The Creative Strategy Framework & Process (With Douglas Davis)

In this article, I’m speaking with a strategist, author, and professor Douglas Davis, about the creative strategy framework and process for brands and how to bridge the gap between design and strategy.

Now, Douglas Davis has an absolutely stellar career, he’s the principal of Brooklyn based agency, The Davis group, he’s on sabbatical at the moment after a transformation of term, as the chair at Emmy award-winning BFA communication design at New York City College of technology.

He’s a regular speaker at industry conferences, such as how design live and RGD design thinkers and he’s the author of the outstanding book Create A Strategy And The Business Of Design.

So if you want to learn how to fuse creativity with strategic thinking, so you can lead strategic workshops and brand strategy projects from a progressive and super cool New York-based professor and stick around for this article.

In this article, I’m speaking with a strategist, author, and professor Douglas Davis, about the creative strategy framework and process for brands and how to bridge the gap between design and strategy.

Now, Douglas Davis has an absolutely stellar career, he’s the principal of Brooklyn based agency, The Davis group, he’s on sabbatical at the moment after a transformation of term, as the chair at Emmy award-winning BFA communication design at New York City College of technology.

He’s a regular speaker at industry conferences, such as how design live and RGD design thinkers and he’s the author of the outstanding book Create A Strategy And The Business Of Design.

So if you want to learn how to fuse creativity with strategic thinking, so you can lead strategic workshops and brand strategy projects from a progressive and super cool New York-based professor and stick around for this article.

The Creative Strategy Framework & Process (With Douglas Davis)
[The Video Breakdown]

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Why Brand Strategy Is Important Modern Creatives?

Stephen Houraghan

Why do you think it’s so critical, especially in today’s day and age with the creative industry, the way it is. Why do you think it’s so critical for designers to be able to speak business and answer those bigger strategic questions?

 

Douglas Davis (Summarized)

I personally think that, and this is, again, my opinion. the reason why it’s important for us to understand strategy and to learn businesses, because you never know what part of that negotiation you’re going to be in. You never know when those transitions are going to happen.

And I think. It’s always important to, to really keep in mind, something that I think that some of the university programs fall short in, which is, we’re being asked to solve a business problem with creativity and that creativity has to be on brand, on strategy and on message.

I can wrap this answer up by saying that our clients, our business teammates, they’re not going to learn creative. They’re not gonna learn Pantone colors, and they’re not gonna learn the aesthetic things that we learned. They’re not interested in typefaces. They don’t want to hear the story of how you were inspired whenever you were hiking in Norway or wherever you were, when the inspiration hits you.

They just want to hear what your recommendation is. 

And so you have to understand what a business or marketing objectives are in order to, as a creative person often do your analysis. And so that’s the reason why it’s very important to learn and understand how to speak the language of business

How To Bridge The Gap Between Design And Strategy?

Stephen Houraghan

There seems to be a blind spot in the middle which is the brand’s strategy where you both kind of know about it and slowly, the creative starts addressing bit by bit, is that how do you see the creative’s role in bridging that gap to raise that conversation about the brand strategy, even if the client is not?

Douglas Davis (summarised)

In our field, everybody has an opinion and I guess just in the larger, everybody has an opinion, right but our clients pay us for our analysis. And so I think it’s just so important for us as great people, because think about it. Like we all go through as people who are, our superpowers are harnessing our emotions.

Harness what we feel, what we’re experiencing visually, and how that makes us feel.

I guess I would look at what our role is as creative people and say that we are tasked with translating the rational language of business and translating that into the emotional language of design

So it’s so important for us to understand what those things are. And yes, it’s our role because if you think about us as creatives.

Again, a superpower is that we can harness our emotions, but it’s our worst enemy. Everything about the journey of how you got there. They just want to hear your recommendation upfront and then why. 

So the challenge is that if you can’t harness those emotions, if you can’t take control of what you’re thinking and feeling in that moment, when that transition happens and you’re in that room, your work can go down the table And we all walk in, they’re overworked, juggling a whole bunch of projects, and we are emotional people. 

So it’s a superpower, but it’s also our worst enemy in terms of that emotional sort of how we feel about fear a lot as a result of that.

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The Creative Strategy Framework & Process Overview

Stephen Houraghan

Controlling those emotions and, and leading the conversation, guiding your client with the relevant questions. That is a pivotal moment. And, and it’s, it’s highly relevant in that moment as well.

Now, within the book “creative strategy and the business of design” and the creative framework, and the process of going about developing a strategy from start to finish is really what the book is all about.

Can you give us an overview of the creative strategy framework and the process?

Douglas Davis (Summarised)

Absolutely. So creating a strategy framework, as you mentioned, is pretty much my proprietary in a way to organize that chaos in the creative process. I always like to point to the fact that there was so much communication and creative process and that communication exists in the form of brief.

The actual briefing when you’re in the room, the clients tell me what the business problem is, but the documents themselves, how we understand what the actual problem is itself.

That is a part of that communication. And if you can improve that communication, you can improve the likelihood that you can solve your client’s problems with creative things on brand, on strategy and on message.

