Adnalysis: Strategy is creativity before creativity
by Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) Strategy, strategic planning or planning, however you refer to it, is in itself creativity. Yet the lack of respect for it is astonishing.
Many say that they see the value of strategy but they don’t. They talk it but never live it. How can an ad agency that claims to be informed and inspired by strategy only have 2–4 strategists? No training or efforts to upskill the strategists? This makes no sense at all.
Lack of respect
In most cases in advertising, the creative departments are always bigger and larger than the strategy departments. This has become normal, but to me, it’s insanity. That the creative teams are always bigger and larger than the strategy teams/department is indicative of the lack of respect for strategy. People don’t actually understand its value and power as the creative output is the hero; however, it’s the thinking before the creative that’s the real hero.
I call strategy “The Thinking Before The Thinking”. When there’s a beautiful piece of creative work out, rarely do people think of the thinking behind the creative work. We marvel at what we see in front of us but fail to recognise what’s behind it.
Impactful creative work is always driven by insight. While an insight may come from anyone and anywhere, the part of the value chain, where chances of an insight are greater, is within the strategy process.
Four reasons that strategy is taken for granted
- Authenticity: Apart from the creative output being the face of the strategy and strategy not being explicitly communicated, what may be contributing to the lack of respect is the way in which strategies are being conducted. Most of them in agencies are born out of secondary research. Every brief requires its own resources, which includes time and tailored interrogation. Tailored interrogations means asking the right questions and doing things based on the problem at hand, and not referring to what was done previously.
- Time: Due to constraints and pressures to produce, there’s not enough time to delve into a subject matter in an immersive manner that allows for the uncovering of insights which lead to really inspiring, standout work. Everyone’s always in a hurry, and rushing for insights or to get work out. Strategy is as much a process as is the process of coming up with an idea, a headline, an impactful campaign, a powerful radio spot, and those award-winning pieces of work, and should also be afforded the time to go through its own processes.
- Insights: Sometimes, strategists tend to recycle insights, taking from a previous job and simply slapping onto the new job. The worst-case scenario is when they take insights from unrelated categories and apply it to whichever one they’re working on.
- Back-engineering: There are also times when strategies are back-engineered to suit the premature creative; creatives are always eager to start creating prior to the thinking before the thinking. This defeats the entire purpose of strategy; it’s not for rationalising the creative thinking — it’s the thinking before the creative work. If strategists in agencies are constantly given the creative thinking prior to them applying their own thinking, this means that there’s no strategy.
Strategy is meant to inspire creative thinking, not the other way round.
What strategy is not
- It’s not just a positioning line.
- It’s not just what you decide to do. What you decided not to do is also strategy, as it has a long-term impact.
- It’s not the number of slides; it’s the thinking embedded in those slides (never judge a strategy by the number of slides contained therein).
- It’s not the last slide of the 67-page PowerPoint document — it’s every slide.
- It’s not a once-in-a-while document that is archived — at least, it shouldn’t be. Often, the fully outlined strategic plan ends up living in the agency’s virtual museum (the server), rarely referred to.
What strategy is
When a great strategy is presented, creatives feel inspired and, all of a sudden, the creative process becomes much more exciting and somewhat easier and fun.
If you really think about it, all the best brands in the world are significantly driven by it; strategic thinking is the source of all the major successes of these businesses. As strategists, while our key role is inspiring creatives to produce impactful and effective work, our fundamental job is to solve business problems. That is what we are meant to do. To turn a business’ misfortunes into financial fortunes.
- It’s the big thinking before the big idea or concept.
- It initiates and leads any process that forms part of building a brand. It really should.
- It gives creative direction.
- It empowers business growth.
- It sets the tone for brand success.
- It helps align everyone involved in the brand-building process.
- It helps stakeholders make relevant and critical business decisions.
- It helps brands decide on a profitable market.
- It helps everyone understand consumers or the desired target market better.
- It helps a brand gain an unfair competitive advantage that’s not easily replicable.
- It helps identify both untapped and unleveraged opportunities.
- It enables decisions to be made swiftly and decisively — sometimes the lack of a success for a brand is not just bad decisions but the lack of making them.
- It mitigates against wrong or emotional decisions.
Strategy is important
Creativity is like finding your way in a multi-tiered or never-ending maze, and strategy is the guide that helps you find your way much easier and faster.
Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) truly believes that advertising can really change the world. Every single day he tries to prove this. He shares his thoughts on the industry and sometimes has unconventional views. Bogosi is the co-founder of Melanoid Éclat (for finding black entrepreneurs), a committee member of AMASA, an Advisory Council member and guest speaker at Vega, and also does speaker management at TEDxJohannesburg. He is currently a strategic planner at The Creative Counsel. He contributes the monthly column, “Adnalysis”, which analyses adland from a strategist’s point of view, to MarkLives.com.