What are the basics of creative strategy? Whether you're a seasoned professional or just starting out in the advertising world, understanding the fundamentals is paramount to success.

In episode one of our latest series focusing on the anatomy of an ad, Senior Copywriter, Nathan Spell, will guide us through creative strategy and defining "brands".

Podcast Transcript

Ads are everywhere and that's not changing anytime soon. Unfortunately that means it's easier than ever to go unnoticed in the increasingly crowded marketplace to stand out in a sea of competitors and ultimately sell more products to more people at higher prices. Companies need a firm grasp on how advertising works and why in this series on The Anatomy of an Ad Senior Copywriter, Nathan Spell, and I are taking a look at the principles behind creating effective Advertising. The concepts we discuss won't be new to any Advertising geeks or seasoned brand managers, but we hope every listener leaves with a better grasp of the fundamentals and at least a few useful tips to apply on your own life. Because whether you're a company competing in the market place or an individual looking to advance in your career, understanding how to get the right kind of attention can be the difference between stagnation and success.

So let's get start, You know, we're all familiar with that. It's there everywhere. And then of course, the goals behind an ad can vary, you know, the most foundational building block below the surface of all Advertising is the brain. It's a person's gut feeling about your business. In today's episode, we're talking about the basics of creative strategy and Advertising. So in the spirit of focusing on the fundamentals, let's start at square one. Nathan, I want you to take me through each step as if I've never heard of an ad before.

(1m 27s):
And as if I have no idea what a brand is, let's start at the beginning. What exactly is an ad and how do you define it? You know, we're all familiar with ads. They're everywhere. They've always been around, but they're increasingly ubiquitous, right? So TV commercials, radio podcasts, endorsements out of home ads like billboards. These are all examples of the forms that ads can take, but, you know, Advertising is actually much more open than any one example that I've just listed. So, you know, an ad can be as small of a footprint as, you know, a, a text ad. Like whenever you search on Google, you get a search engine ad. That's the, The sponsored Results they go to the top.

(2m 9s):
And then usually what you're actually looking for is below those, depending on how good the advertiser is at getting the right result for those keywords. Right. But it can also be as like big and exciting and open and experiential as a branded experience. Like maybe in the case of a digital experience, like an app or a website or a web experience, or umm, you know, a physical product experience. I think what ties all of those examples together as the definition is that ads are communication, but they're messages that are conveyed with a goal. And the goal is always to get attention in some sort of a targeted way.

(2m 49s):
So that's that sort of encapsulates what an ad really is. So that's a really broad definition. It's a very, but because like the purpose behind an ad can go really, it can run the gamut depending on your goals. The ultimate goal of many ads, probably most ads is as simple as, you know, increasing market penetration, which is to say, and building recognition, increasing sales from new customers, but that's not necessarily the case with all of Advertising. So any definition of what an ad is, has to count for that broad spectrum of potential messages.

(3m 29s):
But in a nutshell, if there's not some measurable business objective behind the communication is not an ad. We work with a wide array of clients, products range from packaged goods to clothing. We've got mobile apps, everything in between what ties all of their ads together is there are a common thread behind all Advertising, given how broad the definition is. Yeah, that's a good question because like you said, you know, the client can really vary and as we've already discussed the end result of an ad, the final form that the ad takes can vary almost even more. And of course the goals behind an ad can, can vary, but I think what ties all Advertising together and I would say especially all advertising that is very effective together is that there is a process.

(4m 18s):
There is a systematic building of that ad and it starts with everything that you don't see. It's kind of like for any of my creative writing majors out there, it's kind of like Hemingway's iceberg theory of story. If you're familiar with that, if you're not, it's really simple. He had this really simple way of putting it as Hemingway was known for us of what makes an elegant story. It's that the story is the tip of the iceberg. And just like the icebergs elegance is made possible because seven eighths of it is under water. The story is stronger because of what's admitted will an ad is kind of the same way. If an ad contained everything that was going on behind the scenes, it would not be effective.

