My team and I were once summoned to the home office in New York to review the final pitch to a highly coveted account that we had managed to lure for their national business. There, in the large but tightly packed theater at our office on Lexington Ave., we were shown the PowerPoint that would delineate the various points of our strategy. Immediately, I noticed a problem.
“Excuse me,” I said, sheepishly raising my hand like the new kid in class. “You’ve used the color blue all throughout these slides. That’s the color of their chief competitor. Our client’s color is red.”
I no sooner had I got the word “red” out, than the account supervisor shot up out of his seat in the front row and exclaimed “I warned you guys about the blue … now change it!” Then all hell broke loose, of course.
The point is simply that to think like a creative director, or a brand marketer for that matter, you must have the ability to judge well – you must practice discernment. That requires doing two things consistently: 1) Think critically, and 2) Being willing to challenge ideas, even if makes you a pain in the ass.
There’s a quote I often refer to from Sergio Zyman of Coca-Cola fame that I picked up in his book “Building Brandwidth”: “Every detail either makes a sale or breaks a sale.” Sometimes that detail can be as simple as overruling an art director’s color choice, because you know that strategically it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Creative directors are not only called to be brilliant conceptually within the framework of the strategy, they are also called on to be brilliant judges of the creative product itself. Ideally, they will have absorbed the strategy deep down so that they can pick a winner or a loser idea within about five seconds of coming eye to eye with it, and challenge it without reservation.
The question to ask yourself, as a brand marketer, do you know your brand strategy just as well? Would you be able to articulate or even argue your brand positioning to your agency team? Would you be ready to challenge or champion ideas that support your brand marketing to anyone, including your own management?
To that end, what evaluation criteria should we, as marketers, use to practice strategic discernment for concepts that support the positioning and communication of our brands as a creative director would? Here are seven simple filters to employ for making that all-important judgment about the ideas you are presented.
1. Is the idea strategic? This, of course, is fundamental. The work should, at the very least, be defendable on its adherence to the creative brief. That’s hardly a guarantee for a “big idea” but it’s the minimum price of entry for consideration.
2. Is it simple to understand? Many so-called great ideas are simply too complicated for the target to grasp quickly. “Too obtuse,” “too nebulous,” or “esoteric” are often labels creative directors put on these failed efforts.
3. Is the idea relevant to the target? Relevancy is a quality that may not be easily discerned from the strategy, but it is nevertheless critical. This has a lot to do with having empathy, which is often revealed in the execution of the idea. For example, what mother can’t identify with the mom seen snatching a bottle of wine off the supermarket shelf, knowing that she’ll be cooped-up with her kids during an impending blizzard, as in a recent Campbell Soup campaign? That’s purely relevant and resonates with the target audience, creating enormous empathy between the brand and customer. The brand isn’t solely about nutrition, it’s about caring and nurturing – even for adults.
4. Does it solve a problem or convey a benefit? There must always be something “in it for me” from the customer’s vantage point, otherwise it’s nothing more than self-serving to the brand.
5. Does it have a call to action, preferably with urgency? This may simply be a phone number or a URL for some messages, but the inference to take action is there.
6. Is it original and memorable? OK, so there’s nothing truly original under the sun. (Wasn’t it Steve Jobs who quoted Picasso as saying, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”) This one is tough because most people want to move this criterion to the front of the line. After all, the first job of any ad is to get noticed. Failing that, everything else is, as they say, academic. Ideas that are clever, bold, funny, outrageous, and pushing the edge should all be encouraged and expected … strategically, that is. When Delta Airlines borrowed the “High-Ho” Disney tune from “Snow White” to celebrate the “early risers who truly change the world” (and happen to fly Delta, of course) they “stole” (see Picasso’s quote) and created an original, memorable message for the brand.
7. Does it have legs? Creative directors more often than not think in campaign mode. Big ideas can leverage lots of media vehicles to reach targets at multiple angles with plenty of repetition and frequency.
Brands must be built on a strategic foundation, and they can only soar when every detail falls into place. Your job, as the brand marketer, is to master strategic discernment to help ensure that happens.
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