Once more with feeling: Why creative agencies ask questions the way they ask

By November 24, 2020 General No Comments
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Whether it’s your first project working with a creative shop or the seventeenth, some of the questions you might be asked by a designer or creative director may seem a little strange.

Most non-creative executives or marketers tend to look at the creative department as one of two things: 1) those slightly squirrely people who scurry off into dark corners and bring back something magical (or, at least it better be) as an appliance for producing exactly what they have in their head but are unable to explain, or 2) arrogant prima-donnas obsessed with whether the brand blue is more purple or more green and what that says about their company.

In simple terms, a marketing/branding/advertising creative person’s job is to create a desired action in a target audience. That action could be to buy from, recommend, or remember your company. But every human action is motivated by an emotion, so the most basic definition of a creative’s role is that everything they do is intended to create a meaningful emotion in a complete stranger on behalf of someone who is not themselves.

You can think about it like asking someone you just met to get you a date with that stranger across the room. Or, maybe more accurately, since marketing is a lot like speed dating, it’s like asking a person you meet on the sidewalk to stand in for you at a speed dating event and get as many people as they can to take you out for dinner. That person would probably ask you a few questions about yourself, what you have to offer, and about what you are looking for in a person you’d like to date.

Agencies ask very similar questions at the beginning of a client relationship or at the beginning of a new campaign initiative. It is not the time to get self-conscious or stand offish.

Who are you?

There is a reason that creatives will beg their account people to get your brand guidelines if you have them. Brand guidelines are written or heavily influenced by creative people and contain a lot of information about your tone of voice, your background, and what you are supposed to look and feel like.

A consistent brand experience is absolutely key to creating good results. If you don’t have guidelines, do your best to give your agency feeling words, instead of just data points. (But give them data points if you have them—they love drawing their own conclusions and will have a fresh perspective.)

What kind of person do you want to date?

Tell your agency as much as you possibly can about your audience. And don’t freak out when their proposal includes an audience research phase. They have to know who they are talking to in order to craft the kind of messaging that will get someone to buy you dinner. Especially if you’re a stranger.

How do you want this person to feel about you?

The creative brief is likely to contain a question like “What do you want the audience to feel when they encounter your brand?” By now you should be starting to understand why. As human beings we all share some basic responses to color, shape, and style that are pre-programmed into us by the culture we live in. These responses can be used or challenged to create an initial reaction in your audience. This initial reaction is the beginning of their journey towards the action you want from them.

What kind of dinner are you asking them to buy for you?

Ask any client anywhere what they want the call to action to be on any campaign and, no matter what words actually come out of their mouth, what they are actually saying is “BUY NOW”. Duh. And not particularly helpful.

For your date, the more expensive the meal you want a stranger to buy for you, the more they need to believe it’ll be worth it. They need to know that you are someone they want to spend time with, that the experience will be a good one, that you’ll listen to them, be interesting and interested. And perhaps that you might be willing to buy them a coffee first and talk for a bit so they can find out if a dinner would be enjoyable and not an evening spent with someone who only talks about themselves.

Do you have any food allergies?

Ok, this question would usually be phrased more like “What fears or misconceptions about the industry or your product do we need to help the audience get past?” Even if you make the best possible version of the thing you make, sell it at the best possible price, and everyone wants one, there are likely some people who don’t want to buy it from you. If you make a niche product for an audience that may need it, but doesn’t want to buy it, you must get to the root of their discomfort or hesitation, and do something about it. And we need to tell them what that is.

You want leads, sales, and new customers, and agencies want nothing more than to help you get them. If they get to make something great in the process, everybody wins—your agency, your customers, and ultimately you. Because the emotions, responses, and actions that great creative can make happen are never about them, they’re about you. So don’t be afraid to tell them how you feel.

Author Beth Seitzberg

Beth is the creative director at d.trio.

More posts by Beth Seitzberg

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