Jonathan Tvrdik, Phenomblue
Brief Strategy vs. Business Strategy: Where Good Creative Originates
“Put your toys away and get ready for bed.”
“Because it’s time for bed.”
“Because you have school tomorrow.”
“Because you have to get a good education.”
“So you can get a good job.”
At some point in our lives, the unrelenting curiosity of our youth eventually subsides and we become happy with status quo answers. As functioning and polite members of society, the importance of placating others in conversation is so ingrained in us that we fear our inquisitiveness is nothing short of rude – or worse – irritating.
However, agency folks, always keen to distinguish themselves from “normals” are quite aware of this developmental regression and thus nearly all employ the following mantra as their signature song:
“We’re different. When clients tell us they need [advertising tactic]… we ask why? Our creative comes from strategy. We are a team of strategists… blah blah blah.”
You get the idea. You’ve read it in the agency footer - next to the office location and the “made with love” tag.
Regardless of our declarations, I’d argue that as an industry we do not dig far enough into that echo chamber of analysis.
“We need a campaign.”
“Because we’re launching this new suite of products.”
“Okay, good enough.”
Typically, the conversation ends there as creative tactics have historically come from a narrow view of strategy devised exclusively within the framework of a brief issued to the agency by the client. Therefore our strategic insight and recommendations have all the influence of the variables within that brief… but nothing beyond it. When told, “We need a campaign because we’re launching this new suite of products” our response needs to pry further:
“Why are you bundling your products in this new suite?”
“Because we need the market to understand the breadth of our offerings.”
“Why? What is your desired market position?”
“To be the leading technology-focused solution provider in our industry.”
“Why technology-focused? What business areas are you planning on growing in the next two years? Is a focus on technology something the CEO or board of directors want to develop? If so, why?”
What right do agencies have to ask such questions traditionally reserved for C-Level executives? Good question.
The decade-long gold rush that was “the digital age” gave rise to a 360-degree, digitally-united system of data points operating on push/pull strategies. That transformation is now complete. Now, in the connected age, the means to marketing are so democratized and coupled that our clients’ marketing efforts are an ecosystem of interconnected and interdependent tactical hits and misses.
Internal marketing departments are firing on all cylinders, making sure activity exists for activity’s sake because no one is quite sure exactly what is working. If the digital age was about building communication lines, the connected age is about linking and focusing them. Agencies can no longer relegate the impact of our creative strictly to marketing and advertising tactics. In the words of Tony Soprano, “Every decision you make affects every facet of every other f—–g thing. It’s too much to deal with almost.”
When asked to respond to a brief, it’s critical that our efforts to develop a clear strategy extend out of the brief, out of the marketing department and up the ladder to what ultimately matters: why the business is doing what it is doing in the first place.
Beginning a strategy assignment at the true beginning allows you to accurately and responsibly choose the creative tactics that will generate the maximum positive impact on the business. What industry areas do you as an organization want to be focused on in two years? What position do you want in the market? What do you want the external and internal acuities of your business to be?
With the answers to those critical questions in mind, next you need to put measurements in place that gauge whether or not you’ve been successful. Then, and only then, can you decide what creative tactics are needed to move the needle on those measurements.
Despite the growing importance of data science, there is still a tremendous amount of dissonance, noise and uncertainty as to what is actually working in the connected age. Admittedly, the current complexity has been created in no small part by the digital age and all those communication lines we struggled so hard to construct. When asked to propagate that activity, it is our duty as communication experts to ask why. And then why. And then why. And then why…
Phenomblue VP and Executive Creative Director Jonathan Tvrdik is responsible for the overall creative direction of the firm, leading Phenomblue’s Creative team. With a portfolio of work for national clients, including Diet Coke, Samsung and Microsoft, Jonathan navigates Phenomblue's top clients through strategic and tactical planning as part of its Rova® Method.
Illustration provided by Russia-based SoDA member, Red Keds