(4m 59s):
But at the same time, I should say if the finished result contained all of that, like explicitly, but at the same time, if you don't go through that process, if you don't have that substructure, then the end result Fales, you know, the most foundational building block below the surface of an an all Advertising is a brand. And on top of the brand, as the sort of base of the pyramid, you build a creative strategy. And from the strategy you develop concepts, people will use this term interchangeably. And in some cases they actually are divided about whether you should use the word concept or idea, but really that's what a concept is.

(5m 39s):
It's like we have a strategy, we've got the brand, what's the idea. And then from those concepts, finally, you have what in the industry, we call it the execution, which is the finished Ad. But first and foremost, you have to start with an understanding of the, so let's get back to The basics again, just for a minute for our listeners. How would you define a brand? Sure. Well, instead of defining a brand myself, I'm going to steal a definition from a guy named Marty Neumeier. I hope I didn't butcher his last name. I think that's right. And he's a famous author on the subject of brands and branding.

(6m 19s):
He's worked with huge brands and he has basically built a career on branding and the books are a very great, like super short, like concise reads, highly recommend the brand gap and Zack, but his definition of brand is it's a person's gut feeling about your business. And I think that's kind of a surprising definition for most people because we think of brands and we think of logos. We think of visual identity, or maybe we think of like the verbal aspects of a brand's identity, like voice and tone or even taglines core values, et cetera, et cetera. But really Marty's point is that just like a novel sitting on your desk is not really the work of art until it's being read brand is not truly there.

(7m 8s):
If there's no one is experiencing it. And if there is no one actually having that gut feeling, there is no brand it's actually the people you're customers or the people in the marketplace and how they feel about you as a company that truly constitutes a brand. And in terms of like a word like brand equity, what we're talking about is how the aggregate of people in the marketplace, what, what is their gut feeling about your brand? So like as an Ad maker, you are dealing with that raw material already. For example, if you're working with a brand like Coca-Cola or Apple, you've got this kind of a hemophilia of a starting point, you've got all of this, this feeling that people have about the brand at the same time, you're trying to help mold that and shape that with the Advertising.

(8m 3s):
So that's why it's the foundation, but it's also something that's produced and helped by Advertising itself. So obviously brands are the ones doing the advertising. So ultimately ads need to be branded. And in order for people to know who to buy from, how is that different from what you're describing The difference is that rather than seeing brands as something that's to be included in the Ad or to be, you know, to put it kind of crudely to tack it on at the end of the idea, to just say, okay, sponsor or, you know, The brought to you by, or even at the front, a lot of times there's a logo right up front. That is an element of the brand, but that's not the same as starting with the brand, whenever you're going in to making an add or even, you know, the idea that like the ad is coming from the brand.

(8m 52s):
And that's not the same thing. The idea is that as a, as a copywriter, as a team whose working on producing adds, you have to start with an assessment of the brand before you even start thinking about the ads themselves, because there's already a conversation happening right now between the company and the people in the marketplace and that unspoken conversation of, you know, buyer behavior, their preferences, their choice in the market and everything that, that tells you everything that, that hints to about how those people see your company, that is the starting place for strategy. So really you have to start with a diagnosis, where is the brand Ad right now?

(9m 33s):
Because any strategy that follows without that is going to be flawed by definition to get where you want to go with the Advertising. You have to know where you're starting from in the first place. So would you say branding or brand building is synonymous with Advertising or how do the two differ? I think depending on the agency, you know, like The, there might be an advertising agency that's in charge taking the lead of building a brand for, for a company, you know, looking at it from the big picture. Like, is it synonymous? No, but at the same time, every aspect of your operations as a company contributes to, or in some way harms the brand.

(10m 18s):
And that, that means like everything from this is the C suite down to, you know, the point of sale. And I would argue even including team's that you might not think of as directly influencing the brand like the finance team is usually that's that's you might think of that is sort of like the, the money is just like the, the data being passive worth. But if you think about it really how the money is being allocated and how it's being handled, that says a lot about the values and the priorities and the trajectory of the brand basically adds are fed by the brand.

