To be fair, I see the death of creativity in my own work when I get sucked into a particular niche for too long: There are only so many triathlon/cycling/running-related clients I can work with before the work I put out all starts to look or feel or sound the same. It isn't an issue of talent or lack thereof. It's an issue of inspiration and curiosity and freshness. Just like a financial portfolio, a Marketer's creative portfolio must be as diversified as possible in order to be remain effective.
As a marketer or a creative, if your job is to help people discover a product or a brand, you have to go through the process of discovery yourself. The excitement of this discovery has to be fresh in your mind. You have to come from a position of relative ignorance in order to be able to ask the right questions. (The questions that someone who lives in that world or industry hasn't thought to ask in years, if ever.) If you spend too much time hanging out in the same place, your creativity becomes stagnant. You start to run out of ideas. Your work starts looking bland.
Creating great work for clients can't just be a business process: Fill in the blanks. Select color & font. Plug in images. Print.
It shouldn't feel routine. Ever.
On our end (F360
), the last thing we want is to land another gym or personal trainer. We already have several on our client list, and we value the work we do for them way too much to start gravitating towards a specialization in that market. The same goes with sports apparel, business services, and medical offices. (But hey, we're still relatively innocent and fresh when it comes to banks and restaurants, so feel free to bring it on next month when we open the books again and start taking on new projects and clients!) ;D
The point is that as young and small as we are as a company, we already understand that our value to our clients comes from our ability to approach every project with fresh ideas. Specialization would be the death of us, as it is the death of great creative work for any agency, firm or studio. I'm not sure why so many firms haven't really figured that out. (Maybe it's because there seems to be an endless supply of businesses out there that don't know any better and fall into the "market specialist"
and the ability to do do the same thing over and over and over again with a consistent level of performance is great if you're assembling widgets in a production plant, or if you're processing insurance claims. It's also great if you're a cashier at Wal-Mart or a bean counter on a farm or an auto mechanic or maybe even a cosmetic surgeon. It isn't so great when your job is to help your client stand out and be noticed. When your job is to help them get curb appeal
, or sex appeal
, or whatever kind of appeal
. Why? Because when the quality and effectiveness of your work depend on your ability to continually re-invent both your visual style and your copywriting style in order to enhance the way that your clients interact with the public, you cannot get sucked into a cycle of derivative repetition.
It doesn't really matter how many brochures for hotels or hospitals or car dealerships, or home builders you've designed. If that is primarily what you do, if that is primarily what you have been doing for the last few years, you're already on auto-pilot. You are simply serving the same dish over and over again to a different clientelle. It may have been the best dish in the world once, but now that everyone's had a taste, it's as good as dead.
And there is absolutely no value in that. None. Zip. Nada.
And shame on your clients for not knowing any better.
When it comes to businesses whose job it is to develop effective creative
, what you want them to specialize in isn't your industry or business. What you want them to specialize in is asking the right questions. Having the ability to immerse themselves into your world. Quickly understanding what your strengths and weaknesses are. Translating what makes you unique and relevant into ideas and campaigns that will actually generate business for you. And doing so with panache and skill, and razor-sharp precision.
Trust me when I tell you that the last thing you need is a brochure or catalog or website that is almost indistinguishable from your competitors'.That
should be a no-brainer, but not everyone gets it.
I guess maybe the reason why this post may have turned into a rant is that seeing bad print ads, boring catalogs and poorly designed websites makes me sad. No... it makes me angry. Well... both. And here's why:
I just went into a fantastic restaurant last week and finally discovered how great it was. I mean... I LOVE it. The food, the service, the setting - the price even - are all great. But it took me two years to finally try it out it because its print ads and website SUCK. I knew where
it was. I had an understanding of what
it did. I drove by it several times per week. But its marketing actually made me put off going there.
Let me say this again: Its marketing (print ads) were so bad, that they actually turned me off from the place.
That's pretty bad.
The lesson: Average websites, business cards, catalogs, brochures, event posters, press releases, packaging, print ads, radio ads and TV ads can and do actually hurt
businesses. Bad ones can even kill businesses before they ever have a chance to get off the ground.
There are several business like this in my zipcode: Great little businesses. Remarkable in many ways. In spite of the great WOM they generate, their lousy ads put people off. Which makes me wonder - You can sue a doctor, a plumber or a lawyer for negligence, but you can't sue a Marketer for hurting their clients by creating crappy ads and boring websites? Tsssk.
Marketing, PR, Advertising and Branding professionals who produce boring cookie-cutter work and proclaim themselves "nitch" marketers or "specialty" marketers very often end up hurting their clients. And silly hypothetical lawsuits aside, that is
something worth getting angry about. Very angry.
So the point of this post is this: Next time you're in the market for a new website, a new brochure, a new print ad or a new marketing campaign, think twice before hiring the guy who has done the exact same type of work for at least a dozen clients in your industry. Yeah, he may have "experience" with your market, but experience working with your competitors is completely irrelevant in this line of work. Chances are that he won't contribute anything remarkable to your brand, and that isn't good.
Some of the most brilliant and effective marketing-related work I have seen in my short career has come from project teams with broad market experience rather than deep experience in a specific field. We aren't talking about Sales management here. This is a completely different kind of animal - one fed by a cross-pollination of ideas and market cultures, combined with an eagerness to discover and assimilate every aspect of the client and his/her universe.
Cross-pollination of styles and ideas and cultures. Fresh points of view. Excitement. Those are the things you should be looking for in a Marketing firm. Great
work doesn't come from having spent twenty years doing the exact same thing over and over again. It comes from having spent twenty years producing great, original, groundbreaking, exciting work across a BROAD range of industries and markets.
It comes from not having allowed yourself to get pigeon-holed into a single industry.
I once worked for a company whose engineers and sales people had been trying to solve a problem for close to thirty years. These were smart people. No one in their industry had as much experience as they did. Not collectively or individually. They were
their industry's heart and soul. Yet, they could not solve this problem... and they had all but given up on ever solving it.
Then they hired a marketing guy with zero engineering skills, and almost no experience with their industry. One day, he tackled their problem by asking a simple question: "Hey, why don't we try doing XYZ
Lo and behold, XYZ
Thirty years and all of the experience in the world: Zero.
New guy with a fresh outlook: Score.
Remarkable, groundbreaking and enormously successful campaigns usually come from new guys with fresh outlooks - not the old guys who've been sitting at the same desk, talking to the same people, and parking their car in the same spot for thirty years.
I won't go as far as to say that industry-specific experience is overrated, but... well... in some cases - like selecting a marketing firm - yeah,it kind of is.
Have a great Monday, everyone. ;)