Balancing Act: 10 Steps for Optimal Creativity and Strategy
It’s really hard in a business environment to be strategic and not be creative at the same time — and the reverse is also true. Strategy and creativity are interrelated and interdependent forces that feed and support each other. Recognizing that duality is crucial to your success.
Strategic endeavors plot a course from your current state to your desired state. This requires you to change the way you are doing things to chart a novel and thoughtful path to your future. Unless your desired state is just a near version of your current state you must think creatively to evoke change.
Creativity exists when you fashion something new and valuable. In a business setting, value is generated when you create something that supports your business goals, i.e., it is strategic. But, if you are being creative without a strategic approach and plan you can easily spin off in unrelated directions. Those unproductive efforts may be dangerous to your brand, long term organizational health and ultimately your ability to stay on your charted course. It’s those ideas that aren’t connected to strategy that make us scratch our heads and label them #FAIL.
Why then, do some marketers persist in putting their creative and strategic efforts in separate categories, approaching them sequentially or assigning them to different teams? Making them separate or serial efforts defeats the complementary and interconnected flow of ideas that can flourish in a collaborative exertion. This may be a legacy of old thinking and outdated organizational structures.
Creativity and strategy reside in all aspects of our work and are not the exclusive province of those with it in their job title or department. We’ve seen phenomenal ideas emerge from creative teams, but have also witnessed amazing creative and strategic thinking from media planners or technology teams, among others, in solving problems or recommending solutions that create client value. Given the chance, most people have ideas and want to contribute. If you suppress that opportunity, morale can be impacted. Plus, you lose out on all those good ideas.
If we tether strategy and creativity together (as they should be) we achieve the best results. The most amazing creative campaigns are unfailingly strategic. The notable turnarounds or disruptive launches that drive true organizational change result from creative thinking. Yin and Yang.
To achieve that optimal strategy/creative balance, start with these 10 easy steps:
- Be forward thinking in your brief. Too many organizations get mired in the past history of a brand, its campaigns or of prior or competitive results but it is our experience in this fast moving digital world that you can rarely make a good comparison to past efforts since so much has changed.
- The brief should not be strategic or creative. It should be both. Deliver one informative, but concise, brief to all your team members. Multiple briefs only confuse things. Do be as specific as possible though. Ironically, having specific goals allows your thinking to expand.
- Be inclusive in brainstorming sessions. Great ideas can come from anywhere — and they often do. Bring in some team members not as familiar with the brand to challenge the status quo and ask naïve, but telling, questions. Consider including partners or your client or agency for this critical exercise.
- Do your brainstorming in waves to allow ideas to marinate and develop. Allow free thinking and open discussion in all waves while carefully focusing efforts as you go. It’s difficult to rush good ideas and even more difficult to guide a diverse group to a purposeful conclusion, so have an experienced lead.
- Return often to your brief to align your ideas, strategy and goals. Can you succinctly describe your plan? If not, it may not be clear and cohesive enough.
- Include learning objectives in your plan. This could translate to testing a new channel or approach, a new audience, offer or messaging.
- As long as you have the fundamentals covered, keep an outlier idea as an option on your plan.
- Test your proposed plan for fit. Can you actually implement your ambitious goals with your current resources, funds and talents? The best approaches are still rooted in reality.
- Make sure your plan gets communicated in a timely manner to everyone working directly or tangentially towards the same goals. You want to make sure you are working together.
- Make your plan flexible. Environmental factors, competitors and many different variables can change over time and effect the viability or fit of your strategy. You need regular check-ins during the year to make sure you are still on the right path. Planning is not a one and done, annual effort.
Your strategic plan should be the culmination of all your creative thinking against specific goals and is both creative and strategic by definition. Perhaps we need a better word that will help us integrate this critical work? “Innovative” captures a new way of approaching something both strategic and creative. That may be why the agency and marketing worlds have latched onto "innovation" as a key descriptive term. Innovation can advance both modest and ambitious goals; it can be transformative but it can also be a measured, evolution of your current position.
How innovative are you in applying strategy and creativity in your planning process?
With over 20 years of online experience Robin Neifield serves as the CEO of Netplus, a top interactive agency, and as the trusted digital guide for CMOs. She has been widely published and quoted on digital strategy and has been a frequent speaker and panelist at industry events like Search Engine Strategies, OMMA, Ad:Tech and others where her insights are sought on varied marketing topics such as digital strategy, behavioral targeting, social media marketing, search engine and conversion optimization, localization strategies and proximity marketing, mobile gaming and email marketing. You can find her on LinkedIn, or reach her by email or phone, (610) 304-9990.