Creating the creative strategy

The Creative Strategy is not the first thing we create or deliver when setting up a creative project. If you review some of my earlier posts, you see that uncovering the ideal target audience, defining a singular benefit and creating a powerful positioning come first. Assuming you have done a great job on these first steps, it is indeed time for the critical set-up to great creative concepting or development, the CREATIVE STRATEGY.

The simplest way to think of any strategy is that it is a plan of action – to achieve a goal.

No strategy exists without first having an objective or goal. We’ll assume that there’s always plenty of clear objectives to choose from and it’s usually the strategy, for achieving the objective, that needs more clarity.

We have strategies (or plans of action) for everything – Business Strategy, Marketing Strategy, Communication Strategy, Advertising/PR/Media/Interactive Strategy, Growth Strategy and Creative Strategy.

These are all important plans of action, but the one we’re focused on here is the Creative Strategy. We could also call it a creative plan of action – or better yet, A PLAN FOR CREATIVE ACTION.

The subtle change in language is important. We are not making a creative plan to act upon; we are making a plan that will lead to creative action.


This plan of action relies on a great positioning statement (with a singular benefit) and a specific target. It’s written in a simple open-ended statement that sets the stage for an unlimited number of ideas.

Here’s the simple equation for a good creative strategy:

You’re saying, “That’s it? That’s the big deal? It’s too elementary!”

There is more work to do, but yes, it is that simple on the ground level. If you’ve focused in on a real, relevant, hopefully unique benefit – and you’ve honed in on a specific, hopefully unique target audience, you have the makings for great creative ideas.

Jack Foster gives a definition of what an idea is in his book, How To Get Ideas. He credits the definition to James Webb Young:

“An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.”

Francis H. Cartier says,

“There is only one way in which a person acquires a new idea: by the combination or association of two or more ideas he already has into a new juxtaposition in such a manner as to discover a relationship among them of which he was not previously aware.”

So here, in your creative strategy, you only need two things to begin this process of combination and idea generation that is specific and unique – a benefit and a target.

A specific, unique benefit and a specific, unique target will make the process that much easier. You see, that specific benefit from your particular product/service will be different than anyone else’s (at least to your target). And your particular target has unique qualities because of your focus and willingness to sacrifice targeting everyone in order to talk to a select few (knowing that everyone will still get the message).

Now those two ideas (unique benefit and target) are combined in imaginative ways and the result is fresh, new ideas that are inherently tied to your brand.

To jumpstart the conceptual process from the creative strategy, it’s good to ask the questions below. These questions help our imagination go to the extremes of the benefit and visualize how it effects the target. This will generate more ideas. There are tons of questions like these that can be used to spur the creative idea generation, but this is a place to start.

Question 1: What does too much/an abundance of the benefit look/feel like?

Question 2: What does a too little/complete lack of the benefit look/feel like?

These are the two basic directions that concepts can take — what’s to gain from the product, or what’s to lose by not having the product. The latter is proven more powerful in most research.

And if you’ve done your homework, it will provide your creative team with a platform to deliver a mountain of concepts that are all on strategy.

It won’t work if you’ve plugged in a weak or a generic benefit. It also won’t work if you’ve plugged in a broad, all-encompassing target, like males 18-35. These broad benefits and target descriptions are destined for lackluster, meandering, or even worse, off-strategy ideas.

You must go through the process up front to pinpoint what you want to say and to whom. If you don’t do it in the creative brief, it is left to the creative team to determine the strategy. And they will wander between strategies until the ideas become broad generalities that contain no real impact, or, bounce from strategy to strategy, until someone notices that in one of those strategic directions, there are some good, relevant ideas, and therefore, that becomes the strategy. But think of how many more ideas could have been added if all that time hadn’t been wasted trying to hit a mystery target. It’s  like shooting an arrow blindfolded and then moving the target to wherever the arrow lands. The end result may look ok, but you are no marksman.

You must always know how you are getting to the result. It can’t be a game of chance. Norm Brown is somewhat famous for saying, “If you don’t know where you are going, every road leads there.”

And Einstein taught,“The formulation of the problem is often more essential than it’s solutions.”

And here, with a creative strategy, if the problem is not formulated properly, all solutions/concepts will suffer. And like the proverbial house built on sand, it’ll be all downhill from there.

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