Creatives want you to believe that developing engaging ideas that build brands are born from some non-linear, mystical processes only accessed by a chosen few.
Your agency and in-house creatives—you know, those temperamental, ripped-jeans-and-black-t-shirt-wearing nonconformists (OK, go ahead and throw some statement eyewear and tattoos in, too)—carry themselves with a swagger from knowing that it was they who spun a brief into an idea, creating something from “nothing” to impress you and keep the wheels of Capitalism moving for yet another day. These creatives are convinced that they alone are capable of merging art with commerce and building brands from blank pages, as if access to some otherworldly, subconscious creative force is available only to them.
How can I so easily point a finger at this creative class? Well, I’ve been one of them for three decades. Black ratty tees, chunky glasses, tats—guilty as charged.
As a creative director for much of my career, I have coached and collaborated with massively talented people. People blessed with a heightened sensitivity to style, a nuance of language, and a strong connection to emotional energy—born to be creators and storytellers. But I’m here to tell you that the ideas that drive our industry forward and create significant value for brands can not only be decoded but honed through a process that requires both left and right brained thinkers. There are protocols (such a scary word to us creatives!) that can keep us all laser focused on developing remarkable creative solutions to business challenges. There are benchmarks for the ideas that move people to action. And there are earmarks for ideas grounded in undeniable truths, untainted by self-indulgence, that stand apart and are impossible to ignore.
The ideas that drive our industry forward and create significant value for brands can not only be decoded but honed through a process that requires both left and right brained thinkers.
At Truth Collective, my seasoned team and I set out on a course to identify the genome of Creativity—something to take the mystery out of the creative process—so we can bring joyful, expansive thinking to our clients more often. The goal was to create a shared criteria to guide our idea generation and review our output both internally and externally. The exploration paid off, and today we have a proven method for our strategic and creative development—we call it Honest Creativity.
Honest Creativity increases leverage on the creative process, generating impact and enhancing the lives of the people our work touches. We want to leave the world a better place than we found it through our creative endeavors (yes, even in this often-unpredictable business ruled by the pressures of timelines, budgets, and countless other market variables).
Honest Creativity increases leverage on the creative process, generating impact and enhancing the lives of the people our work touches.
So, what are the magical elements of Honest Creativity? Let me lay them out for you:
Honestly Creative ideas are Meaningful.
First off, you have to believe in the brands you commit your time to. In addition to being a superfan of those brands (and not just the revenue they provide), you need to identify the core principles that make that brand special and ensure your work telegraphs that. Don’t ever stop at “What” they are offering or “Who” they are. To create real impact, your audience needs to understand “Why” they’re doing what they’re doing (yup, I’m Sinek’s ride or die). Clearly incorporate the brand purpose and how it creates positive change in the audience’s world.
Honestly Creative ideas are Human.
To drive behavior change, ideas need to be felt in people’s hearts, minds, funny bones—and sometimes even the amygdala—to get the nervous system fired up and some goosebumps activated. Emotion connects people and inspires action. Connect your ideas to people IRL as much as possible. Building your brand stories in non-digital channels—from experiential activations to running in offline media—creates deeper bonds with audiences. Being people-centric in both physical and digital realms creates more engaging brand ideas and more shots at brand loyalty.
Honestly Creative ideas are Inclusive.
Only when brands truly understand and reflect their audiences can they create authentic connection and positive impact. The whole audience should feel seen, heard, and included in the conversation. But let’s be clear—diversity, equity, and inclusion in brand positioning and brand storytelling should not be treated as a checklist or some half-assed attempt to keep your brand out of harm’s way. Recognize and celebrate perspectives beyond your own experience and allow them to be a part of the story arc. Your brand will benefit from narratives that represent the full spectrum of the human experience.
Honestly Creative ideas are Versatile.
