Achieving success with the agile creative process in three simple steps
At Loops, we believe creativity will become a future proof superpower for the brands who actively prioritise it, because genuine creativity is what cuts through noisy markets and gets noticed. In 2019, an individual in the US was estimated to be exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 ads daily. That number has gone up and continues to escalate.
Excellence in brand and marketing has always been a powerful moat, but if you consider that it has never been easier to bring new products to market (e.g. the explosion of startups) and it’s never been easier to pinpoint your audience (e.g. social ads), these moats evaporate quickly. In other words, more brands are competing for a finite share of voice and spending more money to be seen. The competing fight for attention makes it increasingly difficult to communicate the unique value of your offer with a message that resonates and gets heard.
Being heard doesn’t require shouting louder — it requires listening harder. It requires empathising with values, needs, and goals and reacting in near real time to craft ideas that are brave, relevant and fresh. This ability will be a major competitive advantage for the brands and marketing teams who master it.
There’s an immediate snag to be addressed though, which nobody ever seems to discuss, yet is a massive frustration for anyone working in the creative industries. Coming up with brilliant, brave ideas is one thing, but getting stakeholder buy-in? That’s another challenge altogether.
This is nearly always due to a lack of data on how effective the thinking actually is. And when there’s no data, you’re soon drawn into subjective debate. These debates are frustrating, mentally draining, and the cause of many late nights reworking ideas based on the highest paid person’s opinion. What should be an inspiring and fun role in creative comms quickly becomes laden with anxiety and pressure.
To combat this, the agile creative process is the way forward because it gives you the data to be objective. It makes good ideas better and proves that the end product is exactly what the audience wants.
Adopted from software development practises and adapted for brand, design and marketing, developing creative projects with agile methodology means less time spent perfecting ideas in a bubble, and more time understanding the problems at hand and iterating the potential solutions with the audience’s input. It’s a way to create, measure, learn, and develop with a red thread of insight and logic that shows rigour and proves impact. And it’s really simple to apply too!
How to sell in bold creative ideas — on the first attempt
Audience data — Every marketing team and creative agency regularly has heard it before — “I don’t think our consumers will like that,” or “I just don’t think that’ll work in blue.” Testing creative ideas, even on a small scale, before bringing them to the table will help you get buy-in on the work. The data collected not only bolsters creative output, but also validates it, shutting down the subjective opinions like those above. Assuming your organisation or client believes in the voice of the consumer, speaking to them during the creative process can alleviate the typical opinions that slow everything down.
A clear, recorded process — Having everyone on the same page throughout creative projects is essential for avoiding last minute curve balls. Clarity on what’s been agreed at each stage, backed up with the insight that informs the evolution of decision making gives you a single source of truth that can be referred to. So when that stakeholder or client who’s been absent until just before you’re about to go live throws in their two cents, you can politely head them off at the pass with the red thread of logic.
A willingness to iterate toward the end goal- A caveat to agile thinking that some are initially put off by is that, while you can plan upfront as much as you want, you have to be content with not knowing the exact outcome. But that’s ok, because the point is to iterate until you reach success. You show rough work early and you learn all the way through to create something polished and robust. This doesn’t happen in the traditional creative processes, usually because people are fearful of having ideas killed off early. “Will this stop us coming up with the next Cadbury’s Gorilla?” is something we hear a lot.The answer is no, it won’t — it’s quite the opposite. Agile creativity allows you to go off-piste and explore weird ideas with impunity. If you’re wrong, you know why. If there’s a glimmer of heat, you can double down in that direction.
When you show an evolution of an idea, underpinned by real audience insights that proves impact, you’ll be far more likely to sell-in the work first time.
The agile creative process in three simple steps
Step 1 — Explore the audience needs
As Einstein once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
It’s easy to be faced with a problem, give it a glance, and head straight to finding an answer, rather than exploring the problem at hand more deeply. Agile creative believes that the more you focus on the problem, the better you understand the problem, and therefore the more effective your solution will be. Most of us are nothing like the audience we’re selling to, but we assume we can elicit emotions and actions they’ll care about. If you’re a few degrees out at the start, where you end up may be well off course.
Instead, we should be properly understanding the audience by asking them careful questions and drawing insights from their answers. What really makes them tick? What are they actually trying to achieve? How can we deliver something truly meaningful to them?
We recommend using tried and trusted templates like personas, empathy maps, brand manifestos and moodboards, putting them in front of the audience, then asking questions to learn whether the assumptions being made are correct. You’ll learn a huge amount at this first phase and it sets the correct direction for everything else.
Step 2 — Elevate ideas with audience feedback
The world changes faster every day, therefore showcasing ideas only when they are perfected is not a sound strategy. Better to show early and often so you can learn and adapt.
Reid Hoffman, the cofounder of PayPal and LinkedIn, sums this up perfectly: “If you aren’t embarrassed by the first version of your product, you shipped too late.”
Get your idea in front of your audience (a proper audience, not five guys from around the office) and gather their input — what do they like/not like? What do they think is missing? Is there anything that isn’t clear? This input will feed the iterative process and highlight any blindspots you missed. You’ll heat-seek to value instead of going back to the drawing board.
User stories, storyboards, ad-cepts, customer journey maps, wireframes etc. are great lo-fi tools to get in front of real people so you can elevate the thinking in collaboration with them. The trick is to create a sense of reality with a clear structure that people can respond to. If people don’t like specific areas of a journey or message, it’ll soon become clear. If you see lots of similar suggestions for improving a concept, bake these in. In this phase, you systematically remove risk and increase impact by surfacing required changes.
Creative teams especially — don’t be afraid to show your ideas early, even if they’re not complete or not “perfect”. Like Voltaire said, “Perfect is the enemy of good.”
Step 3 -Execute with confidence and clarity
In a traditional process, it’s typically at the end when creative ideas get tested. This backloads all the risk and gives little room for manoeuvring. However, if you’ve taken the agile approach, you’ll have a deep understanding of the problem you face, and a creative solution shaped by the input of your audience.
Now, when you ask the question “Will it inspire action?”, the responses will more likely be “yes”.
In the ‘execute’ step, the output you test should be more or less ready for release. The objective is to sense check if the final work does the job, or if it needs further finessing. The hard work of delivering something meaningful should have been done by now, so it’s more a case of double checking that the execution will push the right buttons to inspire the action you seek.
The result — Impact
Impact isn’t a step in this process — it’s the outcome of the process i.e. robust output, delivered fast.
Applying the agile process removes the subjectivity that often plagues progress. Consider being shown work from a team who have nothing to prove their idea’s value other than their word. Now consider the same team showing you three iterations of the same idea with audience data that informs each evolution. Which situation would you be more confident signing off on?
Changing how you work might sound like a lot of work — adopting a new mindset, draft after draft, analyzing, etc. — but it’s not. In fact, it involves far less work in the long run.
The benefits of faster turnaround times, creative autonomy, brave ideas making it, reduced risk, and finishing on time, will all ladder up to team harmony and a happier work life. What’s not to like?