By Cole Sletten

What makes a piece of creative good? 

It’s a slippery question, and one that I’ve wrestled with for quite some time. There is certainly quality to be found in a harmonious layout, an inspired type pairing or an unexpectedly brilliant turn of phrase. But does that make it the right answer for a given creative problem? How do you know if there might be a better answer?

At RSR, we continue to challenge ourselves to see our work through a new, additive lens: that of a strategic consultant. Across all departments, specialties and levels of seniority, we are taking up the challenge to see our job as “whatever we do slash strategist.” It was only when I started looking at our work through a strategic lens that I began to discover ways to answer the bigger question. Creative can be beautiful, smart and witty, but if it’s not strategic, it’s not the right answer (and it’s probably not that good either).

So what makes creative strategic? So far, three criteria seem to be emerging:

Strategic creative considers the whole experience. It’s not that the viewer won’t appreciate a solid type choice (they may), or an elegant interface (they will). It’s just that they will be experiencing the thing you create as part of a widely varied and unpredictable constellation of other branded experiences. Does this particular interface element add to that overall experience? Does this campaign deepen the relationship people will have with your brand? Good creative always goes beyond itself, harmonizing with the larger brand story to create a more resonant, longer-term impression.

Strategic creative is driven by an abstract set of core principles. To create something that will contribute to a great overall brand experience, it’s important to be consistent without being simply repetitive. This type of consistency requires a set of guiding principles deeper than a traditional brand guide, going beyond logo usage, color and typeface rules to the foundational qualities of a brand’s purpose and personality. It’s abstract guidelines like these that inspired Yelp to replace their mobile app’s refresh animation with a dog blasting off in a rocket (“delivering the joy of discovery”), or that led Coke to create vending machines that can gift sodas to locations on opposite sides of the globe (“sharing happiness around the world”). It is these memorable flourishes that set each brand apart from competitors in today’s crowded marketplace.

Strategic creative solves a business problem. As creators, we need to constantly evaluate our work against the underlying business need that caused our clients to look to us in the first place. By diving deep into our clients’ business and taking responsibility for the overall success of the project, we can start to see the difference between a clever headline and a smart one, between a superfluous interface flourish and an innovative improvement. Working in this way helps us align with both our clients’ and the consumers’ needs, furthering both relationships and creating the best kind of output — work that actually works.

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