Archive | Creative Direction RSS feed for this section

The 7 Deadly Sins of Branding

5 Dec


hillmanGuest Contributor: Matt Hillman, Creative Director

You have a great product, great service, great people, great materials—and your brand still sucks. Competitors in the building products marketplace keep racking up sales while you struggle to get by. It feels like you’re trying to scramble up a muddy hill, expending time and resources with little-to-nothing to show for it. How does this happen?

Over the years, despite the emergence of game-changers like mobile devices, social media, and other innovations, most of the issues around branding still seem to fall into seven distinct areas—consider them the 7 Deadly Sins of Branding, and any one of them can sink your brand.

Wrong Message

Too many marketers rely on what they already know to build their messages. This echo-chamber effect reinforces what’s familiar and “safe” and can actually keep you from gaining the ah-ha moments you need. Think of it as trying to steer your car down the highway while looking only in the rear view mirror, more about where you’ve been than where you’re headed. Instead, you need to be continually surveying your customers—and your prospects!—for the fresh insights needed to build a message that’s relevant today, not just yesterday.

Wrong Audience

This might seem like a near-impossibility, but it can happen. Marketing your brand to the wrong audience is most often the result of marketing and sales teams not communicating effectively, with marketing working toward where sales should happen and sales focused on where they can happen. Having a clear, agreed-upon marketing plan is essential to having your brand pointed in the right direction. Yes, these are fundamentals that should be self-evident, but all it takes is for your brand to be strong with architects but being marketed to builders instead, and your brand isn’t going anywhere.

Wrong Tactics

One of the best cautionary tales comes from experience marketing to building products dealers. When offered the option to select their preferred method of receiving marketing communications, what do you think topped the list? Email? Direct? Text? How about…fax. That’s right, in our world of high-speed connectivity and mobile devices, the lowly fax was the leading way dealers wanted to receive information. Why? Because it fits how most small- to mid-sized dealers operate, with the fax machine right next to the main bulletin board. Again, surveying your audience will provide the insights to get the right tactics in play and to avoid wasting effort on the wrong ones.

Wrong Voice

If you’ve followed social media the past few years, you’ve probably heard of (or witnessed) the notorious sass of Wendy’s social media accounts. While some might think this was a bold or daring move, it’s actually highly calculated, the result of Wendy’s assessment of what brand voice would resonate best with their target. Where other fast food companies played the usual safe game, Wendy’s connected with their audience with a salty dialogue that not only aligned with the brand but helped share it more broadly online. Again, research was the key to cracking the code and connecting with customers.


One way to think of branding is simply a single message delivered consistently and aligned with customer experience. And yet, time and again we see brands shift their message as if chasing sales trends, or worse, repeatedly reinventing the message to push an idea that doesn’t match the customer experience. If your name is One Day Printing and service takes two days, that’s a brand problem. Similarly, if you say your customer service is superior and then leave customers on hold for minutes at a time, that’s a brand problem. Determining what your brand is—and isn’t!—and sticking to that is critical to developing a strong brand over time, and over time is exactly how brands happen.

All About The Product

The brands that see the greatest strength in the marketplace are the ones that offer more than just a product or service—they build relationships with those who select and purchase them. Through content offerings, customer experience design, website functionality, social media strategies, sponsorships, and other interaction-based methods, the strongest brands take on a personality well beyond something being sold to buyers. These brands can have conversations with the public, growing and evolving through the choices made in messaging and positioning—all without changing what’s being produced or delivered.

No Differentiator

In the film Field of Dreams, we hear the iconic line: “Build it and they will come.” Unfortunately, all too many companies have followed this same advice when developing their brand—and have paid a heavy price for it. It is not enough to simply be available for purchase, there has to be a reason your target would take notice, have interest, and be willing to abandon their current relationship to gain one with your brand. And just as it is with products or services, your brand needs a unique selling proposition, too, something to make it different from the others. Is it more innovative, less complicated, focused on quality, easier to do business with? Identifying what sets your brand apart—and staying true to that differentiation—is critical to finding an audience that appreciates it. Trying to be all things to all audiences or simply showing up isn’t enough to get noticed.

Name + Logo = Brand

“We have a brand,” the marketing manager will say, pointing at a logo. “It’s right there.” Actually, no. The worn-down vehicle with your logo on it: that’s your brand. The customer left waiting hours for a delivery with no updates: that’s your brand. The defensive response to a highly critical customer review on Yelp: that’s your brand. The product that arrived dented: that’s your brand. Identity is all about a name and logo; brand, however, is about expectations and experiences. The strongest brands find success in designing and crafting the brand experience for customers, both new and current, and making sure everything aligns with that design. If it doesn’t align, it’s analyzed, adjusted or removed—why spend time and effort on something that only undermines your long-term efforts?

If you recognize any of these 7 Deadly Sins associated with your brand, have hope: Every one of them is escapable and repairable with honesty and effort. The common element to all of these brand issues is to take nothing for granted: conduct research and be willing to accept that your buyer isn’t who you think and may not think of your brand the way you do. But with focus and time, virtually any brand can find its own salvation.

