“Focus on the cookie and not the cookie cutter.”
Creative pursuits are by their very nature, unique, and therefore warrant a free and purposeful approach to their realisation. It is impossible to apply truly inventive thinking to a creative project by having to follow a formula or indeed limiting its effectiveness by bottom lines and a “one size fits all” mentality. In the context of this article, a “template” is seen as a set of guidelines, constraints and necessary steps that are applied to every creative project, regardless of budget, timelines, project or client characteristics.
With the scene somewhat set, I will admit that this article’s title (I can’t resist a good play on words) has bounced around in my mind for some time now. It originated as a response to the rise of, and reliance upon, templated approaches to projects within the creative agency industry, especially in the B2B space. It turns out that it’s not easy to clearly articulate the drawbacks of applying templated approaches to creative pursuits within a business setting due to templates being so perfuse in our industry and they do work, albeit in a limited way. Moreover, once a templated approach takes hold, few stop and consider the “opportunity cost” of continuing to do things the same way over and over.
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Templates afford companies and agencies, enormous advantages in terms of time management as well as efficiencies in document handling and project organisation. They dictate that projects will be defined and predictable, which gives a level of comfort and control to those managing the workflow. Obviously, templates can have their place in administration, however those aforementioned “cons” come into sharp focus in the less rigid, and in my humble opinion, much more exciting aspects of our work!
Contemplating the “cons” of templating initially leads to the obvious stifling of creativity that prevents the project team adding subtlety and nuance to the final product, to influence the course of the project or to truthfully address changes and issues as they present themselves. A less apparent con is that reliance on pre-defined approaches breeds laziness in the desire to do the best work, to go beyond the brief and to ensure that the client is not only satisfied but delighted and will, therefore, likely return. If you work within a rigidly defined system, there is no need to craft and build a tailored approach to solve your client’s enquiry.
An additional “con” to this prevalent use of templates within the creative world is that reliance on the system working erodes the ability to adjust to speed bumps along the way. By blindly trusting the system each and every time regardless of the project, you lose the ability to compromise or re-invent your creative offering in real-time because you cannot stray from the chosen path. When you are forced to leave the safety of the system, it can quickly highlight the shortcuts and short comings of your predefined approach.
Perhaps these “cons” help explain why some studies have found the vast majority (as in 75%) of B2B creative to be weak and ineffective1.
So, what happens when there is no template? It is important at this point to stress again that templates in this context are self-imposed automatic processes that shepherd a project to its inevitable conclusion. Remove that autonomous method and individuality can once again shine through. Time can be taken to fully understand the brief, to register the client’s aspirations and to marshal the necessary resources in an orderly fashion. Inevitable errors and missteps can be mitigated as there is no unnecessary panic to reach the next arbitrarily predefined checkpoint. Sufficient due diligence can be applied at important points and if necessary, backwards steps can be taken early on to ensure that the right path is being followed. In conclusion, a lack of a template may be the actual definition of creativity and as such, the argument logically follows that the “cons” absolutely outweigh the “pros” when it comes to templating.
With that being said, at Six Degrees we take the “road less travelled” approach in our creative efforts, whether it is online marketing campaigns, blockbuster brand name creation or that snappy brochure you need for the next AGM. Unencumbered by self-imposed timelines, guidelines or non-sensical targets, we are free to meander and to build our projects upon a detailed creative brief and the psycho-sensory fundamentals we are known for. After all, is not the whole point of creative to stand out and command the attention of your target audience? Resisting the urge to take the pre-destined and easy route we aim to explore the options with a sense of fun and imagination thrown into the mix. It goes without saying that we remain huge fans of cookies of every shape, size and flavour, but we like to do away with the “cookie cutter”.
A great recent example is our work on the phase III fenebrutinib clinical trials with Roche. Six Degrees were brought in late in an ongoing creative process for the trial identities. Based on the client’s desire to ensure the branding would resonate with target audiences, we decided to go backwards, to ultimately go forwards. Putting the patient perspective front and centre, we conducted primary research with several interested parties in the trials to understand their motivations. With a much fuller understanding of the challenges faced by patients with MS and their HCPs, we could then build a stronger brand within a defined architecture around the trials. FENhance and FENtrepid were born! The ability to say stop, to reassess progress and conduct due diligence at key points is crucial to our work and would be impossible within a templated approach.
So, next time you are looking to receive a “creative” product, we recommend you consider whether your chosen provider of said product is getting ready to do another “paint by numbers” or is starting with an empty canvas and no preconceived notions.