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What does it mean to be strategic? What does it mean to create a strategy? Why does any of this matter?
We often come to the table with many problems or solutions we thought of first, before figuring out the actual problem. Strategic creative is providing a well-answered solution to a problem.
Many clients come to me wanting A or B. They have in mind what they need but many don’t really know why they need it, if they really need it, and if it is the right solution for their brand. It is because they are trying to solve a problem without first talking about the problem and the actual need.
I always like to start at the beginning and ask questions. Questions are the only way we can find answers. If you haven’t asked a question, there is no way you know the answer. Somewhere along the way society has developed a stigma toward asking questions; “I don’t want to appear dumb, or unintelligent”. The truth is by not asking the right questions you can ensure you'll end up looking dumb, or worse, that you don't care.
The best way to find answers is to ask an expert. Often clients are expert in what they do/produce and if they aren’t, then we track down the right expert to answer the question. We must learn from the client about their product/service at a deeper level. We spend time talking about what they are trying to accomplish. We talk about their goals for the future, what they have done in the past, what has piqued their interest in the present.
Strategic solutions are in the best interest of the client. They are not a yes-man, I-will-make-it approach aimed at collecting money. Consider the tailoring industry. Imagine Jane wants a pair of pants. Tailor A says, “Sure Jane, I can make you pants, what are your measurements?”. Tailor B asks Jane, “What are these pants for? What fabric do you prefer? Are you allergic to any fabrics? Do you have a color you prefer? What is your budget?”, before asking the measurements. I guarantee Tailor B's pants are going to make Jane a much more satisfied client and happier with her purchase.
"Strategic solutions are in the best interest of the client."
A strategic approach is what separates the average designer from the creative strategist. An average designer will make you the flyer, but a creative strategist will help you determine if you need a flyer for the particular problem and if so, what is the aim, audience and desired reaction from the flyer's impact. Then, we tailor the creative in order to reach that goal. The difference is caring about the final product, which isn’t the creative piece itself, but the original goal the creative piece was trying to accomplish. General brand awareness aside, most pieces need to have some sort of postmortem. We need to be honest about what worked, what didn’t work, how did we effect the end-goal and what we should do differently in the future.
The true difference between effective creative and creative that-just-looks-nice is the pursuit of the tailored answer. Truly great creative is just a visual representation of a really well answered question.
Most Americans cannot imagine a world that is not automobile friendly, no roads, no highways, and no stoplights. The first traffic light was introduced just 148 years ago, but in comparison to the minuscule sway the average individual has over society, modifying or even replacing a system used world wide seems impossible. However, a look at the process of time and change would indicate that even the most established institutions are subject to radical change.
Last year, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute released a study indicating that in 2014, Americans wasted an estimated 6.9 billion hours in traffic. That staggering number begs the question: are traffic lights the reason instead of the solution to our congested roads? Researchers from assorted institutions have unveiled improvements to the current system such as self regulated lights and virtual traffic lights, but researchers from MIT have taken a different approach: eliminating traffic lights all together.
Right now, the main drain on traffic light efficiency is the yellow light. Although it allows for drivers to prepare for a light change, this set up time decreases overall efficiency, even though traffic flow is increased. MIT’s proposal does away with the need for any kind of stoplight by using a slot based network design to move platoons of cars through an intersection with little to no delays. This would be made possible by two things: a central software system which could control the speed of each car entering the intersection, and cars with the capability to connect to the software. Upon approaching the intersection, each car would communicate its trajectory to the central computer, which would then calculate optimal speed for safe passage. Then, based on this number, each car would set a limit on its own speed. Amazing, right?
According to the MIT research team, the system would also be easy to install as it does not require any significant changes to current infrastructure. The difficulty, however, would lie with public attitude and perception of the new technology. Doubtless, it would ultimately enhance safety and efficiency at intersections. However, full implementation of this system would require drivers to give up a significant amount of control over their own vehicles, and a radical shift in public behavior does not happen over night. MIT’s proposal is a far cry from autonomous cars, but the price is the same: individual control. This is not to say that the sky is falling, but to encourage all of us to at least take the time to look up. Concerning this issue, there is a lack of discussion about what drivers might be losing on a larger scale. When purchasing a new car, most people do the research, weigh the pros and cons, test drive several vehicles, etc. before making a decision. It would be wise of us to take the same approach to new technology, especially when its application has direct implications for the general public.
