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How to ignore creativity in favour of strategy

How to ignore creativity in favour of strategy

Ray Wellington, managing director of Milton Bayer Communications

If this is true, and we believe it is, then the last thing you should be thinking about is creative design.

But what is the first thing you should be thinking about? The answer is strategy. Without strategy - good strategy, mind you - the money you spend on creative design could be wasted.

After many years working with clients of all sizes I still come across those who fall into the trap of creative-led marketing solutions.

So why is this such a bad idea? The creative element of the marketing materials development process has to follow a brief. The quality of the brief will affect the outcome of the design.

The trouble is, if the brief is based on finger-in-the-air assumptions, personal preferences and a real lack of understanding in terms of what will compel a motivate a customer, the outcome, no matter how fantastically creative it is, will be missing your target altogether.

Getting the strategy right in the first place is the key to a successful marketing campaign. Buying in expertise shouldn’t be seen as an unnecessary expense or duplication of services. It should be seen as a way of ensuring what you are doing will actually work correctly.

Unique selling points are at the heart of successful sales and marketing. When we work with a client we’ll help them define a USP. If they can’t find one, we’ll create one for them. We ask our clients what they believe to be their USPs. The answers are often very similar. Here’s a list of the classics we encounter:

1. Quality of service
2. Very/extremely professional
3. Passionate about x
4. A people business
5. Work with you not for you
6. Committed
7. Pro-active
8. Good value for money
9. Very/extremely reliable.

These are just the ones that crop up most frequently. The point about these is that they are not really USPs. If you simply read your competitors ‘about us’ section of their website, they’ll be saying pretty much the same thing as you. Not very unique is it? Without a unique selling point, your sales team will find the market tougher, especially if you achieve a lot of sales in a face-to-face environment.

Rather than scooping up appointments with prospects that are only interested because you may be cheaper, or because their existing supplier let them down, wouldn’t it be nicer to have the appointment because they are interested in what’s unique about you?

Defining that USP is a process we manage for our clients. It links up with other strategic processes relating to the positioning of your brand in the market too. Once you have it you can maximise its exposure within your sales and marketing activity.

The brand positioning part of the strategy is all about creating the right perception of your company among your target audience. What’s right can be very subjective. Your creative designer will have an idea and so will you, but we’d rather listen to the views of your customers and prospective customers and work from there.

Years ago I was presenting a new brochure concept to a client to be told that ‘the CEO hates green. Do any colour other than green. Oh, and avoid orange too, his wife has a funny turn if she sees orange.’ Ridiculous as this may sound it happens. A purely creative agency would argue a little with a client but ultimately, they’d have to give the client what they want. But if your prospects have a preference for a colour, even wishy-washy pink, I know it will be the best colour. And you will too. The critical part is what is unique and what are the personality/ perception attributes your prospects are looking for.

Recently I was talking to the MD of a relatively small training company about brands. She said they have had the same logo for the past ten years and could see no reason to change it. After all, what difference can a logo make to their sales? After explaining that the logo is really the last place to start and the strategy should be defined first, her reaction was to explain that the training sector was very competitive and as they offered the same training courses as most of their competitors, it was a case of the cheapest price in the right location won the business. There were companies out there almost prepared to do the work at a loss. “Changing the logo won’t change that,” she said.

Presenting her team with the results of a brand questionnaire, we showed them how they perceived themselves compared to how their prospects viewed them. Not quite chalk and cheese but not far off though. To explain the differences we use some relatively easy questioning such as, if your company was a car, what make and model would it be? The difference in this instance was quite marked.

After briefing the sales team on a new selling approach and a new language of directness and simplicity, the brief was created to produce the marketing material and the new company logo. It was the last thing, not the first.

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