Don’t overlook insights for creative inspiration

“Without wonder and insight, acting is just a trade. With it, it becomes creation.”—Bette Davis

The creative process is a wonderful journey where ideas are born and blossom into tangible, breakthrough solutions for clients. But it is a well-known fact (particularly among account executives!) that creativity can take on a life of its own. Like an untamed beast, it can run amuck if not guided in a direction. I am reminded of Julia Cameron’s book, “Riding the Dragon,” where she offers tips and approaches for how to unleash and guide one’s own creativity within the workplace. Creativity, at times, is a dragon — one that needs fuel and guidance. The best place to get both is through carefully uncovered audience insights delivered by your account team.

Audience insights are the flints that can spark ideas. They can also be the glue that allows an idea to break through and stick with the prospect longer. Think of insights as your secret weapon. With them, you have the inside knowledge about what will resonate with your target audience.

Sometimes specific word choices allow the concept to speak more intimately with your target. Sometimes answering a specific pain point allows your product or solution to be even more relevant. Lifestyle insights can also spark the use of a certain visual or format, allowing the creative to make a deeper, more immediate connection. Insights can even drive a sought-after incentive that will encourage more immediate response rates.

While clients find all these benefits quite valuable, the value of audience insights for the creative process is sometimes overlooked. Some creative souls see that stack of paper with all those words and charts on it (also known as a creative brief) and see a coaster for their latte. Then they jump right to the fun of ideating without taking into consideration who they are ideating for.

In contrast, audience insights are a driver for all activity on the account side. The account team feels right at home with the creative brief. Insights are critical to planning lead generation and nurturing campaigns. They answer questions like:

  • Are they aware of the needs/pain points that the product/service fulfills?
  • What are current perceptions of the brand vs. the competitive set?
  • What is the buying cycle?
  • What are key triggers in the cycle?
  • What content do they consume that influences their decisions?
  • Where and when does the audience consume information?

The questions that can be answered by audience insights are endless. The account side cannot be successful without them. But I would argue that creatives can’t truly be successful without them, either. A great creative campaign that does not connect is money wasted. Insights are a way to stack the deck in your ROI-/ROE favor.

At our agency, when creative briefs get handed to our creatives, we don’t run screaming. I urge my staff to take a nice, hot cup of joe, walk away from their desks to somewhere quiet, open that big deck of research and insights they were handed and read it. Absorb it.

As much as creativity is about filling your general creative bank with art, music and adventure, an informed creative bank is that much stronger if it is supported by carefully conducted research and insights. After that, percolation happens and the magical creative process takes over, if you let it. And about letting your creative process happen? Well, that is fodder for another post and another cup of joe.

For example, look at this completed piece for Microsoft by Jacobs Agency. The creative for this project was directly driven by audience insights.

Today’s mobile and remote workforce is challenged to be in more places while staying connected to their office and IT infrastructure. This nugget inspired the idea of an all-in one- suitcase carrying a range of different mobility devices in one handy place to illustrate Microsoft’s mobility and telework solutions.  A Microsoft brand webcam was included as an incentive for recipients to follow up and request a meeting.

Flora Caputo is VP, executive creative director at Jacobs Agency in Chicago. Read more from Flora in Direct by Design here.

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