Get out of the way between the idea and the customer

Anne Miles

With a mission to close the gap between strategy and the creative execution, Anne Miles MD of International Creative Services hosted a research project to determine how the creative industries can produce more effective work, more consistently. This is the second in a series outlining the outcomes of this project. This week Miles discusses how we need to get out of the way between the idea and the customer.

Whether it be about the research process, the marketing team’s workflow and approval process, or the impact of the agency’s team and siloed approach to working; creatives involved in the study ultimately felt that there is a lot that is simply getting in the way of what the customer really wants and needs.

Purposeful strategic work for the business objectives, who the target market is, determining what the market wants (whether that be product development, key benefits and potential messaging) these insights all fuel the creative development phase in effective communications. Beyond this, creatives feel that the existing processes simply hinder their ability to make engaging and effective work.

Malcolm Gladwell discusses the phenomenon of expertise in his book Blink1.The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, where Gladwell poses the argument that experts are able to make a judgment or decision based on their experience and knowledge in a split second even if they don’t know why. He also maintains that technical and clinical analysis in place of this instinctive approach  can present an entirely different and even incorrect finding, encouraging us to trust in experts and the ability of their subconscious minds, rather than on cumbersome and specific testing that is not the complete picture. This same approach can be said of the creative process here.

“...Research becomes about tweaking certain elements forthe campaign to make it less risk averse for the key stakeholders, rather than about developing compelling ideas”.

Whilst the research project revealed a consensus that the industry creative leaders don’t need research to identify a successful idea, and in fact believed research simply watered down a successful idea, there was conversely a fair identification that not all creatives in the industry shared the experience and expertise to be relied on without validation by a research process or more experienced creatives and strategists overseeing.

In agencies the creative directors and strategy planners were identified to be stretched too thin to be effectively immersed in the individual needs of many projects. Miles proposes that communication of the strategic insights and research material is to be more widely distributed to all parties including key suppliers. This will ensure that those who are actually doing the work will have the opportunity to deliver on the micro-decisions that impact the strategy the most and before they become costly changes.

Subjectivity, as an influence, was deemed one of the major negative factors in the pursuit of effective work, whether it started at the business level and travelled through to biased research, or simply the whim of creatives and marketers who are strategically off track and focused on the wrong (but often well-meaning) motivations. There are also a substantial number in the creative process that are unapologetically chasing the folio piece at the expense of the customer and we need checks and balances in place to remove this influence.

A major concern Miles sees in the ability to target customers the most effectively is the inconsistency in how many of the industry suppliers profile their customers. With media agencies often running off-the-shelf profiles, researchers determining potential market buyers, sales teams with a profile based on who is actually buying right now (and only as a result of the current marketing activity and brand positioning), web analytics and digital activity proposing a customer profile in their own way based on existing marketing, and the creative agency creating their own customer profiles and avatars with their own tools there is regularly a mis-match between all of them. Miles proposes that the potential market is the forgotten opportunity, and if the creative execution was designed to meet the needs of that potential customer through branding and marketing communications brands wouldfind growth otherwise a lost opportunity.

Key actions.

• Insights to lead the creative development phase for the most effective work

• Involve all stake holders in the research phase and keep major insights top of mind for all approvals

• Be wary of research watering down the best creative at idea and execution phase but use it to ‘sensecheck’ to be sure the strategy is being delivered, without focusing on the executional details that don’t matter

• Experienced creative and strategic expertise can be relied on, but these personnel are often too busy to be of value and at the right time. Distribute the strategic findings widely to counter this issue

• Take all subjectivity out of the process (clients, strategy, research, creative, production)

• Keep the customer in mind at every step, and continually ask how they would be thinking

• Create very detailed customer profiles and have them approved by all stakeholders

• Review target audience for consistency between all suppliers including media, creative, strategy teams, researchers and creatives

• Determine the potential market through customized research, and then design the brand experience !and marketing messaging to tap into the full potential of the market and not just on current buyers

By International Creative Services MD Anne Miles.

Read more from Anne:

Closing the gap between strategy and execution

How we can keep the creative industries alive

The ad agency model is broken - here's why

Net billing by agencies is backfiring on brands

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