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Get the most out of your brand creative—Know your strategy and broaden perspectives

A brand’s creative relies on its strategy. And much like strategy, creative is rooted in research (e.g., audience, competitors). This is because a brand’s creative—and the systems and tools supporting it—is also following a “north star” of strategic goals.

However, most brands don’t evaluate their creative efforts or design systems thoroughly enough to ensure alignment with their strategy. Instead, they often fall victim to subjective preference, set lofty but nondescript goals for themselves, or underinvest in activation. They might also fail to look beyond the narrowed perspective that naturally develops from “making sausage” themselves, like looking through a viewfinder that veils the bigger picture.

Therefore, successful creative and activation require thoroughly knowing your brand and your strategy, as well as broadly looking beyond it.

Liquid Agency work for jumpcloud 2022

Knowing your strategy starts with knowing your desired outcomes

When asked what strategic outcomes they aim to achieve, too many brands reply with a fairly vague answer, such as increasing market share. But developing brand strategy—and, as a result, the design systems and tools that produce high-quality creative work—requires a little more thought. While increasing market share and similar aspirations are noble pursuits, they don’t describe how or where your brand lives and breathes—the channels and screens it lives on and what people take home.

It starts with determining what experiences brands want to deliver to their audience—the experiences responsible for building the deep and long-lasting customer relationships. And then, it’s enjoying the ride from there—focusing on the experiences themselves as much as their outcomes.

Experiences are the tangible outcomes, providing brands with their  north star for creative and design work more than any aspirational metric.

Misjudging strategic outcomes

Misjudging or limiting your brand’s desired outcomes to aspirational metrics leads to poor or misaligned strategic and creative design-making.

For example, brands sometimes approach Liquid Agency with a specific deliverable in mind. Perhaps they want to produce a creative project like a brand anthem video to bolster their employee value proposition or differentiate themselves from competitors. 

But if the wrong strategy influences decision-making or the design systems aren’t aligned with it, the execution becomes a bit like trying to build a Hot Wheels track out of marshmallows. The building blocks are wrong. In turn, the final product may not provide the desired results—no matter how high-quality the marshmallows or how legendary the mini race car.

Removing subjectivity and establishing “north star” experiences

So knowing what experience you want to create is the first step in developing your strategy. Then, while you stay laser-focused on that, you start analyzing data. Design—certainly for brands—is an analytical and scientific pursuit. At Liquid Agency, we remove subjectivity from design through the combination of statistically analyzed survey results and our swarming processes. Essentially, this enables both co-creation and strategic decision-making.

If you know what your brand means to your audience and what experiences or relationships your audience seeks, you can then collectively assess every decision with respect to those factors. Decisions on colors and messaging no longer find basis merely in what the people in the room prefer.

Instead, the brand’s design systems can be assessed and updated to ensure they support the strategy. For example, design systems must align with the brand’s “expression attributes”—or the three to five words that describe a brand and its experiences—to ensure they correctly resonate with intended audiences and remain consistent across all engagements. Every creative decision should be weighed against these attributes.

Once you have the orientation for the experience you intend to build, everything else begins falling into place because you know what you’re looking to produce or what elements the finished creative work must contain.

Liquid Agency work for Floqast 2022

Achieving desired outcomes does require the right budget

Aside from misguided strategy, brands often adopt the wrong perspective when it comes to investing in campaigns—regarding both the necessary resources and timelines. Developing a strategy is only “Day 1” of brand activation, because while you’re ready to activate the brand, nothing has actually happened yet.

The creative work for campaigns must still be built and activated.

Too many chief marketing officers (CMOs) regard strategy as a phase to rush through—a necessity they must complete to receive the green light on project continuation or to start building an activation budget. But brands need to include their activation budget as part of the strategic decision-making. If $500,000 is available but it takes $300,000 to perform research and determine brand strategy, there are not enough resources left over to activate; the strategy and effort become, effectively, worthless.

As important as the right strategy is for top-notch brand creative and design, success still hinges on the activation budget.

Broadening your perspectives

Brands must be open to inspiration from anywhere when determining strategic outcomes and building the design systems that enable them. Commonly, perspectives become narrowed by what stakeholders interact with every day—their brand, direct competitors and the industry around them.

But your audience doesn’t live in a bubble, and they face more brand choices than you and your competitors. You’re up against the entire landscape of brands they interact with and purchases they make every day. So, you need to look for inspiration and cues from other brands that have successfully made, strengthened and defended their own place in that landscape. 

When broadening your perspective, it’s the why that matters most—not the what

Seeking outside inspiration requires some reverse engineering. It’s not enough to look at a company like Apple (a go-to answer for, “What brand do you want to emulate?”) and try to mimic the creative work for their campaigns. Instead, you need to consider how the foundational design decisions led to iconic creative work that resonates with an audience and leaves a long-lasting emotional connection. 

For example, brands shouldn’t choose a minimalist design because companies like Apple have demonstrated significant success with it. Rather, brands should ask why does Apple use minimalism in their campaigns, products and every presentation of their brand? Is it to communicate and reinforce an understanding of intuitive user experiences? Is it because emotional connections impact people more than listing technical specifications? Is it easier for their audience to envision themselves using the products when their design systems eliminate everything but the focus for a given campaign?

Readily take inspiration from companies that produce creative work that stands out against the broader brand landscape, but remember that their success is based on delivering engagements and experiences that resonate with their audience. Your brand won’t be able to merely adopt another’s design work and see the same success (and certainly not without an enormous activation budget).

The best creative work is rooted in authenticity

The best and most impactful creative campaigns are authentic—and that authenticity is ensured from the start because of the design system’s alignment with brand strategy in pursuit of delivering specific experiences. But before you can build or deliver those experiences, your brand needs to know how they should look and feel—what emotions they should evoke and how they’ll define customer relationships.

Only then can you begin developing the design systems and creative campaigns that can achieve those outcomes.

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