Why do some creative messages outperform others? What makes “killer creative,” and does that even matter anymore? The “Mad Men” era is well behind us, and it’s certainly not “1984” anymore, but strong creative ideas in your concept, words and images will make every dollar work harder for you in every medium.

From the most expensive football game commercials or Times Square extravaganzas to the most humble search engine text ad or mobile app banner, your creative has to work harder than ever to gain attention in today’s oversaturated media environment. 

Your concept must attract, engage, persuade and ultimately help you retain your prospect. In order to do that you need three things. Creativity, insight and stories. 

Creativity

Let’s start with the obvious. In 20 years in the agency business, I’ve been fortunate to work with many talented people. The truly great ones share a few common traits:

  • They understand context. They are students of culture and seem to always know about the latest current events, pop culture, trending hashtags and memes. They fully understand the conversation that they are entering into with the creative they produce. They understand the customer as a whole person–not just as they relate to a product or service. They know the voice and personality of the brand they represent. They know what competitors are saying and what else is competing for the prospect’s attention.
  • We know they “think different,” but what does that really mean? Often, they are simply masters of association. Taking what is known and relatable and presenting it in a fresh way.
  • Their visual presentation attracts attention and makes the customer feel like they are in a familiar environment. Imagery reflects the prospect as they see themselves, not necessarily as they really are.
  • They understand how the mind works, how the unconscious brain helps us navigate through the onslaught of thousands of marketing messages per day, how the reptilian brain has evolved to help us decide when to invest our precious attention, how the emotional brain develops desire, and how the logical brain rationalizes. Some are schooled in the concepts of neuromarketing, while others do this intuitively.
  • They have an abundance mentality about ideas. They brainstorm openly and briskly, never slowing down to evaluate or troubleshoot ideas as they go. Only after the brainstorming is done do they evaluate critically, and they are always willing to scrap a great idea if it just isn’t right for the customer or the brand. 

Insight

Creative that works is fueled by insight. Top brands spend hundreds of thousands on market research to develop messages that resonate before spending millions on outreach. Small brands don’t have that luxury, but customer insight is just as valuable. We have conducted many planning retreats with C-level executives and boards, but we always recommend having a mix of customer-facing employees in those conversations. Often, the person who looks the customer in the eye knows many things the CEO doesn’t. 

Whether the insight comes from expensive market research, practical knowledge, or a hunch, it should be tested to determine if it aligns with customers’ actual behavior. Customers routinely tell researchers one thing, then do another. If the customer can’t explain why they do what they do, how much money do you want to bet on your guesstimate? 

Once you have gathered meaningful insight, it must be distilled into a strategy. Whether it’s written on a cocktail napkin or in the form of a formal creative brief, you must streamline this overwhelming knowledge into clear, concise direction. Otherwise, how will you generate ideas? More importantly, how will you know a good one when you see it?

Stories

Storytelling is fundamental to humanity. It was essential to our survival as a species long before written language for one simple reason: stories stick. Stories help us learn to avoid danger or to gain rewards. “Storytelling” has become a common buzzword in business, but unfortunately not everyone who uses the word understands the meaning in business. 

Stories have a hero, or protagonist, a challenge, or antagonist, and a goal. Stories can be used in any kind of medium, even short text ads. How short can a story be? Here’s an example:

Statement: “The dog ate the food.” 

Story: “The dog ate the cat’s food.”

In six words, we see a protagonist (the dog), the antagonist (the cat), and the goal (eating the food). 

Here’s another, slightly longer marketing message example:

Statement: Rich Odato has a passion for marketing. Odato Marketing Group is well-qualified to be your agency. 

Story: As a toddler, Rich Odato used to entertain family and friends by memorizing and reciting TV commercials; he was born to be an ad guy. After learning the ropes in what was then the largest agency in the market, he started Odato Marketing Group with $1,000. Now 15 years later, the agency has worked with some of the world’s most respected brands and earned 10 AMA Marketer of the Year trophies for clients like you. Our unique mix of creative concepts, innovative strategies and proven tactics can help fuel your success, too. Let’s start today. 

Conclusion

While the media world has changed dramatically and continues to evolve, and ads get smaller, faster, cheaper and more targeted, don’t forget about the power of great creative work. It will make your dollar work harder for you. You need talented creative people, they need to be fed clear and sound strategies built on a foundation of valid insights, they need the opportunity to tell compelling stories, and they need a medium in which to deliver the idea to the audience. Do these things and your creative will have the best chance to deliver the results you are seeking.

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