Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” There’s a marketing truism nuzzled into that statement— that while good businesses simply meet a need, great businesses exceed expectations. Like Ford, innovative brands deliver their horsepower in new and surprising ways, and they use creative marketing strategies to do it.
But how creative is TOO creative? How can brands push the envelope without crossing a line? How can they gain attention without losing customers and sacrificing their brand image in the process? Creative control may sound like an oxymoron, but it is possible (and it pays off) if you follow these tips:
How to Support Creative Marketing Strategies AND Brand Compliance
Dive Deep to Define Your Brand
How deep do your brand guidelines go? “Many brands that struggle with creativity often find that their brand guidelines are fairly superficial,” says Mike Jones, Managing Partner for Resound.
“They define how to use the logo, what colors are okay, what fonts to use, and maybe some verbal guidelines for writing. While these are important to help keep people on track as they market a brand, they create a false box within which people feel stuck.”
Creative brand compliance starts by defining the brand itself on a deeper level. This means asking more involved questions like: “What do we value? What’s our personality and culture, and what’s a metaphor that will help inspire us to create with authenticity?”
“This kind of brand definition creates much more opportunity for creative marketing strategies that may not fit inside the typical ‘brand handbook’ box,” says Jones.
“Sure, you can still have some logo usage guidelines and key colors and fonts. However, with the additional inspiration of values, personality, and a metaphor, creators are given a more vibrant and open platform as a starting point. If a great idea that is well-inspired by your brand definition now requires a color beyond your primary brand colors, there’s room for that. You just need to root it in your values, personality, and metaphor.”
Don’t Put Unnecessary Restrictions on Your Brand
Defining your brand on a deep level can give you a deeper understanding of your true brand image. Yet while you can’t have brand compliance without strong brand guidelines, having too many restrictions can limit creative marketing ideas.
“Building a consistent brand experience for your customers and prospects is important,” says William Gadea, Creative Director and Founder, IdeaRocket LLC, “but sometimes we forget that the point of branding is differentiation.”
“If your policies are flattening your brand expression so that you are just like your competitors, you are defeating the purpose of branding. Luckily, you can have both a sharp brand identity and compelling, creative brand expression, but that comes from truly internalizing the brand personality and visual identity. Rules are necessary, but there shouldn’t be more rules than are necessary.”
Gadea offers one example of when restrictive guidelines stunted creative marketing strategies: “We are an animation studio. We had one client with brand guidelines designed for print, which included a restriction on the depiction of people that made character animation impossible. Now, I believe we could have created a character style that fit their brand completely, but the flexibility wasn’t there. It’s hard to tell stories without characters, so the campaign wasn’t nearly as effective as it could have been with more flexibility.”
Ask yourself: are our brand guidelines defining our brand, or limiting it?
Provide Easy Access to Assets
What if you’ve perfected your brand guidelines, but your marketing and creative teams continually color outside of the lines? “The number one reason given by employees who break with brand guidelines is that they either didn’t have the tools or didn’t get access fast enough to meet a deadline,” says Francesca DeRogatis, Director of Marketing & Accounts for Idea Collective.
A great way to share assets securely is through a Digital Asset Management system. Different permission levels for different groups of employees give users access to the assets they need and none of the ones they don’t. In addition to sharing digital files of logos, marketing materials, and other graphics, a DAM is the perfect place to store and share updated brand guidelines.
“Creating a “Do’s and Don’ts” section within your brand guidelines document is a good opportunity to clearly delineate what is on-brand and what is not,” says DeRogatis. When updating lists like these, make sure to inform all affected parties. Design teams and marketers won’t waste time scouring documents for updates every day, and they shouldn’t have to. Let them know when there’s been a change so they can adjust their creative marketing strategies accordingly.
Team With Another Brand
The founder of Plann, Christy Laurence, has a unique approach to generating creative marketing strategies.
“At Plann”, says Laurence, “We’ve found the most creative way to market that doesn’t hurt our image or mess with compliance, is by teaming up with another business that shares the exact same target market and brand values for co-creation.”
“This might look like a collaboration, a giveaway, a new product, a creative challenge or agreeing to cross promote each other’s brand, where both companies get equal share in the creative execution. The creativity of the two brands together can bring exceptional results for both companies and take on a direction one brand on its own would never think of—a key driver for awareness inside the perfect target market.”
Connect to Customers with Creative Marketing Strategies
If you’re searching for creative marketing ideas, why not start by asking your customers what THEY want?
“One way that I’ve gotten creative is by actively engaging users directly on different social media sites,” says Neel Somani, Founder of Apptic. “For example, I went on Reddit and directly asked users what they wanted, which led me to the development of a Reddit “front page generator.” Within a day, I had reached the top of /r/InternetIsBeautiful—and then my site was posted again a year later, when I shot to the top again.”
