Fail to prepare; prepare to fail, or so the saying goes — and marketing teams without a creative strategy tend to find they land in the latter category with a bump.
Developing a good strategy is a must if you want the team to be focused and efficient. Let all those creatives loose without a goal or roadmap and it’s a bit like driving from Barcelona to Belarus without a map. You might get there, but you’ll waste time taking wrong turns along the way.
But a good creative strategy isn’t just about not taking wrong turns. It’s about outsmarting your competition via careful, considered moves. In this article, we’ll explain in depth what a creative strategy is, how to make one, why you should, and how to make all the right moves when it comes to fine-tuning your creative map to success. Let’s get started!
What is a creative strategy?
A creative strategy is a deliberate plan of action that outlines how a brand will use creative campaigns and tactics to achieve its marketing objectives.
It also lays the foundation for a brand’s identity, voice, and the narrative it weaves into the minds of its audience. But it’s far more than just a playbook for marketing activities. It’s an amalgamation of research, insight, imagination, and innovation that transforms raw data into compelling messages.
Creative strategies differ, but most contain the following:
- The brand’s core values and unique selling proposition (USP)
- The target audience (including who they are and what they want)
- Campaign objectives
- The core creative message
- Communication channels
Why is it important to have a creative strategy?
A creative strategy is like a guiding star for your organization’s marketing efforts.
But why is it so critical?
Firstly, it brings clarity. When you’re setting out on a creative project, be it designing a new product, whipping up a marketing campaign, or reshaping your brand identity, a well-defined creative strategy helps you understand what you’re aiming for, what your message is, and who you’re speaking to. This clarity helps you avoid wasting resources on projects that might seem exciting, but ultimately fail to hit the mark when it comes to your objectives.
Consistency is another reason why a creative strategy is vital. In a saturated market, maintaining a consistent brand image across different platforms and campaigns can help you stand out and connect with your audience. A clear creative strategy helps in providing a unified, coherent narrative about your brand, which increases brand recognition and builds trust over time.
Thirdly, a solid creative strategy can spark ideas. It encourages an environment where creative thinking is not just allowed but actively fostered. By setting clear objectives, a creative strategy can push your team to reach for new, exciting ideas.
Lastly, a creative strategy isn’t just about the here and now; it’s also about anticipating the future. Market trends, consumer behaviors, and technologies are constantly evolving. Having a creative strategy can help your organization adapt to these changes by being proactive, ensuring that your creative efforts keep up with the times and deliver value.
How to build an effective creative strategy
We’re going to break down the process into several integral steps that, when followed, can lead to a powerful creative strategy. You might want to flex them to suit your specific needs, but the basic stages are all there.
- Understand your brand
Our first port of call is a little inward exploration. This foundational step is the cornerstone upon which your entire creative strategy is built. It’s a close look at the essence of your organization, its raison d’être, its character, and its promise to the world.
Mission and vision: The mission defines your company’s purpose — why it exists and what it aims to achieve in the grand scheme of things. The vision, on the other hand, provides a forward-looking perspective — it’s what your brand aspires to be in the future. Both of these elements serve as guiding stars, illuminating the path your creative strategy should follow.
Core values: These are the principles and beliefs that guide your brand’s behavior. They form the ethical framework that your brand adheres to, which should be reflected in your creative strategy.
Unique Selling Proposition (USP): This is what sets you apart from your competitors. It’s the unique blend of products, services, skills, and experiences that you and you alone offer. Knowing what this is is your secret to standing out from the crowd.
Brand personality: Finally, think about your brand’s personality — is it playful, serious, inspiring, innovative, or rebellious? Your brand personality should shine through in all your creative work, helping to create a consistent and recognizable identity.
Step 2: Identify Your Audience
Having established a strong brand identity, the next step is a little outward exploration – identifying and understanding your audience. It’s like deciphering the magnetic field that pulls your brand and its customers together. An in-depth knowledge of your audience both guides your creative strategy and helps you stay relevant — now and in the future.
Demographics: Start by identifying the basic demographic characteristics of your audience — their age, gender, location, occupation, income, and educational level. These give you a preliminary sketch of your audience profile, which can help guide the tone, language, and channels of your communication.
Psychographics: Move beyond the superficial to really get to grips with your audience’s psychographics. These include interests, attitudes, beliefs, values, personality traits, lifestyle, and behavior. With this information, you can tap into the emotional and psychological triggers that drive your audience’s decisions.
Needs and desires: What problems is your audience trying to solve? What are their aspirations? By understanding their needs, wants, and desires, you can align your brand message with their needs.
Customer journey: Map out your customer’s journey, from the moment they become aware of a need, to the point of purchase and beyond. Understanding their journey helps you identify key touchpoints where your creative strategy can make the most impact.
Channels of engagement: Finally, determine where your audience spends their time. Are they more active on social media, do they read blogs, or are they in physical spaces? Maybe all three? And speaking of social media — which platforms? Be laser-sharp with your focus or you’ll waste time and energy preaching in places they’re not.
Step 3: Define your objectives
So you know your brand and your audience inside out. Now what?
