To be a great creative, two things are gonna serve you well. One is optimism, and the other is realism.
The optimism isn’t hard to understand. You want to believe something will work. And when you believe it’ll work, more of your heart and soul will go into it. You’ll love your work and it’ll be a lot better than if you hadn’t believed in it.
But optimism has a dark side. It’s called “ignorance.” It happens when weak people would rather not realize when an idea logically can’t work. Instead of facing hard facts early, so they can react to them, they linger in folly.
Realism has its own demons. Many people who call themselves “realists” aren’t realists at all. Rather, they’re using it to protect themselves from false expectations so they don’t get hurt. It’s unhealthy and maybe even more destructive than optimists (who are, at least, nice people to be around).
What we really need are optimistic realists: people who see things clearly, including the logical consequences of an action (or inaction), and have enough goal-focus to move things forward.
Optimism gives realism a purpose. Realism forces optimism to better understand how its purpose is to be accomplished. And when they both mature together, and in balance, you don’t see petty negativity or vacant happiness. Instead, you set the foundation for world-class creative work.
Photo courtesy of Mihai Andoni (www.idasoft.ro)
A key question I ask brands is “Why does your business matter to people?” This is a values question that unlocks the mystery of why our client started in the first place.
Many business owners struggle with this question. They think they have to be all things to all people. They think they need the biggest audience for their message. And then they end up creating a message that’s a mile wide and an inch deep because it neglects the “why.” This often results is cost-focused customers who are a poor fit for your company, leaving you with the fading memory of the excitement you had when you first started. But here’s the cool thing: getting back to “why” can help you fall back in love with your business and benefit from the financial success that comes with it.
Its starts with a simple task: find out why you matter. It clarifies why people choose you over the business down the street that does exactly what you do (or so it seems) by asking “what’s that thing that makes your customers care if you disappear tomorrow?”
Here’s my suggestion: don’t answer this question yourself. Instead, find a way to get that information from your customers. And make it a little more personal than a questionnaire. Customers have to be able to talk about why those things are important to them, and they need to be able to do it in their own words.
The point is finding out how to advertise based on what matters to people.
But it’s not just for advertising’s sake. When you’re focusing on making people’s lives better, it immediately gives more importance to the work you do. And what’s cooler than watching your employees make your customers’ lives better and feel good about the work they’re doing?
Because nobody ever goes into business just for the money, no matter what they tell you. There’s always a “why” that goes with it, and makes every business distinct and special. Find the why and you can confidently tell the world how your business makes life a little better.
Some people talk about branding as if it’s a thing you do to look a certain way, like putting on a mask. But branding, if done correctly, is more analogous to taking vitamins.
A mask changes the way you look. Vitamins help you be who you are, only healthier.
A mask hides the true nature of things. But vitamins don’t cover your blemishes. Instead, you’re left to deal with them and their root causes.
Masking seems easy at first. But when people see a mask, they’re not seeing the real you. Their expectations are based on the mask, instead of reality. And when your real self can’t deliver on the mask’s promises, customers leave. After all, there was really no connection keeping them with you in the first place.
Let me summarize: An apple tree makes apples, because it’s an apple tree. If it tried to pretend to be a pear tree, it just wouldn’t be worth the effort, because, no matter how much pear-colored paint it used, its fruit would still be apples.
Branding isn’t about looking a certain way. Instead, it’s about being a certain way. Only then do you cultivate a look and feel that truly represents the substance you’re offering to customers…substance that can contribute to making their lives better.
Operations is about efficiency. Advertising is about creativity along a vector of value.
Here’s what I mean. In operations, “best practices” are okay. There’s no value in doing things in a more interesting way, unless is delivers more efficiency. The function of manufacturing a widget does not improve simply because it’s a different way of doing things.
In advertising, on the other hand, doing things differently matters. It’s what sets you apart. Communication allows you to involve customers in your story. Of course, you still have to offer value, which is the gift inside the package.
In tech innovation, it’s called being different “along a vector of value.”
So if you think your advertising talent (service provider) is using gimmicks, depending solely on ROI measures and is trying to make ads that look and sound like ads (which is the very definition of “uncreative”), then maybe they’d be better off in operations than in creative.
Because these people are often much better at implementing things that work (intelligently copying things that others are doing successfully) and measuring their effectiveness than they are at getting to know the audience and capturing their imagination with a story about a relevant truth.
Brand thinking helps the advertising industry look for long-term benefits for its clients (the advertisers). Agencies and creatives who think this way tend to push clients to provide substance to back up their claims.
In other words, those agencies provide pressure for their clients to be companies of integrity (companies that are consistent and trustworthy in an “integrated” way).
This has a cleansing influence on business, because it demands an increasing level of genuineness and then shares it with society, creating long-term, earned trust and leadership. And this is good for consumers, and it’s good for the economy.
My brother-in-law is in the Army Special Forces in Afghanistan. We were visiting over Christmas, and he was talking about CIA operatives, and how they can talk to anyone and gather information. As far as I could gather, it’s a one-person job. Then I remembered a friend of mine telling me that leading a board of directors means you have to get agreement from the individuals before you take it to the group as a whole.
Put these together and you get an effective strategy for unifying people.
So maybe a part of leadership is to connect with people individually and finding out what they’re capable of by gathering information. But I think the key is your ability to build trust. Because without trust, people aren’t gonna trust you; they’re more likely to wonder what you’re up to.
Cultivating your brand is like growing a golden goose. By keeping it healthy and working, you get consistent golden eggs. But if you start neglecting the goose and start trying to force it to make more eggs, its health can decline.
It seems like we do this a lot with our brand. We stand for something, but then we end up selling out our brand with unwise transactions that result in temporary gain. We run down our goose by trying to take more from it than it can give.
We need to make sure we understand what it means to brand, and how that provides value to people. It’s different for every company. But if we don’t have good theory about why our brand works, we’re unlikely to be able to make good decisions about how to cultivate it.