Share via email

Speaking Creative: 6 Tips for Efficient Revisions

2 Nov



Guest Contributor: Matt Hillman, Creative Director

If you’ve been a building products marketer for long, chances are you’ve worked with “creatives,” those writers and designers—and even developers and programmers—who make the marketing materials that help sell your products. And if you’ve worked with them, that means you’ve likely had to review work and provide feedback.

It’s a safe bet that at some point you’ve needed to look over a document or a layout and given feedback and experienced one or more of the following:

  • resistance
  • arguments
  • eye rolls
  • temper flares
  • passive-aggressive remarks
  • confused looks
  • crying
  • something different than what you asked for
  • the complete opposite of what you asked for

For many of you, this is confusing. The creative process is supposed to be collaborative and part of that collaboration is making the materials as accurate and impactful as possible. So why are the people who need the feedback and revisions so resistant to making them?

Presuming you have the right people in the right roles, and everyone is a mature professional—and if that’s not the case, you have bigger fish to fry—it basically comes down to providing the right inputs. Armed with clear, concise information, it’s amazing how quickly your creative team can solve problems and get your materials where they need to be.

Here are six ways to improve your feedback for more efficient revisions:

  1. Consume it before you critique it.

If the review process finds you immediately grabbing a pen and marking “what’s wrong,” you’re missing an opportunity to understand the work like the audience will. You’re also creating a mindset where you’re presuming something is already broken. Reading or looking it over twice is key—once as the audience, once as the reviewer. This gives you the context you need to better understand the intent of the work rather than jumping immediately into the mechanics of it.

  1. Consolidate inputs.

A common process for most creative work is an initial draft followed by 2–3 rounds of revisions. Unfortunately, many changes come to creatives in bits & pieces, resulting in significantly more rounds and increased inefficiency. And as revisions can often come from multiple sources, it’s also normal for one person’s revisions to counter those of another. To avoid this, for each round of changes, consolidate and prioritize feedback from the team into a single list.

  1. Avoid one-person focus groups.

Sometimes large-scale projects, like campaigns, warrant getting reactions from the target audience—and for good reason. Actual feedback from those we’re trying to reach can be invaluable. Unfortunately, what happens more often is “I shared the logo options with my wife and she didn’t like any of them” or “The barista at Starbucks didn’t care for your cattle vaccine tagline.” Outside inputs can provide needed perspective, but unless it’s the actual target, it usually just sows confusion.

  1. Something is better than nothing.

A phrase every creative has heard at some point (sending a shiver down our collective spine) is “I’ll know it when I see it.” This is essentially creative skeet shooting, simply tossing one idea after another and waiting to see what doesn’t get blown away. Not only is it demoralizing, it’s a serious waste of resources, costing you time and money as your team essentially tries to read your mind. At minimum, tell your creatives two things: “Make it less ____ and more ____.” With those two simple blanks filled in, they’ll arrive at what you want faster—even if you’re not sure what it is yet.

  1. Set the goal, not the solution.

All too often, well-intentioned marketers will “help out” by providing painstaking how-to instructions or actually doing the work themselves (e.g., “I’m not a writer, but I wrote two pages that you can use”). Few things will disengage your creatives faster, because your underlying message is “You’re another pair of hands to me, not a mind.” If you want their best work, point out the problem you’re trying to solve and let their unique skillsets provide the appropriate way to get there.

  1. SCORE it.

News flash: “I don’t like it” isn’t valuable feedback. Step into the paint department of any big-box building retailer and there are hundreds of paint chip colors offered. That’s because taste is completely subjective—even among professional marketers and skilled creatives. One person’s “love it” is another person’s “disgusting.” Instead of providing feedback in terms of what you like or don’t, use the SCORE method to more objectively review creative work:

Strategy – How well does it deliver to the objective/intent?
Creativity – How unique and distinctive is it (vs. others in marketplace)?
Ownability – How easily will you be able to claim it as your own?
Relatability – How well will the audience connect with it?
Extendibility – How well will it work with variations?

By utilizing the SCORE method, you’ll not only be able to judge the value of the creative work more objectively, but the answers will assist your creatives by providing them with actionable feedback.

Share via email

5 Ways to Ensure You’re Using Your Creatives Effectively

9 Mar




hillmanGuest Contributor: Matt Hillman
Creative Director

There’s a misnomer that “creative types” are all sullen, unrealistic artists—or worse, that they don’t understand or care about the business. As a result, it’s all too easy to dismiss their potential contributions.

A lot of the misperception around marketing creatives is actually founded in reality. Many writers and designers are highly intuitive types, utilizing a form of information processing found in only ¼ of the general population. Where most people see things literally and as a collection of facts—that’s a white, ceramic, 12-ounce coffee cup—creatives instead see symbols and metaphor. It’s not simply a coffee cup, but a vessel, container, start to the day, source of energy, handle, hammer, hand-warmer, flower pot, second-stage of a Saturn V rocket, and the list goes on.