The next step is defining your objectives. This is about zeroing in on what you want to achieve via your strategy. It gives your plan direction and provides a benchmark against which you can measure progress and success.
Align with business goals: Your creative strategy should be in sync with your broader business goals. Whether it’s increasing market share, entering new markets, launching a new product, or improving customer satisfaction, your creative strategy needs to work towards the prize.
Make them specific: Rather than saying ‘increase website traffic’, your objective should be ‘increase website traffic by 30% over the next six months’ (as an example). Clear objectives keep your strategy focused and give you a benchmark for measuring success.
Ensure they are measurable: Each objective should have a quantifiable outcome. Whether it’s increasing social media engagement, boosting sales, or improving brand recall, it should be possible to measure as you go.
Make them achievable: While it’s great to aim high, your objectives also need to be realistic. Setting unattainable goals might demoralize your team. Look at your resources, your current position, and the market environment when setting your objectives.
Time-bound: Finally, each objective should have a timeframe. When do you want to achieve these goals? Whether it’s a quarterly target or a yearly goal, deadlines create urgency and help motivate your team.
Step 4: Craft your core message
This is the heart of your creative strategy; it’s the central theme that binds all your creative efforts together. It’s a condensed expression of your brand’s promise to its audience, reflecting your brand values, USP, and the unique benefits you offer.
Align with brand and audience: Your core message should seamlessly connect your brand and audience. It should set out what your brand stands for, while simultaneously resonating with the needs, desires, and values of your audience. Striking this balance keeps you relevant!
Focus on benefits: As the old advertising adage goes: sell the sizzle, not the sausage! Or in other words, talk about what your product does, rather than its features. What problems does your brand solve? How does it enhance your audience’s life? Focusing on benefits, rather than features, makes it easier for your audience to see how your product or service might slot into their life.
Be consistent: Your core message should maintain consistency across all communication channels and campaigns. Consistency reinforces your brand image and makes it more memorable.
Keep it simple and clear: A good core message is simple, clear, and easy to understand. It should avoid complex language or jargon, and encapsulate your brand promise in a way that anyone can understand.
Evoke emotion: Lastly, try to make your core message emotionally engaging. Humans are emotional beings and often make decisions based on feelings rather than logic. An emotional message can help build a deeper connection with your audience.
Step 5: Choose your channels
With a clear understanding of your brand, audience, objectives, and core message, it’s time to choose your channels. It’s about being present where your audience is and interacting with them in a way they like.
Consider your audience: Your audience should be front and center. Where do they spend their time? Are they scrolling through social media, watching videos online, reading blogs, or engaging with email newsletters? Align your channel choices with your audience’s preferences by knowing your audience, and researching where they hang out.
Align with your message: Not all channels are suitable for every type of message. A complex message might be best suited to a blog post or video, while a simple, visual message could work well in a tweet.
Evaluate each channel: Each channel has its own set of advantages, disadvantages, and unique characteristics. Some reach a broad audience, while others target a niche demographic. Some are more visual, others more text-based. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of each.
Multichannel approach: Don’t limit yourself to just one! Taking an omnichannel approach allows you to reach your audience in a range of ways, increasing your chances of engagement. But make sure you’re consistent across all channels — and don’t spread yourself too thinly.
Test and learn: Finally, remember that choosing your channels is not a one-time decision. Monitor the performance of each, learn from the data, and adjust your strategy accordingly. The digital landscape is always evolving, and so too should your strategy.
Step 6: Develop your creative assets
With your channels chosen, it’s time to turn your attention toward developing your creative assets. These are the tangible expressions of your core message, crafted to captivate your audience and amplify your brand. They might include visuals like photos, graphics, and videos to written content like blog posts, social media updates, and email newsletters.
Reflect your brand: Your creative assets should align with your brand’s visual identity, tone of voice, and core values. Consistency in your creative assets helps reinforce your brand image and make your brand more memorable and trustworthy.
Tailor to your channel: Each channel has its own specifications and best practices when it comes to creative assets. A video for Instagram might need to be shorter and formatted differently than one for YouTube. Word counts also differ, as does tone of voice. Tailor your assets to fit the platform to maximize their impact.
Prioritize quality: Quality matters. High-quality creative assets not only show your brand in a positive light; they engage and build trust. (Pixelated pics or writing full of typos? Not a good look.) Invest in professional design and writing services to keep all your media looking polished and professional.
Make it engaging: It’s not just about looking pretty (although that helps). Your creative assets should be engaging. Include calls-to-action, ask questions, and invite feedback to encourage your audience to interact with your brand.
Test and refine: Lastly, be prepared to test different creative assets and refine them based on performance. What works for one brand might not work for another, so be open to experimentation and continuous learning. A/B testing is the gold standard when it comes to website testing.
Step 7: Implement and monitor
It’s time to put your strategy into action and pay close attention to how it unfolds.
Create a timeline: Develop a detailed timeline for your strategy, specifying when each piece of content will be released, on what platform, and who is responsible for it. A clear timeline keeps your strategy organized and ensures everyone on the team knows their responsibilities.
