To be great at advertising you need to learn to use your fast thinking, to engage the instinctual side of your brain, to make quick-twitch intuitive decisions to find the smart, creative marketing execution ideas that will help your brand grow. While you must inspire the experts you engage in delivering greatness on your brand’s behalf, I will show you how to use our creative processes to make better marketing execution decisions.
While we don’t make the product, we don’t sell the product or create the ads, we do touch everything that goes into the marketplace and we make every decision. All of our work is done through other people. Our greatness as a brand leader has to come from the experts we engage, so they will be inspired to reach for their own greatness and apply it to our brand. Brand management has been built on a hub-and-spoke system, with a team of experts surrounding the generalist brand leader.
I always say that it is okay to know exactly what you want, but you should never know until the moment you see it. As the client, I like to think of marketing execution as the perfect gift that you never thought to buy yourself. How we engage our experts can either inspire greatness or crush the spirit of creativity. From my experience, experts would prefer to be pushed than be held back. The last thing experts want is to be asked for their expertise, and then told exactly what to do. There is a fine line between rolling up your sleeves to work alongside the experts and pushing the experts out of the way.
It takes a unique skill to be able to inspire, challenge, question, direct and decide on your brand's advertising, without any expertise at all.
The brand leaders who are the best at advertising do two things well. They keep bad advertising from moving forward, and they can get great advertising into the marketplace.
Your bad attitude can become self-fulfilling. The more you tell yourself you are not good at advertising, the worse you get at advertising. David Ogilvy once said, “clients get the work they deserve.” He was speaking in frustration with an agency lens. Even from a brand management lens, the statement is true. You have to earn great work by showing up comfortable with the process, energized by ideas, and inspiring to get creative people to deliver their greatest work on our brand.
You don’t need to be able to make an ad to be good at making decisions about what advertising will work the best on your brand. For instance, the manager of The Beatles couldn’t sing or play an instrument, yet he certainly knew what his audience wanted more than John, Paul, George, and Ringo ever knew. After the Beatles, John Lennon had to even be convinced that “Imagine” was even worth releasing as a song. As the brand leader, your role in the process is to be the decision-maker, by knowing what advertising your consumers will respond to, and then giving it to them.
Too many marketers never find their comfort zone. They are so uncertain they show up skeptical, uptight, too tough, or too easy, and they seem easily annoyed by everything. Their discomfort sucks the energy and creativity right out of the project. Every creative person can sense when the marketer hates everything connected to advertising, and none of the creatives will want to work for them. The best marketers know that how they show up matters the most. Show up right.
I see many marketers who don’t feel if it is their place to say something. They figure the agency is the expert and will even say, “That’s why we pay them.” They are too fearful of giving direction. Or worse, they give them enough of a chance to mess up so they can blame them later. Think of hiring an ad agency like hiring a designer for your kitchen. Yes, your agency is an expert, but you have to live in the damn kitchen after they are gone. Your agency might make 25, 50, or even 100 ads this year. You will make one. You better make sure your ad is one of their best ads.
Never let the time pressure rule the project. The agency says if we don’t go for it now, they will miss the air date. So the marketer caves to the pressure and goes with work they hate. You better be great at project management, because the complexities and vagueness of an advertising project will kill the weak project managers. The best marketers I have seen have figured out how to use time pressure to their advantage. A lot of the best ideas I have worked on come right up against the clock. You have to be the one who works the time pressure, not let your agency.
Once you love an idea and make the decision, you have to own it, sell it, and even fight for it. Marketers who are not sure if it is the right thing to do will show up hesitant and unable to sell their idea into their boss.
Stop convincing yourself that it is your agency’s fault
I have seen so-so agencies do great work for a fantastic client. I have also seen the best agencies fail dramatically for a bad client. I have to conclude that the client matters more than anyone else, as they hold power in either enabling or restricting impactful advertising. There is a reason why there are so many agency reviews: clients can’t fire themselves. When you fire your current agency, and then you don’t show up any better to the new agency, they will be doomed to fail from the start. And the cycle will continue.