"As Millennials slowly become the majority group in the work force, it is up to them to ask not if we can, but if we should."
As wireless networks slowly work their way into more areas of everyday life, questions and concerns about privacy and security are being raised. But are they being raised by the right people? The break-neck speed of the advance of internet and computer technology has created distinct rift between members of Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Y (sometimes called the Tech Generation). Each group is perceived to possess a varying degree of aptitude when it comes to new technology; the youngest are the most comfortable by far, the oldest the least comfortable and the least interested, and Millennials somewhere in between. As Millennials slowly become the majority group in the work force, it is up to them to ask not if we can, but if we should. Older voices (although many of them built the internet’s infrastructure) are ignored, and the youngest would not think to ask. It is the people who have grown up alongside the internet, almost like another peer, that must consider what has changed. Take, for example, the use of the word “privacy”. Before user agreements were standard or even necessary, having privacy implied being safe from the prying eyes of other individuals. Having privacy meant having freedom to live without being scrutinized or the subject of gossip. There was a personal element to it. Needing or wanting privacy from large organizations, even the government, was rarely a consideration. Today, if a person wanted to get “off the grid” for even the most innocuous reason, they would need resources above and beyond what is available to the average individual. That fact makes me uncomfortable, and I think that when most people realize just how much of their lives could be offered up as information for sale, it makes them uncomfortable too. And yet, the ceaseless data mining, tracking, and selling continues ultimately unchallenged.
So, does the influencing generation lack understanding, or do they just not care? Perhaps it is a mixture of both. Because computer technology has evolved so rapidly, most individuals have only a rudimentary grasp on the way that technologies – like MIT’s new slot-based traffic system – function. As long as it is convenient and it works, ignoring the broader implications of society’s dependence on computer technology is preferable to trying to navigate its complex infrastructure. What a sobering thought! However, in the face of widespread apathy, it is important to be optimistic. I choose to believe that active minds will prevail. I choose to believe that my generation will continue to cherish living in a world where human error is seen as a chance to be better, rather than an epidemic in need of curing. Perhaps Minnesota will be a completely different place in the year 2116, but I, for one, hope that they still will speed through yellow lights.
How do Millennials define success? What kind of consumers does this make them? I’ll start my answer by describing a trend. There is a word that has recently become popular among 20-somethings, and I think using it correctly is actually counteractive to what they want to say. The word is “adulting”. When a young person accomplishes something that is considered the task of an adult versus a parent-dependent child or teen, they proudly claim that they are “adulting”. When it comes to making meals, doing laundry or paying for car repairs (I did that today #adulting), they may exclaim, “Adulting is hard!” Granted, becoming independent is difficult, but it seems backwards to brag about it using slang that smacks of illiteracy. When discussing the behavior of the Millennial generation, it would be unfair of me to imply that its oldest members are proud of themselves for “adulting”. However, the trend itself is very characteristic of the generation as a whole. Success is at once about enjoying the little things and making an impact on the whole.
According to Scott Steinberg at Parade Magazine, most Millennials exhibit 4 distinct characteristics. Comparing them to myself, I came to the conclusion that although one of the youngest, I am a true Millennial.
1. Compared to previous generations, Millennials reach milestones of adulthood (marriage, parenthood, homeownership, etc.) much slower. I am turning 21 tomorrow. I am finally going to be considered an adult in the eyes of a bar tender. I have always felt very firmly that I wanted to be old enough to drink the champagne at my own wedding, so as of tomorrow morning, I am free to get married. But, I think I want to wait on that until I am at least 25. One semester of classes stands between me and a bachelor’s degree in Communication, but in the Fall I am going right back to school for my masters. I will most likely just be getting married and beginning a full time career at the age my parents were when I (their second child) was almost 2. I don’t consider myself to be less successful for taking my time. I feel that easing into marriage and a career will ensure that I really am entering an area in which I can excel.
