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.