One of your primary roles is to keep your agency motivated, challenged, and engaged. Try to be your agency’s favorite client — the one they want to make great work on, rather than have to work on. Stop thinking your agency should work hard for you, just because you are paying them. You might be paying the agency, but you are not really paying the people to sit at the table.
I hate when I hear the agency wrote a brief you don’t like, or you boxed the agency into a strategy they don’t like. If either of you forces a brief on each other, then you are off to a bad start. Be collaborative with your agency.
There is nothing worse than when the agency’s creative team over sells you, and you feel you get hood-winked. When you are not sure what you want, it is easy to settle for an OK ad in front of you—the best of what you saw. Tell your agency you have to love the work — the best bar you can set for achieving greatness. Then if you don’t love it, you have to reject it. You can never settle for OK.
It is easy to lose traction through the production and edit. You have many decisions to make regarding talent, lighting, directors, and edits. If the tone changes from the board to edit, so does your ad. This is where experience pays off. The advertising process is likely more complex than anything else you will work on. You have to keep your head in the game at every moment of the process.
Stop convincing yourself that your brand is too boring
You think cool brands like Nike or Apple would be so much easier to work on. Guess what, Nike and Apple are in such a great position, they don’t need you. Your so-called boring brand has far more room for creativity.
Too many marketers think their brand is so boring; they use borrowed equity of a song, celebrity, or analogy in their advertising to make their brand seem more appealing. The problem is that the borrowed equity is remembered more than the brand itself, which ends up lost in the cluttered mess. Instead of hiding your brand, your role is to bring your brand to life.
Be careful of advertising roulette where the advertising spins around and around. When brand leaders have not done the depth of thinking or testing, the briefing becomes a game of chance. I see brands try to figure out their advertising strategy by looking at potential advertising ideas. They figure they don’t have a great strategy, so maybe a good ad can help. I am a believer that you have to do the homework to know your strategy is right, which will make it easier for your agency to nail
The thinking behind great creative execution
Use creativity in every type of marketing execution as you work through the experts on your brand. This type of thinking works on any type of marketing execution, including creative advertising, discovering innovative new product concepts to launch, social media campaigns, packaging and signage, or creating a customer experience.
As the brand leader, your role is the decision-maker, not the creator. As work comes to you, use your creative instincts to find the best marketing execution that balances being creatively different and strategically smart.
It is easy to fall for marketing execution work that is smart but not different, but it gets lost in the clutter. It is natural for brand leaders to tense up when the creative work ends up being “too different.” In all parts of the business, brand leaders are trained to look for past proof as a sign something will work. However, when it comes to marketing execution, if the work looks too similar to what other brands have already done, then it will be at risk of boring your customers, so you never stand out enough to capture their attention. You have to push your comfort with creativity and take a chance to ensure your ad breaks through.
Be careful, because marketing execution work that is different but not smart will entertain customers, but do nothing for your brand. Your marketing execution must be smart enough to trigger the desired customer response to match your brand strategy.
Challenge yourself to be better at creative advertising
- If you realized that how you show up as a client is the most significant factor in getting better marketing communications, would you show up differently? If so, then show up right.
- Be one of your agency’s favorite clients. Never treat anyone like they have to work on your business. Inspire everyone to want to work on your brand.
- Stay focused on one target, one strategy, one customer benefit, and one brand idea. Avoid the just in case list or adding one more thing.
- When writing a creative brief or providing feedback, resist controlling the creative outcome. Give your creative person your problems, not your solutions.
- Be willing to fight anyone in the way of great work, even with your boss. You will start to see everyone on the team fight for you.
- LOVE your marketing, and never settle for OK. Never approve OK marketing work that feels safe. What signal do you think it sends everyone involved?
Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand
- 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.