2. Millennials want more than money. I do not have to think twice about this one, it is definitely true for me and many of my peers. Success to a Millennial does not mean making the most money or being in charge of the most people. Success means job satisfaction. I care much more about loving what I do than how much money I make doing it. I think that most people feel the same way, but perhaps I am making that assumption because of my generational bias. Consequently, when it is feasible, I prefer to spend money on products and services that are offered by an organization that I want to support. At this point in my life, spending more to support a cause is sometimes more of an ideal than a reality. Financial realities aside, that cause-driven spirit is something that I think is characteristic of the Millennial generation.
3. Millennials are free thinkers. College-age individuals in every generation are expected to be more progressive and more liberal-minded than any other age group. In this case, however, liberal does not equal free thinking. Millennials are free thinkers in that 50% of them identify themselves as politically independent, and 3 in 10 are not religiously affiliated. I made sure to register to vote the day I turned 18, but I chose not to label myself as either Democrat or Republican. However, I am religiously affiliated, and here is where I see myself as different from my generational peers. Because Millennials will not let themselves be one of many, they allow what they consider to be critical thinking get in the way of taking advice from people with experience. I think that being a member of organized religion has made me less susceptible to that kind of hubris, but I still often struggle to remember that tradition doesn’t always need to be bucked.
4. Millennials are falling behind. Unfortunately, I can attest to this, and so can many studies done in the last 20 years. Even those with a college degree are still behind their global peers when it comes to math, literacy, and problem solving. In my collegiate level courses in communication, I have been astounded at how many of my peers lack the interest and ability to write. We have been told over and over again how important it is to be able to string a sentence together, but somehow, many Millennials are going to college without that skill. The same goes for mathematics. I have an interest in written and verbal communication but my math skills are abysmal. I would imagine that someone my age who excels in that area would bemoan me and my peers’ deficiencies as well. Moving on to problem solving, I think that it is the most dangerous area to fall behind in. Not being able to problem solve independently is a serious detriment to an individual’s chances of securing a job after college. It also produces a need to take the fast and easy route, which makes Millennials much more susceptible to being ripped off if they are not required to read the fine print.
Like any generation, Millennials have their fair share of strengths and deficiencies. As they begin to dominate the work force, their traits and habits will shape society into a reflection of themselves. This happens over and over as time marches on, but knowing what makes a group of people tick is key to influencing them and living with them. I hope that this article has given you a little insight into the average Millennial consumer and what success means to him or, in this case, her. I cannot speak for all of us, but speaking for myself, I can say that consumerism and success are about making a positive impact on the world while taking time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
Are you right-brained or left brained? Introverted or extroverted? Creative or analytical? Discoveries in neurological science and the study of human psychology have added many terms to the cache of adjectives available to describe various personality types and traits. Many of these terms come in pairs of opposites, and for that reason, it is easy to assume that because one trait in the pair is dominant in a person, the other does not exist (e.g. assuming that an introverted person cannot be outgoing or excel at public speaking, both qualities generally assigned to extroverts). It is important to understand that while these descriptions may give you some insight into why you do what you do, in no way are they limiters to your own abilities. Take care not to fall into the trap of assuming that just because you prefer to think with an analytical process, you are unable to be creative – or vice versa. The ability to think both critically and creatively is an indicator of a successful individual, and is not limited to one personality type. However, both styles of thinking do not come easily to everyone, and that truly is the crux of the issue.
In higher education and in the work place, critical thinking is a highly sought after skill. There are entire books, courses, websites, etc. created with the sole purpose of helping individuals better their ability to think critically. This emphasis on critical thinking has the tendency to overshadow creative thinking, a completely different process, but equally important. Everyone struggles with creativity at various points in their lives – you wouldn’t believe how much writer’s block I have experienced while trying to write about being creative. But for those who tend to think more analytically, creative thinking might require some research and practice. Luckily, an online search for “creative thinking techniques” yields over 8.5 million results. Of course, some of these tips and tricks are more helpful than others (even the most avid of coffee drinkers would not recommend the Balzac method) , but there were a few recurring themes that are worth sharing. So whether you are an analyst stuck in a creative rut or or a creative genius looking to try something new, check these out!