Ideas need to flex and evolve to meet audiences where they are. Avoid believing that the execution of your idea must be matching luggage in each channel and phase of the consumer life cycle. In today’s multichannel marketing environment, powerful ideas avoid wear out and build long-term engagement through coordinated, yet appropriately different, expressions of the core idea throughout the consumer journey.
Honestly Creative ideas are Distinct.
Attention is earned. Powerful ideas rise above “The Sea of Sameness” and stand out in saturated, noisy environments. Brands that create an ownable voice get noticed. Brands that get noticed, get engagement and build value.
Honestly Creative ideas are Simple.
Clarity drives action. Clear ideas are uncomplicated. Messages that are easy to consume are easy to act on. Brands who define and commit to a “Single Most Important Thing” in their strategy engage their audiences faster and make significantly more business impact. Remember, there’s always a web page or a brochure that can handle every amazing proof point of your product or service. Keep your awareness and consideration ideas focused.
Honestly Creative ideas are Crafted.
Stopping power is won or lost in the details, but the allure of craft can be a precarious balancing act. Powerful, well-crafted executions must be nurtured. It’s crucial to execute your idea so it’s unique, yet native and authentic to each brand touchpoint. However, excessive executional efforts can have diminishing returns. Don’t overthink or overinvest in craft. The anxious pursuit of perfection may just squander a cultural or competitive opportunity, your resources (both time and money), and risk creative burnout.
I’m confident that you’ve bumped into these themes in your career already. And, in many respects, they feel straightforward as you picked through them individually, right? But it’s the mindfulness to consider each and train them to work together in a delicious, well-balanced creative cocktail that is The Magic of Honest Creativity. Harnessing these seven elements of storytelling will enable your teams and agency partners to develop powerful work that generates significant brand, business, and behavioral outcomes more consistently.
Harnessing these seven elements of storytelling will enable your teams and agency partners to develop powerful work that generates significant brand, business, and behavioral outcomes more consistently.
Just like Toto wandering away from Dorothy’s heel to pull back the curtain on The Great and Powerful Oz, the levers and mechanisms to create great ideas are revealed and accessible to us all. They can be learned, leveraged, and utilized whether you have a slew of creative titles on your resumé or not. Sure, tuning these seven elements in harmonious ways to influence and optimize brand building ideas requires expertise. And the unique inspiration and ambition added by each and every pilot of the creative process is incalculable. That’s why creative companies that build teams who are mindful of clients’ needs first and foremost—and designed to produce Honest Creativity—will have a place in our world for a long time to come.
There’s still no button or key command for ‘Generate Killer Ideas” no matter how much you overspec those shiny new MacBook Pros. And I’m watching you, Artificial Intelligence—though I’m not giving up on humans creating ideas for humans anytime soon. For the foreseeable future, it’s all systems go on Honest Creativity.
Keep the seven elements of Honest Creativity—meaningful, human, inclusive, versatile, distinct, simple, and crafted—top-of-mind as you develop and assess work made for your brand. Ask questions around each criteria to ensure that any perceived gaps can be filled. Trust me, conversations centered on these attributes of creativity early in your idea development will be wildly more impactful to your creative ideas than getting stuck in a loop of endless executional revisions later down the line (you know the ones, often involving color choices, font legibility, logo sizes, or trendy Photoshop tricks). Often, if you’re trying to save “ideas” in that manner, they likely never had a chance to engage your audience or satisfy your business needs to begin with.
When you focus on Honest Creativity, your confidence in the ideas and the investments you’re making to build your brand flourishes. And I’ll dare to say that you and your teams will have a helluva lot more fun doing the best work of your careers knowing you are truly driving business value. There, I said it, and I believe it. But even if that’s not enough, tell those creatives you may be relying on now that there will likely be some podium visits to accept shiny objects in their future, garnering adulation (plus a wee bit of envy) from their peers, since effective work is award-winning work. So, take Honest Creativity for a spin. It may just change your relationship with the creative process, or even get you one of those fancy creative titles for yourself.