You know, it’s up to us to keep learning, right? It’s up to us to keep growing again. They’re not going to learn it. But I remember when I sought those business skills, there were so many concepts, so many terms that I was not familiar with. And so I developed a creative strategy framework, which is a three-step, four-column alignment exercise to really weave strategic thinking into the creative process.

Step #1: Target

I think you have to make sure that you’re understanding who the target is. And in this case,

I like to always write that target with frameworks that give me a bit of insight into their demographics, their psychographics, and their behavioral characteristics and this is about understanding who you’re talking to. 

So that’s a really important thing to have up top because if you don’t make that decision, all of the other pieces of information are going to be off.

Step #2: Features & Benefits

So there’s a slash it’s written as a one-to-one ratio and, and it’s really aimed at itemizing sort of boiling down.

How you connect the brand and the target through your brand is concerned with features of their product service or whatever they’re trying to sell.

Step #3: Objective or Message

This really objective or message, it sort of depends on what you’re doing. If you already have an account or if you already have, or if you’re freelancing, let’s say you’re pitching, you may be there to recommend, right?

So if you’re recommending, there’s probably some objective that you’re assuming through your research, that this client who you’re trying to win once they hit. So you can be very specific about increasing or how you want to move the needle, increasing this, decreasing that among this target group, get really granular on what you’re saying.

The actual objective is other times the client is going to walk in and they’re going to tell you what they’re trying to do.

And so again, some part of using this framework is your own research. Some part of using this framework is how you can retrain the way you listen so that you can understand where things go.

if you’re doing messaging, just maybe for people who already have an account, but they’re asked to sort of add another phase to that account, or maybe this is another project that you’re being given, and you want to think through what is it that we want that target to go away with after they come in contact with our pop-up shop or our ads, or our digital creative, or a website that we’re doing.

Whatever it is, what exactly is it that we want them to understand and go away with after they come in contact with our creative.

And so those are the parts of the framework itself. And I’ll say that it’s only as good as the information that you populate it with because it’s a framework. Exactly. Yeah. You go into the different steps of using it. if you’d like, Yeah. I’ve actually got some questions on that and I love, I love the simplicity of it.

Brand Strategy Workshop Facilitation Technique: Honesty

Stephen Houraghan

We’re not there to do a song and dance on a show and pull a rabbit out of a hat. So in terms of controlling that conversation and techniques.

What are your go-to facilitation techniques to help our listeners be better at being okay with not giving advice and controlling the conversation with questions?

Douglas Davis (Summarised)

It takes a lot of screwing things up.

It takes a lot of being present in the moment and understanding through reflection that, I wasn’t ready for that conversation. No. What,  I didn’t know what I was talking about. And again, this may come through failure. I know that I’m going to still go out of fear earlier, but I personally teach through failure.

I learned through failure and through not doing it right. And really thinking about, well,

What went wrong?

What part of that was me?

What part of the might’ve been processed?

I think. You know, hindsight is always 2020. And even still, you may not necessarily know what to do. You may figure out what, what you did wrong or where things went wrong and not necessarily know what it was.

But I think, for me, the answer to that question is really experience.

It’s been experience and failure through failures.

I realized, and I guess I always go back to being in high school and, and I don’t know about you, but I was a mediocre student and I put zero effort in because I was bored. And so I could be the class clown and sort of disrupt the class and talk to people over here, their teachers, like, what did I just say?

And so therefore, I think it’s just always important to make sure that’s why in the book I talk about not just offering the red, green, and blue solution about offering scenarios where Ramos rainbow, and you know, something, you know, what red or three different things that you can sort of think about relative to the basis of competition that, that brand isn’t.

And from there, allowing your client to make the decision, but making sure that you’re walking into the room with well-reasoned analysis and the honest truth that until you don’t really know.

And I could spit right back. We were batim what was just said. The problem came in whenever there was the pop quiz to go up and now there’s a test and you’re like, oh shi*t, I didn’t study a thing.

If there was a gun to my head. And they said, you got to pass this quiz to save your life. It’s almost like a slow motion car crash, where over the course of 60 minutes, your cars, it’s slowly speeding towards that brick wall.

And, you know, you don’t have any information, you can’t help yourself. And so I remember the feeling of panic in that moment and I remember saying to myself that

I’m never going to be in a situation where I can’t help myself.

And that for me, it’s just always really important for me to remember that moment and then say, okay, so what am I going to do to prepare how exactly enter that room?

And I think that overall, a lot of how you see and communicate you know, this question is really what I try to remember, just that, you know, our clients that they’re going to pay for our analysis, but everybody has an opinion.

And just lastly on this I always sort of communicate to my clients that as the expert, or as someone who has experience in doing this, I’m going to make the recommendations, but you’re the client make the decisions.

How To Translate Benefits And Values To Brand Messaging? 

Stephen Houraghan

We translate a lot and there’s a series of translations that happen to, to end up with a distilled outcome. One of those translations.

Taking the features and the benefits, and then translating that into valuable messaging.

How do you do that? How do you take the features and the benefits, and then translate them into a message that is going to resonate with the client?

Douglas Davis (Summarised)

So this answer has a lot of how I triangulate and sort of arriving at what I think.

And when you think about the business category or the brand product or service that you’re work