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The Odd Couple: Strategy and Creative closer than ever

A greedy man has a bad dream on Christmas Eve. A pair of teenagers date even though their parents don’t get along. Six guys take a ring to a volcano. 

You know the stories (A Christmas Carol, Romeo & Juliet, Lord of the Rings), but when they’re told without feeling or style, they don’t sound so…epic. Same with marketing. The power of good marketing is how it balances the emotional resonance of creative with the analytical thinking of strategy. 

As fundraisers, we often must distill complicated issues, heavy content, statistics, and research into an engaging, human story. In fact, science shows that when a subject is emotionally engaged by a story, they remember it better. This video by neuroscientist Paul Zak demonstrates how emotional storytelling can improve recall, engagement, loyalty, and ultimately, action. That said, an “epic” story doesn’t happen by accident. It is the result of a proven and exact, scientifically calibrated process…a “strategy”, you might say… 

The Emotionally Relevant Idea 

The most famous campaigns in history all base their creative idea on refined insight that forms a clear thread from the idea to the objective. Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” – tapped into a real frustration with non-inclusive images of beauty. Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” – funny and absurd, spoke to primary shoppers, women. Recently, Sick Kid’s award-winning “Versus” campaign – cast their young patients as heroes and fighters rather than victims. 

These campaigns are successful and memorable for a reason, they tell a compelling story based on rock-solid insight. With marketing being driven in real-time and the human attention span at an all-time low, an emotionally relevant message is more important than ever. And, so is the collaboration between Strategists and creatives.  

The Yin and Yang 

Back in the old days, when broadcast was king and dinosaurs ruled the earth, the process was linear. Planners used research to create a static strategic blueprint. When the strategy was too rigid and prescriptive, it could lead to work without personality or joy. When creatives ignored the strategy to follow our wildest ideas, we risked missing the point or, worse, making beautiful work that achieved nothing.  

 But media has changed, and so have we. Over the years, I’ve realized the best Strategists are deeply creative, and the best creatives are highly strategic. After all, the strategic process isn’t all that different from the creative one. Both balance data and insights with human experience and intuition. And these days, we need to work together more than ever. Especially when the direction of a campaign can change in the market, in real-time. We need the Yin and the Yang in harmony. 

I believe that the Strategist is the invisible third member of the creative team, along with the Copywriter and Art Director. And I believe that the collaboration should start before the brief is written. A senior Creative POV can help add humanity and accessibility to strategic thinking, from target personas to mission statements to brand propositions. During the creative process, regular involvement from the Strategist can do more than keep the work “on brief.” It can sharpen creative ideas and even help spark new ideas and directions. Often, when I’ve boxed myself into a conceptual corner, a few minutes with a Strategist can help me break out of it. 

The Work is the Work 

The truth is that once a campaign is in-market, the donor doesn’t see the 60-page research report, the 40-slide strategy deck, or the 100 dead creative ideas taped to the wall. They see a video or a social media post or billboard. They see the work, nothing more. The strategy is implicit in the creative and vice versa. 

So, while I sit here finishing this blog and ponder what “epic” story I will stream tonight, I need not ponder long – according to my Strategist colleague, “Succession is a must-watch”. If, by chance, anything you’ve read is of interest to you, or you simply want to talk more about Strategy or Creative, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or my Blakely peers. Now back to my show.