1. Get Some Perspective
Sometimes the best way to find the solution to a tough problem is to look at it from a different perspective; this technique is called reframing. Reframing works much the same as experiencing a different culture as a tourist: it is an eye-opening event, allowing a person change his or her interpretation of life – sans travel expenses.
Here are a few questions from creative coach Mark McGuinness to help you start reframing:
2. Draw it!
For those left-brainers out there, don’t let the word “draw” intimidate you. Drawing your creative process, or mind-mapping, simply means mapping out your ideas on paper. Instead of taking a linear, bullet-pointed, or outlined approach, write your topic in the middle of the page and group subsequent ideas and comments around it. Then draw lines to represent the connections between your thoughts. It may feel strange at first, but breaking the mold from linear to lateral thinking is essential to creativity. This exercise forces you to physically arrange ideas differently, jump starting your creative process.
3. Take a Break
As backwards as it sounds, taking a break when your brain starts feeling like a marshmallow can probably be the best thing you can do for yourself and your final product. Neuroscientists have discovered that when you take a brain break, you may consciously be reading a book or watching some Netflix, but your subconscious is still hard at work. This is what leads to the proverbial "eureka" moment, a flash of insight when you least expect it.
Whether you are right-brained or left-brained, introverted or extroverted, creative or analytical, remember that those adjectives do not define who you are or - least of all - what you can do. Author Julia Cameron once said, "Creativity is always a leap of faith. You're faced with a blank page, blank easel, or an empty stage." You may need a few tips and tricks to get you there, but taking that "leap of faith" into creative thinking will give you both an edge at work and more fun at play.
We live a world where there is always something exciting and revolutionary happening in the world of science or computer technology. I am already two iPhone generations behind, and I’ve only had my phone for a year! With so many brand new inventions hitting the market, it is sometimes difficult to imagine the potential these new technologies hold. One such market is digital signage. Although digital screens have been around for awhile now, the world is just beginning to realize the amazing things that are possible with digital advertising. We’ve all seen pop-up ads on our computers, but what about when we look past our monitors? Interactive digital signage campaigns are popping up on a global scale. From Korean Air to the ASICS New York City Marathon, many organizations have taken advantage of digital billboards to create interactive public relations campaigns. For example, British Airways launched what they called their "Look Up” campaign, which used flight data to identify when a British Airways jet was flying over a British Airways billboard. This information was then displayed on said billboard, complete with a cute kid pointing up at the sky. Although these campaigns are really cool, they all end at some point. The good news is that utilization of digital signage is not limited to digital billboards or the jumbo screens of Times Square. Interactive digital signage and marketing have a place in every day, brick and mortar stores.
In 2010, Kohl’s department stores decided to get rid of their tired old paper signs and go digital. Nationwide, every rack, shelf, and bunker has one or more digital signs attached, displaying pricing and promotional information. 200+ signs are connected the POS system in each location, allowing store personnel to push data across the entire sales floor at the press of a button. Not only does this save valuable time and money, but it also allows Kohl’s to run multiple promotions in one day. The switch to digital signage was also a significant piece of the organization’s green energy initiative, eliminating the use of tons of paper every year. Another way that Kohl’s has integrated digital technology into its stores is the installation of customer friendly kiosks. Instead of waiting in line at the customer service counter to order an out of stock item, shoppers are encouraged to utilize a kiosk, which functions as an online store inside a brick and mortar location. Although the ordering system itself is digital, Kohl’s employees are also trained to use the kiosks, which enables them to employ what has been dubbed a “shoulder to shoulder” sales technique. This kind of utilization of digital technology combines the accommodating mind of a human and convenience of the internet for the ultimate customer experience.
"Integrating new technology into brick and mortar stores simply modifies rather than eliminates the role of sales and customer service."
