Creative Latitude


  About the author  

Stephen is a designer and creative director with over 14 years of experience working with some of the largest brands in the world. As Associate Interactive Creative Director of T:M Interactive in Dallas, Stephen works on and oversees the interactive advertising for Subaru of America, American Arilines, ExxonMobil, Nationwide Insurance, the Venetian Hotel and Casino, and several more.

Prior to working at T:M Interactive, Stephen served as the Interactive Creative Director for Vertis, Inc. where he created successful interactive design solutions for Serta, Motorola, Intel, AMD Microprocessors, Disney, Sears, American Dairy Brands and several more.

Stephen’s work has been most notably recognized with multiple Macromedia Site of the Day listings, Communication Arts Site of the Week, Communication Arts Interactive Annual, multiple Ad:Tech awards, multiple WebAwards and winning a ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Pioneer award.

His personal portfolio site also continues to be a leader in high-end Macromedia Flash open source.



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The Art of Creative Strategy
By Stephen Gates

Developing the ability to sell a strategy and have your client see it’s value makes it an essential skill to any designer. Over the course my career I have had to learn and adapt how I sell my creative concepts, because they want to hear a strategy and vision for their product or service so they can see the benefit of buying creative services. I have also learned that selling creative concepts becomes infinitely easier with a good strategy.

I use the answers to the following questions as a starting point for my creative strategies when I meet with a new client or start a new project.

What are we advertising and why?

When you meet with a client about a new project get a thorough understanding of the focus of the communications efforts, such as: the brand, a specific product or service, or a promotion or recent news. Make sure you understand their reasons for wanting to advertise. Often the rationale clients provide are expressed as marketing objectives not communications objectives. Communications change the way people think and influence their behaviors, that is the difference between a marketing objective and a communications objective. What is it they are trying to achieve? Increase market share? Drive awareness? Increases frequency or penetration? Increase sales? Focus on uncovering the single most important obstacle the communications must overcome.

What is the brands communication past?
Get a clear understanding of where the brand was in the past, where it is now and where it wants to go in the future. Look at past advertising efforts to gain a solid understanding of the brands positioning, personality and focus (products/services). Research if the target for the brand’s activities have shifted and why.

What do we need to do?
What is the list of deliverables that you have to create to fulfill the clients marketing and communications objectives with the greatest impact? If possible share your thinking on how to accomplish this with a team of your peers or co-workers. The more people the more new ideas can be generated.

Who are we talking to? (Demographics)
What are the physical characteristics of your client's market? Your client should be able to provide you with some statistics which provide a snapshot of the consumer you will target. Common demographics include: age, gender, religion, income level, education, and family composition.

Who are we talking to? (Psychographics)
What are the mental characteristics of your client's market? Your client should again be able to provide you with some information of the consumers mindset regarding: their personal values, beliefs, habits and activities. Psychographics are often more powerful influences upon how a consumer views your clients brand as attributes often affect behavior, and attitudes typically cross age groups. Take time to know your consumer.

What is the personality and tone?
A brand’s personality should be a reflection of it’s behavior, character, and manner. This personality should drive the style and tone of all our communications in writing, photos, illustrations, typography and style.

What is the selling idea?
The selling idea is a way of communicating the most persuasive thing to motivate consumers to alter their behavior towards a client's brand. The selling idea should be the starting point for the development of any compelling, original, and successful creative ideas. The selling idea can be about: ways of using the product, disadvantages of not using the product, satisfying needs (physical, social, psychological, new ways), product heritage/where or how it was made or generic benefit you want to own.

What do we want the consumer to do?
With any advertising you want to be able to evoke emotion or action. What is the emotion you want them have? How should they feel about the brand and what do you want them to do?

These answers are just a starting point. To create a great strategy you have to be able to distill and refine the answers draw out the insights and core brand attributes that are between the lines. Over time, you should refine your questions so they are clear and concise. You will see the results reflected in very targeted ideas.

2004 Stephen Gates
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