Understanding Your Creative Strategy
Peter Panda

2016 should be the year of creative strategy. I say this only because the worlds of advertising, public relations, social media and search have been inching closer and closer for years now. Brands are beginning to see the four as inter-connected pieces of a communications effort. Agencies are being forced to bring broader, more integrated thinking to the table for their clients.

Digital is not longer seen as an add-on. Social is no longer an afterthought passed on to the interns. The lines between ads and content are ever so blurred. Something has to tie all these efforts together so brands can speak with consistent voice to produce optimal effect.

The end result should be that creative strategy emerges as the linchpin to marketing success.

What is Creative Strategy?

Creative strategy is an expression of why you are communicating, who you are communicating to, how are you communicating it and what will make the audience believe you.

But to express a creative strategy, we often rely on thematic abbreviations, sometimes confused with tag lines, that quickly express what we’re trying to get across. Ford’s communications strategy is to make people believe quality is the reason to buy a car. (Quality is Job 1.) Papa Johns communications strategy is to stake a claim on being the better pizza. (Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.)

Often, you express a creative strategy in how your audience will think of your product or service after consuming your message

  • Our creative strategy is to position the brand as the service leader
  • Our creative strategy is to position the company as a community partner
  • Our creative strategy is to position the product as the healthiest option

You’ll notice that creative strategy actually comes from brand attributes, so review all your brand assets. How do we define the brand? There’s the name, the logo or imagery, but what are the basic tenets of information that people need to know about a product or service?

  • What does it do?
  • Why would you use it?
  • What alternatives are there?
  • Why is this one better than them?


Creative strategy should be defined long before any creative is actually connected. These overall strategic parameters are what guide the creative process. Your creative strategy statement should be the ultimate litmus test for whether or not your creative (copy, art, etc.) works.

Papa John’s could sponsor the X-Games, but does that really ladder up to staking a claim on the better pizza? No. The NFL, however, is the ultimate sports property. Being aligned with the excellence of competition there is an appropriate creative alignment for the brand because it translates to the better sports experience featuring the better pizza, which is a popular food item consumed during football games.

While that is a lightly defined example, I give it to show that your litmus test can be used for any marketing or communications decision the brand makes. Is the copy good? Does it align with and help express the creative strategy well? If yes, then yes. Is the art good? Does it align with and help express the creative strategy well? If yes, then yes. Should the brand donate to a certain non-profit? Does that align with and help express the creative strategy? If yes, then yes.

And a note about Strategy here … a good strategy defines the channels for the creative. But a good creative can look at the target, the research, the insights and say, “There are other channels that make sense.” Certainly creatives who aren’t given channels can make those choices, but the strategy should define the channels, not the other way around.

In other words, refrain from jumping straight to, “This could play on Twitter like this!” or “Here’s how that can come to life in a Facebook contest.” Let the strategic insights about the consumer tell you what channels make the most sense, and create for the channel. Don’t let the channel create the strategy for you.

The Imperative of Creative Strategy

As you enter 2016, review the questions above. Can you succinctly express your creative strategy? Are you using that as a litmus test for your executions?

Certainly marketing can happen without creative strategy. But good marketing seldom does.

What are your thoughts on creative strategy? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Peter Panda

Pioneering social media panda bear Tagawa “Peter” Panda was born on a Chinese game reserve in 1969. He emigrated to the United States in 1987 speaking no English, with only the fur on his back and $97 stored in a Jansport fanny-pack wrapped around his waist.

In 2003 while searching for food on the campus of Washington University, he discovered a computer lab where he would ultimately teach himself web development, graphic design, and immerse himself into the growing digital media evolution that was erupting at the time.

With his trademark surly demeanor developed during beatings on his boat ride from China to the U.S., as well as having a penchant for eating vast quantities of bamboo, and enjoying Scotch and cigars, Peter is broadly recognized for coining the phrase “social media” in 2004. He joined Elasticity in late 2009 as the agency’s director of social media strategy and wildlife relations. Friend him on Facebook here.

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