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How brand leaders can manage the creative spirit needed for brand growth

Credit from Beloved Brands book

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. 

The thinking behind the creativity needed on your brand

The best marketing execution must balance being creatively different and strategically smart. 

When your marketing execution is smart but not different, they get lost in the clutter. It is natural for marketers to tense up when the creative work ends up being “too different.”  I have noticed in all parts of the business, marketers are trained to look for past proof as a sign something will work. However, when it comes to advertising or any other type of marketing execution, if the work starts too similar to what other brands have already done, then the advertising will be at risk of boring your consumers, so you never stand out enough to capture their attention. Push your comfort with creativity and take a chance to ensure your ad breaks through. 

When ads are different but not smart, they will entertain consumers, but do nothing for your brand. Your advertising must be smart enough to trigger the desired consumer response to match your brand strategy.

How to handle yourself at the creative meeting

In your next creative advertising meeting, you should think fast with your instincts, while trying to represent your consumer. View the advertising through the eyes of your consumer. Try to see the work how they would see it. I would not even let my agency do a setup to the ads. I said, “Just show me the work as though I see it on TV.” I felt any setup or explanation clouded my judgment and impacted my instincts. As you are sitting in that decision-making hot seat at a creative meeting, here are challenging questions to ask yourself. 

What does your gut instinct say? You might be coming from a 3-hour meeting and it is not easy to change speeds as you head into a creative meeting. Relax, find your creative energy, let it soak in, and use your quick-twitch instincts. Do you love what the ad has the potential to do? Will you be proud of this ad as your legacy?

Does the ad deliver the strategy? Slow down with some thinking time after the meeting. In a quiet place alone, make sure it delivers your strategy. Does the ad match up to the objective in the creative brief? Does it achieve the desired consumer response? Will it have an expected market impact and brand performance? Don’t over-think and talk yourself out of a good ad that works.

Will the ad build a bond with consumers? Will it speak directly to the consumer target, leverage consumer insights to connect, deepen our bond with our consumers, or build memories and rituals?

Does the ad fit with the brand  and distinguish it in the market? Will it deliver the brand idea, leverage your creative assets, and fit with the tone of the brand? Does it use the functional or emotional benefits to own a competitive space that is motivating to consumers and ownable for the brand? Is the ad different enough to capture attention within the clutter? Does the creative naturally set up the main message and move consumers to think, feel, or act? 

Making decisions on the creativity of your brand

You have three choices: Approve, reject, or change the work. From my experience, brand leaders rarely approve creative ideas outright. There also seems a reluctance or fear to reject outright. So marketers mistakenly assume their role is to change the ads. I see too many marketers come to the creative meeting with a pen and paper and start to write feverishly all the recommended changes they have for each ad. The problem is if we marketers are not talented enough to come up with the ad in the first place, why do we think we are talented enough to change the ad? You are a generalist, surrounded by experts. Use your experts. 

Next time you go into a creative meeting, use the checklist, and score each point high, medium, or low. Look at the most significant gaps. Then, take those gaps, and create directional feedback, to move the creative team. Stop giving the creative team your solutions, and give them new problems. Think of your feedbacks a game, where you want to move the creative work into a better space, without giving them the exact answer.  If the creative brief is a “box” that creates a problem for the creative team to figure out, then use your feedback to create a new “box” for them to solve. Use your feedback to challenge and create a new problem for your agency to figure out the solution.

The best creative people I know would rather be pushed to do better work, then held back to settle for OK work. 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.

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