Reddit users are incredibly adept at peering being the corporate curtain. Marketers who try to promote their brand under the guise of a personal post risk being publicly shamed on r/HailCorporate/. Somani’s post was successful because it was transparent, engaged users, and offered a solution to their needs. Keep these goals in mind when sourcing your creative marketing strategies on Reddit.
Make the Most of Marketing Templates
Brands that work with franchisees or remote marketing and design teams face unique challenges. They want to allow these teams some degree of creative license, but the more freedom they have the larger the risk of breaking brand guidelines.
Marketing Templates provide the perfect solution. These templates can define which elements (such as logo, font and text color) stay fixed and which allow editing. Franchisees can edit sale signs to promote their most popular item. Retail locations can create social media posts that support their local sports team. With marketing templates, these stakeholders can let their creative juices flow without damaging their brand image in the process.
Crossing the Creative Line
There are plenty of ways to execute creative marketing strategies, but how can you know if you’ve gotten TOO creative? How can you protect yourself from a damaged brand image? Here are a few ways to predict and prevent the wrong kind of creativity:
Treat Creative Marketing Strategies as a Vehicle
“Creativity needs to have a clear goal and purpose to be effective,” says Shmuli Rosenberg, CRO at CardCash. “The goal needs to be set, and the creativity used as a vehicle to get those results. Being too creative and losing focus on the effectiveness of the campaign is a waste of good creativity.”
Before executing an “out of the box” campaign, ask yourself one simple question: why? What is the goal of your creative marketing campaign, and is this the best and only way to accomplish that goal? Don’t deliver a campaign simply because it’s a novel idea. Make sure it’s the right idea for your brand goals.
Know Your Audience
“I’ve come to learn over the years that people have varying levels of tolerance for boldness in creativity,” says Bret Bonnet, Co-Owner and President of Quality Logo Products.
“For example, my company sells a TON of stress balls—those lovable squishy polyurethane toys that come in thousands of different shapes and sizes. Several years back, we ran a promo with the headline ‘Grab Your Promo by the Stress Balls.’ Internally, we thought the idea was humorous and just politically correct enough to not be problematic. Boy, were we WRONG. The backlash was fast and fierce. We ended up losing several valuable existing clients as a result of the promotion/marketing.”
Bonnet’s example highlights the importance of creating detailed marketing personas for your brand. Before you execute a campaign like Bret’s, ask yourself how each of your personas would react. When in doubt, play it safe.
Stay in Your Lane
“There’s a fine line between content that’s creative and ideas that cause confusion due to their extreme creativity,” says Jameson Slattery, Vice President of Global Marketing for Colorescience.
“Ultimately this will all depend on your product and industry. Take Skittles for example— their television ads are bizarre and have nothing to do with candy, but because their tone and branding stays consistent, for them and their brand, it works.”
“The last thing you want is to run an ad and have the customer say to themselves, ‘what was that even promoting?’ It’s a hard task to accomplish, but displaying a clear message, along with staying in your brands’ lane, will keep you from becoming too creative.”
Before rolling out a creative campaign, take some time to gather feedback. You don’t necessarily need to run a focus group. Ask members of other departments for their input. Your sales team may be able to spot issues that your marketing team or marketing agencies don’t.
Pull Back on Social Media
If there’s one arena where brand managers often take their creative marketing strategies too far, it’s on social media. Once something is on the Internet, it’s on the Internet forever. Before you damage your brand image permanently, take some advice from Maggie Aland, Marketing Staff Writer at Fit Small Business:
“Before you post anything on social media, think about if you would be embarrassed if your parents saw the post. If the answer is yes, then don’t risk it. Posting an offensive marketing message is a PR nightmare and your brand may be forever be associated with a negative message. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t be creative! Memes are one of the best ways to make people laugh along with your marketing campaign. For example, pick a cute picture of a cat that’s gone viral and pair it with a clever tagline. Just remember to keep it PG!”
Brand Compliance: The Bottom Line
It can take years or even decades to establish brand awareness. If you think your creative marketing strategies might threaten your brand image, take a step back and reevaluate. Is the potential reward worth the risk? Would a simple tweak to your campaign help ensure better brand consistency? The world of marketing may run on deadlines, but time invested in strong creative strategies is always time well spent.
Once you’ve executed a successful creative campaign, don’t stop there! Take time to analyze what worked, then share your process and success story through your company’s Brand Marketing Center. This secure portal is the perfect place to share creative marketing ideas, and to inspire even more creative ideas in the future!