A lot of bad marketing creative gets produced in the name of personal preference. A lot of good marketing creative gets discarded in the name of personal preference. And that all adds up to a lot of wasted time in marketing … a field in which there simply isn’t time to be wasted.
So let’s break down the role of creativity in marketing, which will hopefully help you avoid personal preferences and stay focused on producing effective marketing, day-in, day-out, as you must.
All marketing starts with a purpose, and that’s good, because creativity can be energized when infused with purpose. What is the purpose for the marketing element or campaign you are creating? Usually it’s to sell something, but it could also be to enhance brand awareness, engagement, or loyalty.
As with all good creative, understanding must come before wordsmithing and designing. This starts with asking and answering the following questions:
- Who is the customer?
- What do they value?
- How do they speak and communicate?
- How will they feel about this offer: Does it solve a need? Address a pain point? Create an opportunity?
- Do they respond to humor? Emotional appeals? Do they prefer seriousness?
- What makes them curious?
- What ignites their passion?
- What is their purpose, and how does it intersect with your purpose?
The more we understand the customer, the better we can create a message that speaks to them. A good way to understand this is to consider the different reactions women have to the term “babe.” If a man says “hey babe” to a woman he doesn’t know, some women will react with offense, and others will react with a grin. Same words ... entirely different reactions, even if the tone and context are completely neutral.
Once you are clear about your customer, the next step is to consider the medium. Will this marketing message be delivered in an email, as a 15-second video ad, a social media post or ad, in print? Will it be a billboard, or a radio spot? Each medium demands a different approach to creative, not just because some move and some do not, but because the mediums are consumed differently.
Consider the difference between a 15-second video ad on a streaming service and a digital billboard. Both ads move, but the billboard must speak to a person driving by at 70mph, and the streaming ad must compete for the attention of someone running off to grab a snack before the show returns. Creative direction for each medium takes into account what the target audience is doing when they encounter the ad.
After medium, you must consider platform. Even if the ad is the same size and is appearing on a computer screen, it makes a difference if the ad is run as a pop-under in a serious business website or is run as a paid ad on LinkedIn. The audience reading an article in the serious website is likely in a different frame of mind than the audience checking in on LinkedIn.
With purpose, customer, medium(s) and platform(s) defined, it’s now time to craft your message.
A tragic amount of marketing creative simply shouts, “Hey! Look here! Look what I have to sell and why it’s so great!” Those messages are the marketing version of a 3-year-old interrupting you with “Lookit! Lookit! Lookit!” They don’t work. When developing messages for marketing creative, the goal is to invite your audience’s curiosity and interest by drawing attention to a need or a desire they have and showing you have the answer.
The message should convey in the most succinct and evocative way relative to medium and platform what you want the customer to know and to do. With a billboard, you may have 2 seconds and 5 words. With an email, you may have a few paragraphs.
Only once the words are defined (they can be refined again later) do you develop the graphics.The purpose of graphics in marketing creative is to enhance and expand on the message. Images and other visuals can tell a story very quickly, adding layers of meaning to words and even replacing words, all with a goal of delivering the strongest version of the message. This is where a lot of marketing creative runs right off the rails.
The graphics for an ad should be designed entirely around delivering a specific message to a specific audience in a specific medium and platform. The colors for the ad should reinforce the message. If you want to invoke a sense of peaceful happiness, blues and yellows can deliver that feeling. But if you want to create a bit of tension, those are probably the wrong colors to use. Graphic design involves deciding upon color, a hierarchy of elements, contrast, use of space, repetition of elements, balance … and each of these things are decided in direct relationship to the message you need to convey and the audience you are trying to reach.
Not one of those decisions should be based on a personal like or dislike for particular colors, personal preferences specific fonts, or personal preferences for ads that include people/do not include people/use cartoons/etc./etc./etc.
Any experienced graphic designer will be able to explain every element in the marketing creative and why it was used relative to audience, medium, platform, target audience, and message. It’s not art, to be interpreted individually by each person who encounters it. It’s design, with a purpose.
It’s common during the graphics phase of developing marketing creative for the words of the message to be revised. Some words become unnecessary because the design itself tells part of the story in a more compelling way. Sometimes words need to interact with the design more effectively. This is why it’s important for there to be excellent communication between copywriters and designers, so they can seize these opportunities and make the final product as strong as possible.
The next time you look at an ad, see if you can dissect it to determine who it is speaking to, the message it is conveying, and how the words and graphics were created in service of delivering the message in the best possible way relative to the medium and platform you encountered it on. In most cases, sadly, you will not see evidence of this kind of intention, because most marketing creative is regrettable.
Do not let your marketing creative be regrettable. Follow this process thoughtfully, every time, and your marketing creative will begin to deliver more qualified customers that are ready to move into and through the sales funnel.
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