone to ensure it fits your brand. During the shoot, try to get more options than you need, just in case, as it may look different in the final edit room.
As you move to the post-production stage, you become even less of an expert. Many clients decide to stay close to their agency account person. I believe you should talk directly with every expert (editors) you work with. A personal approach will enable you to get the most out of each of the experts. Your greatness happens through their greatness.
You can find this type of thinking in my Beloved Brands book
Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze
- You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies.
- To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept.
- For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans.
- To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices.
- When it comes time for the analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.
You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.