the work knowing what good looks like

Episode 93: The Work: The 5 Elements To Know What Great Looks Like

It’s a nebulous and subjective thing. Who decides what great work looks like, and why? What’s more, we aren’t creative directors. We are digital strategists. Our work isn’t designed to inspire, amuse or move. Our work is designed to perform. So before you launch, and until you have results that validate your strategy, how can you know if your work is great?

A while back I remember listening to a creative director explain how he and his partner came up with the concept behind the award winning John Lewis ads. These ads have transcended mere commercials, and have become a cultural phenomenon. They are anticipated and released to great fanfare each Christmas season.

Needless to say, the creative director told a great story about coming up with the idea, and that it happened over drinks at a pub. They talked through the concept, they drank, and they just knew when it happened. I envy this certainty, this creativity, especially when it is so clearly successful, as it has been for John Lewis and others, including one of my personal favourites, a lovely ad called The Parting Glass by Tullamore Dew (below).

How do we attain this level of certainty? Does it come to every creative, even when they are wrong and their creation is less than stellar, as most advertising is? How can we be certain that our work is great?

I believe there are 5 elements that help us determine if our work is great before we launch and see the results:

  1. Is it different?
  2. Is it on brand?
  3. Is it aligned with the audience?
  4. Is it seamless in every touchpoint?
  5. Is it backed up by solid data?

Let’s unpack each of these.

Is it different? In an ocean of mediocrity and copy-cat digital tactics lazily envisioned by the creative equivalent of the IT department, and watered down by committee thinking, it takes courage and commitment to stand out. And it’s critically important to do so. People are bombarded by advertising and are increasingly desperate to tune it out. So it is necessary to be different, in look, in feel, in channel, in execution to capture attention and imagination. If you only ever do something that everyone else has done, how can you ever hope to surpass them?

Is it on brand? While digital strategists don’t have to be brand marketers, an understanding of the brand and what it stands for is critical. Too often, I’ve seen digital executions that simply don’t represent the brand and muddy perceptions. For example, I’ve seen instances where the brand promise is that it is digitally driven and innovative, but the execution has been archaic. Great work needs to perfectly represent the brand.

Is it aligned with the audience? Using Snapchat to reach a senior demographic? Deploying emojis on behalf of a management consultancy? Just…don’t. Making sure your messaging and experiences are explicitly built for your audience and aren’t trying to be all things to all people is a precondition to a great strategy.

Is it seamless in every touchpoint? Too often, we devolve to tactical thinking and build experiential silos that are disconnected from each other. One of the best ways to ensure a seamless experience is to build an experience map. Sketch out every single touchpoint against every audience and make sure that it is completely seamless and designed to move people from awareness, through engagement, conversion, loyalty and affinity.

Is it backed up by solid data? Are you running on gut instinct or do you have data to back up your strategy? Have you evaluated analytics and sentiment and understood current and prior performance? Are you clear on the competitive landscape and the audience desires? You need data to justify every decision. If you can do so, you can begin to gain confidence that yours is a great strategy.

Of course, after you launch, it is straightforward to determine the merits of your strategy. Were you off, were you right, or did you create something exceptional? The nature of digital media makes it relatively straightforward to adjust your strategy based on performance, but the feeling of being on the front foot, of knowing that you have created something truly great before you even launch is an incomparable one. If you can address the 5 elements, you will know if your work is good, or if it’s great. And why be good if you can be great?

Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.

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