A decade ago creative teams had very little interaction with clients. As business and branding evolved, so too has the need for a strong collaboration between a diverse range of client stakeholders (from the C-suite to the salesforce) and the creative team. For us, it’s critical when aligning brand strategy with creative strategy.
This is especially true when it comes to building the visual language for a brand. We gather opinions and insights early in the process. We do this through group and individual exercises that stimulate conversation and spawn ideas about elements such as color, shape, pattern, and style—how all the visual pieces come together to inform brand language.
Alone we are smart. Together we are brilliant.
One of our favorite exercises involves covering a large conference table with hundreds of images. This always stops clients in their tracks. It’s a daunting scene to walk into, but that’s the point. Together, we walk around the table, usually many times, until finally there’s enough confidence to jump in and start selecting images that fit into two categories: images that align with the brand strategy (hot) and ones that do not (cold). What seems like a simple mood board exercise on the surface is in fact an important forum for conversation. It’s less about what images are selected (though, that is important) and more about why they are selected. From the humorous, “No pointy things, please!” To the imaginative, “Our brand needs to sing and this image says that.” It’s always a surprising, rewarding and insightful experience.
Our creative draws strong connections to data and research, of course, but coupled with the insights gained during this session, produces a much better outcome. We better understand how each individual thinks about the same problem. We gain alignment sooner. There’s less fluff and what-if scenarios in play. We can build a purpose and reason for everything on the page. And most importantly, our clients see themselves in the work.
The wrong path can be the right path.
A strong bias can interfere with the value obtained through collaborative ideation. This happens by latching onto a bad idea early because its owner is a key player, so there’s fear of pushing back, or it’s an idea that is tied to old brand baggage. Smart research and solid strategy can certainly help decrease this, but sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes we do need to go down the wrong path to illustrate why an idea doesn’t work—make it tangible, point to it and say, “Look, this is off strategy for these reasons.” But sometimes, what seems like a bad idea, does lead to a new discovery because we stewed on it just a bit longer. Not all ideas deserve this added effort, but some ideas surface during a collaboration session that stay around because there was enough passion, conversation, sighs, eyebrow furrowing, smiles and arguing with big gestures to warrant a fresh look. It’s part of the process that only comes about when collaboration is integral to the process.
The beauty of collaboration.
There’s nothing new about involving clients in creative ideation. In fact, design thinking (as many define it) has gone mainstream, affecting how businesses operate and innovate. We’ve seen great value in collaboration, not only in creative endeavors, but across the branding continuum, from research to strategy, to brand launch and marketing extension.
There’s a famous Henry Ford quote that exemplifies this idea, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”