3 tips for writing a creative strategy that sticks

Usually when I tell someone I work in brand strategy, I get a handful of reactions.
"Oh, you design logos? Like the Nike swoosh?"
"Have you worked on any ads I would have seen?"
"Branding…is that like marketing?"

As brand strategists, we need to think about all of those things - and lots more - when we design any brand strategy. Because a brand is ALWAYS communicating. We have to make sure we're strategically communicating what the brand wants to say – in every part of its expression. When brands aren't intentional, people notice, and the brand falls apart over time.

Brand strategy is often delivered as words on slides and in frameworks. Each word is deliberately chosen in collaboration with our clients to convey as much as it possibly can. A comment we often hear, however, is “This is great, but how does this translate to my creative team?” This is where creative strategy comes in. Think of it as the glue between a brand strategy and all creative expression of that strategy.

No two creative strategies will look the same.

Sometimes and oftentimes, creative strategy comes in the form of a brief crafted to inform brand identities, campaigns, design systems, product redesigns. They are a useful tool for any design team to start concepting from.

In other cases, creative strategy is a conversation between internal teams. A strategist and a designer building a creative strategy together. This collaborative build - or what I like to call a “jam session” - can happen throughout a design process. Because the truth is, a lot of creative sparks happen between the lines on the page. It’s subjective. But there is a process that supports it.

The ultimate goal of any creative strategy is to make the strategy stick and the brand experience cohesive. To do that, it has to inspire creative teams. They have to understand the strategy in a way they can design to.

You might be asking – but how do I help teams understand months of work in a single briefing session or document? It’s not always easy but remembering the energetic moments from developing the brand strategy is a helpful place to start.
• Were there moments when the lightbulb went off for clients?
• Moments that really excited the leadership team?
• Moments when the clients suddenly saw themselves differently?

That’s what a creative strategist is trying to capture - the breakthroughs where the strategy goes from being words on a slide, to something everyone on the team can imagine, feel, and see. The place where their entire brand is coming together - the ads, the product, the marketing – and it feels like something that’s always been true.

Whether you’re penning a creative strategy or receiving one from your agency partners, here are some tips for making sure your it inspires creative:

  • Be brief. A lot of strategists and clients will ask themselves “what else can I add?” The question should be, “what can I take away and still maintain the essence of the strategy?” Whether that’s for creating a brief or actually briefing your teammates, be brief.
  • Stay focused. A good strategy anchors on a key insight that drives the process. Bring that singular idea to the briefing.
  • Be self-evident. A brief should stand on its own. If it needs a lot of explanation to your teams, it might need another round of revision and focus to limit the need for a walk through.

Creative strategy is about taking note of the small moments and sharing them in such a way that creative teams can feel them too. And while an identity system is being developed, creative strategy helps hold teams accountable to the strategy through expression. So that when teams and clients see the design system, they know how to bring the brand to life. Ensuring that at every encounter – from the micro moments of a product experience to a billboard – it feels intentionally and distinctly like their brand.

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