Creatives make lousy strategists. Thank God! Just imagine what it'd be like if the creative process was used to develop strategy. All guesswork and chaos. Sadly, you don’t have to strain your brain too hard to picture this scene; it’s happening everyday in every agency.
Not by creatives posing as strategists (Although that does happen, think Kevin Roberts). Rather, with strategists using a creative technique and peddling it as strategy.
I'm talking about differentiation.
A creative's job is simple. We think up big ideas to get a brand noticed and remembered. We do this by differentiating the creative from what’s been done before.
We differentiate the creative so it stands out in the noisy, cluttered marketplace and makes it easy for the brand to be noticed, and then remembered in a buying situation.
Plus, it's what creatives like to do - create different, original stuff.
In the 1940's a copy writer named Rosser Reeves (Of who Don Draper is modelled) came along and repackaged this creative technique, coined the term 'unique selling proposition', and sold it to clients as strategy.
But what’s good for the goose, in this case, is not good for the gander.
Because, when you differentiate an entire brand - when you give creatives USPs and asinine bulls-eye target demographics named Dave – all you are essentially doing is limiting how many people you reach.
You are selecting to ostracise category buyers who purchase the brand you are trying to be different from, which myopically limits the amount of your potential buyers. (Because people only buy brands they know and remember exist.)
Even a creative gets that unnecessarily limiting your amount of buyers is counterproductive to success. And choosing to do so is simply sheer lunacy.
Differentiation has had its day. Reach now reigns. Creatives have been making advertising that’s different, to get noticed, since time immemorial, and will continue to do so. But that’s where differentiation must end.
Why? Because there’s only one sure-fire strategy to grow a brand, and that’s to increase market share. And to increase market share you need to increase buyers. And to increase buyers you need to reach more people, not less.
By Christopher Ott