Allocate resources: Assign necessary resources to get your strategy off the ground. This includes both human resources and budget. Make sure your team has all the tools and funds they need to carry out their tasks effectively.
Set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): Define KPIs that align with your objectives. These could include project management metrics like engagement rates, click-through rates, conversions, and sales. These indicators will help you measure the success of your strategy.
Monitor performance: Use analytics tools to monitor the performance of your creative strategy. Regular monitoring helps you catch any issues early and make necessary adjustments. It also gives you a benchmark for progress, which is a great motivator, especially on big jobs like this one.
Learn and adjust: Finally, learn from your data. What’s working well? What’s not working? Use this information to refine your creative strategy, making it more effective over time.
11 questions to ask yourself when building a creative strategy
- What are our brand’s purpose and values? Understanding the ‘why’ behind your brand is the first step in forming any creative strategy.
- Who is our target audience? Have you defined your audience demographics, psychographics, needs, and behaviors?
- What are our business objectives? Are they specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART)?
- What is our core message? Does it align with our brand values and resonate with our target audience?
- What channels does our audience use? Are you considering the right platforms to reach your audience?
- What creative assets do we need? Do you have the resources to create high-quality content that aligns with your core message?
- What are our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)? Have you determined how you will measure the success of your creative strategy?
- Do we have a clear project timeline and resource allocation plan? Have tasks been delegated, and does everyone know their responsibilities?
- Are we prepared to test, monitor, and adjust our strategy? And do we know which metrics to measure?
- Are we using the right tools? Are you leveraging project management software and other collaboration tools to streamline the process?
- Are we encouraging team collaboration and creativity? Is your team involved in the process, and are their ideas and feedback being considered?
An example of a creative strategy for a clothing ecommerce company
Brand understanding: We are an on-trend, eco-conscious eCommerce clothing site, focusing on fashionable yet sustainable clothing options for young adults aged 18-35. We believe in style without compromising the planet.
Audience analysis: Our target audience is eco-conscious young adults who prioritize sustainability without sacrificing style. They’re digital natives, active on social media platforms, and often make purchases online. They value brands with authentic stories, a clear commitment to the environment, and quality products.
Objectives: Increase website traffic by 40% this year, boost conversion rates by 20%, and enhance customer loyalty leading to a 15% rise in repeat purchases.
Core message: ‘Say no to fast fashion. Discover timeless, high-quality clothing that doesn’t cost the Earth.’
Channels: Given our audience’s online habits, we’ll focus on Instagram for its visual appeal and storytelling capabilities, Facebook for its wide reach, and email marketing for personalized communication and customer retention. We’ll also invest in SEO for our website to attract organic search traffic.
Creative assets: We’ll develop a series of Instagram posts and stories showcasing our clothing lines, customer testimonials, and behind-the-scenes glimpses into our sustainable practices. On Facebook, we’ll share engaging content about the fashion industry’s environmental impact and how we are making a difference. Our regular email newsletters will include exclusive offers, style tips, and feature customer stories.
Implementation and monitoring: We’ll create a timeline for content production and distribution across various channels, along with resource allocation. We’ll set KPIs like social media engagement rates, website traffic, conversion rates, customer retention rates, and average order value. We’ll use project management tools and chat apps to foster collaborative, flexible work for our employees, whether they’re in the office or remote. We will track performance using eCommerce and social media analytics tools, and adjust the strategy based on the results and learnings over time.
10 essential tips for creative strategy success
- Use collaboration tools: Project management tools like backlog, Cacoo and Typetalk help you organize your strategy, assign tasks, set deadlines, and track progress in real-time. They provide an overview of the entire project and can be incredibly helpful in managing complex projects.
- Communicate effectively: Use chat apps, video, email, face-to-face meetings… the more options you have, the faster you’ll solve problems, and keep everyone in the loop.
- Test different ideas: Don’t be afraid to try out different creative ideas. The more you test, the better you’ll understand what resonates with your audience. Use A/B testing to compare different versions of your creative assets and see which perform better.
- Stay flexible: While having a plan is important, be prepared to flex based on real-time feedback and results. If something isn’t working as you’d hoped, don’t waste any time adjusting your strategy.
- Be consistent: Whether it’s the tone of your messages, the look of your visuals, or the timing of your posts, consistency helps you create a strong image in your audience’s mind. It also helps build trust, because your users know what they’re getting each time.
- Keep learning: Keep up-to-date with the latest trends, tools, and techniques to keep your creative strategy effective and relevant.
- Measure everything: Use analytics tools to track performance. The data you gather will give you invaluable insights into what’s working, what’s not, and where you could do better.
- Involve your team: A successful creative strategy is a collaborative effort. Encourage your team to share ideas, feedback, and suggestions. A wide range of perspectives will lead to better solutions.
- Know your limits: Be realistic about what you can achieve with the resources you have. Don’t overcommit or set unachievable goals. And remember — it’s better to do a few things well than lots of things poorly.
- Have fun: Finally, remember to have fun! Creative work is at its best when everyone feels relaxed and happy to share. A positive, motivated team will produce better results than a team that’s stressed and pressured, every time.