(10m 59s):
Like I said, you know, you start with a brand, but at the same time, they help to cultivate the way that people feel about you as a company. So branding and the brand is bigger than Advertising adds are doing the work of building the brand. Its just that it's only a part of the work that needs to be done. The elements of brands are most important to understand before moving into the strategy phase. Like I said earlier, you know, this is about diagnosing the gut feeling that people are already have About the brand. So a brand being something that lives in the minds of the market, you know, that definition, it's the gut feeling. You have to understand people, you have to research the people in the market.

(11m 47s):
You have to really understand, not just like what features are we offering, but why are people choosing our product over others? Or why aren't they choosing our product over others? What benefits or driving them to make that choice? And why are they interested in those benefits? One, one example of the kind of mindset that you have to have in this stage, I will sometimes call it the five whys, sometimes call it the seven wise, you know like as a kid you would ask why so many times and your parents would just be like, because I said so, and it could be like, you know, why is the sky blue? And they're just like, I used to know that I'm frustrated that you are asking me 20 times the same question as a creative, you have to be a little childlike and you were thinking up front, you have to think why behind the why behind the why behind the why behind the why and so on until you get to the insight that that really does lay The, like the bedrock for the strategy that follows, you know, why is our brand different from the competition in the eyes of the people in the market?

(12m 54s):
And like, what is, what is it about how we show up in the market? What do they think of? What is consistent about their response and how does it make them feel? So this is all about getting understanding, and it really is about research. And I like the word diagnosis because you're trying to understand something that's hidden and it's, it's all about finding the truth. It can be a little bit metaphysical to use a word like truth, but there's something like, you know, when you find it, you'll, you'll find something that seems so simple that it should of been obvious. And yet at the same time, it's surprising. And that's when you know that you've really, you've really gotten to the core of like, okay, this is a truth about the brand as it is now.

(13m 38s):
And that's what you need to, you need to have that to develop the strategy. Let's say I'm a brand manager and I've been doing an audit of the brand in a lead up to a conversation with an advertising agency. How does brand diagnosis feed into strategy? The answers to all of those questions, all of those five, why's the picture that they paint is really about how your brain is performing in the marketplace right now. And what is it hints at is the approach that you should take, which is really what we mean by strategy. Strategy is the next stage. And it is ultimately, it's not the specific idea. It's not the specific plan.

(14m 19s):
It's more like the approach that your plans and your ideas should come from you. If you use an idea like strategy, it's hard to avoid talking about like strategy games, like chess or a war games. The difference between a strategy and a tactic is that a strategy takes into account and overall position rather than specific actions. So it's about figuring out the way that other brands are positioned relative to you and using that insight, you've discovered about the, the consumers, how are your price, how are your packaging, how your design, how all of the aspects that distinguish you and influence how the market sees you relative to your competitors and, and all of the, the associations, like, you know, there's a lot of behaviors and, and hidden associations that people have with brands and with the messages that brands are putting out there and uncovering what those sort of hidden associations, those hidden feelings are, it completely changes how you think about moving forward is lowering your price.

(15m 30s):
Always the best option is raising your price. Always the best option. Of course not. 'cause otherwise, you know, there would be, there will be no differentiation in the market, which you live with is an understanding of like, okay, with the example of price, the price that we have right now is signaling this. And maybe it's not quite right. Maybe the signal was suppose or what you were hoping the signal would be was that your product was a premium offering. And maybe because of some other factor that you didn't account for the price is actually, you know, not you out of the running and that potential customers mined for a number of reasons. So all that to say, you start noticing what ends up being the raw material for strategy, because after all of this, exploring all this questioning, that's when you end up with a sort of map of the territory, all of that, to say this map that you are left with, it's never gonna be the territory itself.

(16m 29s):
You're never going to have perfect information about every single consumer in the market and exactly how they think and feel about your brand at every moment in time. It's just until, you know, science has not gone that far yet. And we're getting, I think we're getting close with social media right now. It's getting a little scary. But until that happens, like you have a partial map, but you know, when you're talking about what approach to take, having a partial map, that gets better over time and yeah. Way better than starting without a map at all. If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe for updates on future episodes and leave us a comment with your feedback, questions or ideas for future segments.

(17m 16s):
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