6 questions to define creative strategy

illustration-01Common-sense tips from a graphic designer that apply to us copywriters, marketing strategists and business folks too…

Six Questions to Define Creative Strategy

Tips to speed and improve creative design results.

By Susan Sharman, Sharman Studios

As a graphic designer, I spend a lot of time trying to explain the creative process. How do I envision layouts? Choose colors? Finalize content? Is it magic? Do I pull design rabbits out of hats? The answer is somewhere between yes and no. Sure, design—and particularly great design—does have an element of intuitive “magic.” On the other hand, no one can do that magic without a  comprehensive design roadmap and a detailed creative strategy. So, yes, there’s magic…but it’s magic that’s built on a stable, solid foundation of data collection.

Whether you are doing your own low-cost marketing project or you are working with a designer, before undertaking any new design or marketing project, there are six key questions about your business that you need to answer in order to ensure a successful and on-target outcome.The creative brilliance will come, but first you want to put on your logical thinking cap and answer these questions to help define, and refine, your project’s goals.

1. Who are you talking to?

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s the most commonly overlooked design question. And it’s a huge question! After all, your audience is going to inform both the content and the look and feel of your piece. Are you trying to sell to executives, or to stay-at-home dads? To tweeners or boomers? To people who live and shop in Rockridge or in Richmond? Sure, it would be nice to design a piece that speaks to everyone. Nice, but virtually impossible—and frankly not that cost-effective. After all, different people have different needs, and you want your prospects to know they need you as soon as they see your piece.

2. What do you want them to do?

This is a communications objective, and not necessarily a marketing objective. For example, do you want this piece to get prospects to pick up the phone and call you, or come into your store primed to buy? Cut out your coupon, or visit your website? All of these objectives call for different designs. The choices that you make will impact your hierarchy of information, the images you use, the tracking systems you devise, and the content that you emphasize.

3. What is the “big idea”?

Can you articulate the primary benefit of taking that next step? Why should your prospect pick up the phone and call you, or come into your store? Is there one main reason why—a sale, great coffee, snob appeal—they should take that step? Ideally, you can think of several reasons why your prospects should choose you, but for the purposes of a marketing piece you want to pick just one. If you clutter the piece with too many messages, you run the risk of losing your prospects’ attention.

4. What about the “other guys”?

Who are your competitors? What are they up to these days? How do they define themselves? Are you defining yourself in opposition to them, or in relationship to them? What’s really working for your competitors? Anything that might work for you? Or do you want to stay off of their coat-tails and do something completely different? This information will help you position your piece—and your business—for maximum market share.

5. What features and benefits support your primary message?

There are good and compelling reasons for your clients to buy from you. What are they? How can this support your primary message? Now, you definitely won’t want to use every supporting reason that you can think of to back your primary message, but consider carefully which ones provide solid reasons your customer should buy your product or service.

6. What are your design criteria?

What must be included in the piece? Your logo? Your contact information? A call to action? What is your existing color palette and typeface? What will help your piece stay consistent with your branding, as well as serving the particular purpose it needs to serve? Giving your creative mind totally free reign can be a lot of fun! But it also usually results in pieces that don’t have a lot of market viability, because they don’t extend the brand or serve the appropriate function. So, make sure you plan for the function of the piece early and often.

If you have given due consideration to all of these questions, you’re ready to start making design magic! Even better, you can rest assured that your creative efforts won’t go to waste.  You’ll end up with a well designed piece that fulfils your marketing objectives.

©2009. Susan Sharman. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Susan Sharman is a designer who can ensure that your business identity and marketing materials clearly express who you are and what your business is about. With over 23 years of experience, she collaborates with small to medium size businesses, taking their projects from concept to completion. For more information visit Sharman Studios or call (925) 228-0686.