Opinion: Why the key to great creative is great creative strategy

Creative strategy is fundamental to the success of any brand, but it’s a skill that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. As a project progresses from insight and brand strategy into execution, creative strategy often gets squeezed and side-lined in the flurry of excitement to start the ‘real’ creative work.

Cato Hunt and Malex Salamanques, directors at global cultural and creative consultancy Space Doctors, explain why the key to great creative is all about the strategy.

The glitch in the creative process

Whether the project is a brand campaign, new packaging or a new identity; there’s often so much focus on getting to the creative output part that we don’t spend enough time interrogating the brief.

What’s written in briefs is important; but the critical part is what’s actually meant in that writing.

The words we use can evoke all kinds of meanings, associations, and ways forward, and when they’re not specific enough at the start of a project it opens things up to multiple different interpretations. This results in a glitch we call the ‘intended meaning gap’ – the part that gets lost in translation between what we want to say, and how it’s expressed in final creative.

There are many reasons for this. Perhaps the insight isn’t specific enough. Maybe different market contexts haven’t been taken into consideration; or perhaps the strategy is strong but it isn’t being communicated in a way that chimes with contemporary social and cultural shifts.

The only way to improve the impact and meaningfulness of creative work is by placing as much value on the creative strategy phases of a project as we do on insight, brand strategy and the final execution.

Solid strategy creates the best briefs

Focusing attention on creative strategy means that the creative team is working from a clear brief that enables them to develop strategically faithful work. And it means less time gets wasted – instead of testing numerous directions to ‘see what works’, they can instead focus energy on developing fewer routes which have already been interrogated through specific criteria.

Does this really support the strategy? Will this translate well across different markets? Is this saying something different, new, distinctive? How well are we connecting the work to the right references, using the most appropriate visual and verbal cues to deliver the meaning?

In short, we’re more critical and intentional about what we start creating in the first place.

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Briefs that prize clarity lead to creative in which everything has a reason to be there – from the colourways to the typography, photography, choice of language and everything else that forms the campaign, ad or visual identity.

Every element of the creative works towards the same end goal, saying what it needs to say, to the right audiences, in a way that’s compelling and culturally relevant.

Durex’s new global brand positioning needed to understand emerging culture around sexual wellness.

When Space Doctors worked with Durex, we were tasked with creating a new global positioning that could communicate with very diverse and varied audiences. This meant understanding emergent culture around sexual wellbeing and pleasure across nine global regions – some of which still sees the category itself as taboo, and each with unique nuances to explore and consider.

We translated that global positioning into a brief that set out how the new brand world could be brought to life across the portfolio in everything from tone of voice to packaging design.

The final visual elements represent sexuality in a way that champions inclusivity, sensitivity, and authenticity without returning to traditional, demure imagery – something that’s vital for both Durex as a brand, and society as a whole – and which was only possible through a creative strategy process which could ‘reveal’ these threads of meaning and then weave them together into a cohesive and compelling direction.

Demystifying the creative process

Crucially, briefs rich in insight, context and clear strategic intent drastically reduce subjectivity and personal biases.

They moves the conversation on from ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘can we just make it blue’ to a more useful dialogue around how those choices are manifesting our intention, or pulling us further away. Having a brief that sets this out at the start also means that everyone is aligned on the creative throughout the process, with each element supported with a clear rationale.

A great brief also needs to inspire those working from them; bringing the insight to life and opening up new ideas and possibilities so they can focus on what they do best – being creative. It makes life easier for those doing the work, who often find that one of their biggest challenges is a lack of insight or context.

After all, it’s not the creative team’s job to be an expert on identity in Mexico or beauty in China: it’s the brief’s job to bring these nuances to life.

A unified end-goal

With budgets squeezed, teams shrinking and costs rising, it’s crucial that creative processes work efficiently. We need more thoughtful, considered and collaborative ways of working which remove ambiguity and help get us to great outcomes without wasted time and effort.

This can be made possible with what we call ‘high definition’ strategy which brings insight, context, business objectives and brand strategy into a brief which distils the focus and clarifies the intention, while leaving space for creativity to blossom.

Great creative positively shapes culture. It can change ideas, behaviours, how people feel. But to do this, the work must be informed by how culture is evolving so it can create and shape these new meanings.

Now more than ever, creative teams need this context. But to do this, we need to celebrate creative strategy as an integral part of the creative process.

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