During his lifetime, Media Ecologist Marshall McLuhan described technology as extensions of the human body; and to McLuhan, technology implied anything invented by man, not just computers and smartphones. For example, the chair you are most likely sitting in right now is an extension of your skeleton. Even the clothes on your back are an extension of your skin. This unique way of viewing technology is not only interesting, but also has implications for the way that technology should be used as a participant in the customer service industry. Since the rise of automated machinery, many have wondered if technological advances will ultimately eliminate the need for human labor. Perhaps an event like that is possible, but probable? No, especially not in the customer service industry. Experts have found that despite the wow factor of a well executed digital signage campaign or the convenience of online ordering, digital marketing and customer service works best when paired with a real live human being. Integrating new technology into brick and mortar stores simply modifies rather than eliminates the role of sales and customer service. Organizations should view the integration of technology into the sales arena as an asset to their teams, and not a competitor. Looking back to the Kohl’s example, strategically placed kiosks especially allow for store personnel to practice a “shoulder to shoulder” sales technique. The intention was to supplement the resources available to team members, adding the convenience of technology to the flexibility and personality of a sales associate. When amalgamated correctly, digital signage is an extension of an organization’s humanity, rather than an unfeeling prosthetic arm.
You might be surprised to learn that the microwave, Sweet’n Low, the Slinky, Play-Doh, Super Glue, the pacemaker, and a new shade of blue all have something in common: they were each invented by accident. For example, chemist Ira Remsen discovered saccharin (the artificial sweetener in Sweet’n Low) because he forgot to wash his hands between a chemical experiment and lunch time. In another instance, Navy engineer Richard James was using springs to stabilize naval equipment when a prototype fell off of the table and righted itself with mesmerizing ease; that prototype would soon be known as the Slinky. These happy accidents can be attributed to serendipity, or, finding valuable or enjoyable things that are not looked for. When it comes to creativity and innovation, a serendipitous moment can often be the answer to a question you hadn’t thought to ask.
"A seemingly straightforward task evolves into what seems to be an insurmountable challenge. It is important to take a step back and remember that one of the best creative strategies – serendipity - cannot be planned or even executed on purpose."
Take the recent (2009) discovery of a new blue pigment by Oregon State University’s Mas Subramanian and a team of researchers. They were attempting to develop new materials to use in electronics, but what the group stumbled upon instead has implications for artists and scientists alike. They mixed black manganese oxide with a few other chemicals and heated them in a furnace at nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. What came out was a previously unseen, vividly blue pigment. The color itself is beautiful, but it also has some unique chemical properties. This particular pigment – now called YInMN for its elemental components - is extremely durable and non-toxic, two characteristics previously unseen in any other blue pigment. These unique qualities are important to note because they open the door to the possibility of new spectrum of safer and more durable pigments for commercial and industrial use. Aesthetically speaking, a beautiful color that does not fade is of great value to individuals in all areas of the art and design industries. From a scientific viewpoint, although Subramanian and co. did not find exactly what they were looking for, the YInMN pigment is now being used as a coating in a variety of electronics and even has potential to be used in energy efficient housing.
It’s not every day that a person gets to see and experience a brand new color. For that reason alone, OSU’s discovery is of interest to anyone; but to all who make a living by creativity and innovation, a serendipitous discovery like YInMN is both exciting and encouraging. It is frighteningly easy to get so hung up on being innovative that the creative process just stops. A seemingly straightforward task evolves into what seems to be an insurmountable challenge. It is important to take a step back and remember that one of the best creative strategies – serendipity - cannot be planned or even executed on purpose. Serendipitous discoveries like YInMN serve as reminders to everyone that there is always value in in focused research and development, but many of life’s toughest questions are answered when you least expect it.
2016 is a big year for us at Sproute Creative! We are growing by leaps and bounds and wanted to update our brand to reflect our true selves better. Our new brand mark reflects our strategic roots and eludes to our strategic process that is at the center of all our creative. We strive to understand where the creative will live, thrive and be successful. We never create without first asking questions, gathering insights and understanding our client's needs. Every mark, every color, every placement has a purpose. We hope you enjoy.
Let's find out if we are a good match. Our first consult is always on the house. We look forward to hearing from you.
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