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The Art of Cooking Up ‘Inspired Thinking’


‘Inspired thinking’ is our brand essence. It’s the thing that underpins what DirectionGroup stands for, and what acts as the spearhead for our campaigns. It flows through every agency department – manifesting as an innovative strategic plan, as cut-through creative, as daring digital, as the latest martech, as the most original production techniques, or as the constant value-add delivered by our client services team. It reflects the talent of our people, and the passion they have to push boundaries and create new things.

But, generating inspired thinking doesn’t just come down to having people with talent. There are many ingredients that need to work well together to ensure that you end up with a great result. I could write pages on this topic, but to keep it brief, I’ll just focus on the creative bit for now.

The way I like to think about inspired creative vs. mediocre creative is to compare it to home cooked food vs. fast food. Fast food, is just that – fast – it fills a gap. But, there’s something about it that’s always inherently dissatisfying. Either it doesn’t taste that great, or if it does you know it’s probably not doing you much good. Whereas, with home cooked food, you know the ingredients are fresh, the right amount of prep has gone into it, and it’s been cooked for just the right amount of time. The result? Well, it’s satisfying. It fills you up, in more ways than one.

And the same is true of inspired creative – it depends on the right prep going into it, the right ingredients, the right amount of time and that mysterious spice called ‘talent’. If any one of those things is compromised, then you can expect a mediocre result. The problem is, in the fast paced world of marketing how do you ensure you’re always generating the most inspired creative you can?

Well, perhaps my six pointers below might help:

1. Right expectations – When’s dinner?

How often do you get a brief where too much is expected for either too little money, or too little time? Often it’s just because the person who wrote the brief doesn’t have an appreciation for how long things can take, or what’s truly involved. Straightaway though, you’re on the back foot. We all love making others happy, but expectations need to be realistic, whether it’s clients or your colleagues internally. I always think honesty is the best policy in such circumstances. That way you maintain your integrity and the quality of your product, and if your client or colleague is a good one, they will respect your push back, and will reset their expectations to meet you half way.

2. Right brief – Reading the recipe

Get this wrong – get everything wrong. The importance of a right brief cannot be underestimated. But what constitutes a ‘Right brief’? For me, it’s a brief that captures the client’s problem and what they want to achieve accurately. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but the key word to take note of is ‘accurately’. This is where many a brief can go wrong, because in order to capture the right information, you have to ask the right questions – and knowing what to ask and when, is really a matter of experience and expertise. That’s why I always advocate more than one person being part of the briefing process, to ensure the right questions are being asked from different perspectives. Briefing should ideally involve not just client services, but other departments as well. It may make the process a bit longer, but the perceived time wasted in asking the right questions and involving more people will be much less than the time wasted in getting the job wrong (and ending up with an unhappy client) – I guarantee it. But I should also caveat the client’s role in all this. The agency can only do so much to get the right information. The client needs to put in some serious effort as well. But trust me when I say that no effort in this regard is ever wasted, because great creative is only as great as the brief that was given in the first place.

3. Right thought – Doing the prep

Thinking, believe it or not is a skill, and it can be done ‘right’, especially when developing creative. That’s why we call it a ‘thought process’. There’s a process we go through to arrive at great ideas – they rarely just happen as ‘eureka moments’. Great ideas aren’t just great because they’re ‘bold’ or ‘innovative’, they’re also great because they answer a problem, because they connect with what an audience wants to hear, and because they’re actually achievable. That’s why establishing a creative platform for ‘Right thought’ is so important. At DG we have developed a unique process we go through, that involves really getting under the skin of our audience – figuring out what drives and motivates them, and then developing ideas that will connect with that proposition. This process is what our clients buy into – it’s the story behind our ideas, and it’s what set’s our thinking apart from others. By doing the right prep, you arrive at a right result.

4. Right collaboration – The mixing bowl

‘No man is an island’ as the saying goes. Another ingredient of inspired creative is collaboration and that’s not just internally with other agency departments, but with the client as well. But collaboration needs to happen in the right way, and that means at the right time in the process. It’s no good everyone getting together half way through a project when things are already well underway, or people getting involved before ideas are ready to be shared. All the key stakeholders should be present at the start, and be contributing to really understand the client’s problem. And this theme should continue throughout the lifecycle of the job to a lesser or greater extent with regular checkpoints. Everyone is responsible throughout the project – and that includes the client. And including the client in an incremental way, sharing early thinking, and getting gradual buy-in means that everyone is on board and fully bought-into the thought process. Mixing the ingredients of thought and opinion in the right way means the ideas you’re cooking up should work for everyone.

5. Right time – Cooked to perfection?

Time is the one thing there is never enough of. And when generating great ideas, time is something you really need. Ideas are fragile things, and some never see the light of day, but those that do need to be able to grow and mature. And for that to happen time is required. If ideas are cooked up too quickly, they’re generally the type of ideas that seem ‘tasted before’. If they’re overcooked with too many people having an input, then they get burnt round the edges and generally leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Ideas need the right amount of time in order to create a tasty campaign. So how do you know what’s the right amount of time? Well that comes back to having the ‘Right expectations’ and the ‘Right brief’. If those two things are done properly, then the ‘Right time’ allocation for the ideation process should be obvious. I should also add however, that determining the right time is also matter of experience. So if you can’t get your hands on a brief in time; consulting the kitchen staff i.e. the agency’s delivery teams is a wise move, as they’re truly the only ones that can correctly ascertain how long things will take.

6. Right tasty – Time to enjoy

The best ideas are those that happen when you’re utterly relaxed. Just like cooking and eating, coming up with tasty creative should be an enjoyable experience. However, agency life doesn’t stand still for anyone, and keeping up with multiple projects certainly presents challenges. However, the key truly is, to ‘keep calm and carry on’. Because a mind that is agitated, unable to focus, or filled with too much emotion will not be able to develop great ideas, nor deliver a tasty campaign. The mind needs what I like to call ‘creative clarity’. It’s that still reservoir of potential from which inspiration can emerge. If that isn’t accessible because the surface of the mind is disturbed, the ideas produced will simply be reflective of that disturbance.

After dinner thoughts

So to conclude – generating inspired creative thinking, just like a tasty meal is the culmination of a process. And because it is a process, it depends on each step being done well. It is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. But those parts are incredibly essential and should never be missed, skipped, or ignored, and if they are then instead of inspiration, you can expect a lot of perspiration.

So my advice is – do the ‘Right things’, and while you’re doing them make sure you’re staying relaxed and enjoying yourself along the way. Sounds great doesn’t it?

About the author

Full stack. Global. Problem solvers. They’re just three ways you could describe us. You could also say we’re a top 10 global b2b marketing agency that specialises in IT and tech. That’s true. But, we do great b2c work too.


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