This kind of lateral thinking can be powerful, making seemingly random associations and asking “what if.” It’s also potentially confusing to those who don’t harness it to the same degree. As a result, creative types are seen as out of touch with the world around them, often appearing as aloof, clumsy, and distracted. But when you’re looking for a way to break through the clutter, to gain a new perspective, that’s where these intuitive and creative types can shine.

Here are 5 ways to make sure you’re getting the most out of the creatives on your teams:

1. Have Defined Objectives

The easiest way to waste time is to brainstorm or concept without a clear purpose. Some managers will try to “not stifle creativity” and let the conversation roam. Remember that for creatives, one idea quickly leads to another, and without an objective to focus the effort, there’s no telling how far off-target you’ll end up. So if you need a solution to boost click-thru, say it; if you need it to increase sales by 35%, lay that out there. Those become the sun that the ideas will orbit.

2.Provide All the Inputs

Don’t be afraid to give creative types lots of relevant information—that’s the framework for the ideation process. And provide it early. Think of it as baking a cake: you can’t mix everything, put the cake in the oven, and then just add the salt at the end and expect it to be good. All the elements need to come together at the beginning so they can be accounted for in the final result. What may seem like a small omission early could have a major impact later on. So if you have inputs, share them.

3. Give It Time

Creativity isn’t just the ability to immediately spit out ideas. More often than not, it’s a process, and from the outside, it appears to involve a lot of things that don’t look like problem solving. Creative types observe, daydream, read, consider, walk around, change their perspectives, argue both sides—all part of the process that helps them drive to solutions. Be sure to allow them time to explore the question before providing their answer.

4. Trust There’s a Reason

In nearly a quarter century of work in the creative field, I’ve never myself or had another creative offer a solution solely because it’s trendy or “cool.” Creatives are problem solvers and if they offer an idea, it’s because they believe it fills a need. Why that image? Why that headline? Chances are there’s more to it than meets the eye, so ask if you’re not sure of the rationale—just be ready for a metaphorical answer vs. a literal one.

 5. Prepare for Discomfort

As someone wise put it: If you’re afraid of the answers, don’t ask the questions. Creatives view the world differently, so if you’re sincerely wanting more of the status quo, you’re going to be disappointed by what they bring you. There’s a real chance what they propose will make you uncomfortable—that’s a good thing! What’s comfortable is ordinary. Every great innovation had a moment when someone could have said no but was smart enough to ignore the discomfort and give it a try.

Of course, creativity is messy, so there’s no guarantee that using these tips will help your team nail the target every time, but they will certainly stack the deck in your favor, increasing efficiency as well as results. Besides, understanding the best ways to utilize your marketing creative team is its own innovative step in the right direction.

Share via email

The Agency Meet Market

22 Sep

Get to Know Your Creatives

light bulbs


hillman Guest Contributor: 
Matt Hillman, Creative Director

When you think about your agency relationship, it’s likely your account exec is who comes to mind—and rightfully so. Day in and day out that’s who services your business; it’s who you call when you have a need, an issue or a compliment. They solve your problems. For many companies, the account service person is the agency.

But behind your normal point of contact lies an arsenal of agency talent you may rarely meet. Sure, they’re a name you hear, an addressee on an email, a hand you shake during an agency tour, but their contributions may be hidden behind phrases like “the team” or “work their magic” or “back at the shop,” and as a result, you don’t actually know what they do for you.

So here’s a primer on the core roles of the creative department and what they bring to the table for you and your business:

Message – Knowing what to say, how to say it, and to whom is the function of the copywriter. These are people who use words much like a chef uses ingredients—continually sniffing out the right one, routinely trying new combinations, and never resting until the flavor is just right. Most have trained in English, journalism or communications and language is their hobby. With a sometimes fanatical appreciation for nuance, changing a word is no small matter. Trust them to understand your audience and what motivates them to notice, to care, and to buy.

Design – Regardless of the title—graphic designer or art director—those who compose visuals are all artists at heart. They are deliberate with the interplay of space, form, and color, using the elements to create visual messages. Behind the sometimes eccentric veneer is someone who has studied serious concepts like alignment, proximity, repetition, and white space. While they may style themselves strangely, their designs always value order and are thoughtful and measured. Trust them to understand the latest trends and how the eye moves through a layout.

Direction – Beyond simply making sure that message and design are working in tandem, the creative director is ultimately responsible for the vision that the writer and designer deliver to. Relying on inputs from the client (via account service) and the creative brief, the creative director is like a conductor of an orchestra; they ensure that all the musicians work in harmony. They interpret, shift, and adjust individual elements to delight (and sometimes surprise!) the audience. Trust them to contextualize every project from a higher “campaign” perspective to build the brand.

When working as they should, these three creative roles produce magic. Every brand campaign, print ad, 30-second spot, billboard or promotion you remember…all of them came from this triad of talent working together to deliver for their clients.

Sure, creative types are “different.” But that’s exactly what you want. They don’t see the world like most people, don’t arrive at the same conclusions, and rarely enjoy being on the bandwagon—and it’s a good thing they don’t. Because getting noticed and getting sales requires standing out, and that’s what your creative team lives for.




Share via email