In the last year to 18 months, planning and strategy has gained a certain sex appeal in the communications industry. Lots of people are all about “insights” these days and they seem to have developed quite a taste for that one inspirational bit of information that can transform business ideas, product ideas, marketing innovation ideas, and yes: communication ideas. At the same time the agency world seems to be filling up with a relatively new title. That of Chief Strategy Officer.
So with all this buzz, the trade press starts to come out with various articles entitled things like “Is strategy the new creative?”.
So what does this really mean? I think we all need to take a step back and think about it. A headline like this is a great attention getter.It creates buzz the same way any sensationalized headline would. It is written that way specifically to make you look. Strategy is not the new creative. The headline is simply that an observation that strategy and creative, and how they both work together has changed.
The best part of that kind of headline is that it ignites conversation. And conversations, or rather getting people to talk about your brand and brands themselves is what is actually behind the fact that the definition of strategy and creative have changed.
In a landscape where advertisers have started understanding that people really aren’t interested in your current messages, or more importantly the delivery of advertising in traditional channels, is losing its importance we can see at a minimum ads need to be complemented with different creative products that provide context-relevant experiences. Content and participatory elements need to be presented alongside traditional advertising before it can be effective again.
In the days of old, (Think Madmen TV series) before strategy and creative were separated creative directors or account reps came up with the strategy. Now everyone has to help create strategy and creative. Why you ask?
Because we have moved from the brand era to the people era and this has not only increased the need for agencies to offer a different or extended creative products, it is forcing agencies and clients to change the way they work in order to achieve the delivery of “idea platforms” that work channel-agnostically. For decades agencies have been offering full-service marketing campaigns, but built in siloes and all services and creative executions have been tied back to the big brand idea.
The biggest differences of doing creative work now vs before is what has happened to team structure and process: Traditionally the art director / copywriter duo who were responsible for “the big idea,” and represented the creative peak of the agency, now have to live with the fact that the overall team that is responsible for creative output just got bigger. In order to deliver idea platforms that work in every channel, especially the most emergent ones we can no longer suffice to come up with a “communication idea” and then adapt it into a specific channel. Ideas have to be about experiences, content, functionalities, technologies and the brand’s product or service itself. In order to be creative for those multi-faceted deliverables you have to do more than call your brand planner for some “consumer insights” about people’s attitudes: you need behavioral insights, channel insights, technology insights, Etc. Because of this, you need more people adept at a lot of different things to get the job done. And you need to completely step away from the linear process of research -> creative -> production. Your process needs to iterative and co-creative, from writing the brief to coming up with little ideas that tie into the over arching idea instead of just one big globally aplicable communication idea.
In order to accomplish everything that was said above, you need someone tthat will provide a bigger sandbox for everyone to play in. So at this point you might ask, who stepped up to the plate for that one? Well, the answer would be that the strategists did. Strategist become that “sandbox provider” and that means the traditional research and briefing job of a strategist has become much more about actually staging the discovery experience of the whole team and making that experience visceral. In other words, the frame in which an entire team of art directors, copywriters, concept developers, content strategists, social media strategists, interface designers, technologists, motion designers, experience planners, and brand planners tries to solve for a communication/brand/business/ product issue has to be staged developed and nurtured. This doesn’t mean the strategist also has the creative ideas, but it means they provide the environment in which creative happens. This really means that the strategist can’t just sit in their office and pump out a creative a brief anymore and that’s it. It means that they have to become a part of the creative process itself. This also means that creatives need to be part of the discovery process and that they have to think a lot more about insights as well. if it is done right, you could also ask “Is creative the new strategy?”
In today’s climate you have to get ready for strategy and creative to move in together again in order to create a complete deliverable.