Field Notes

Aim Before Firing

Illustration of an arrow exploding through the center of an apple after being fired from a bow, illustrated by Infantree

For clients, it can be easy to see the value in an agency’s creative work. Whether it’s a new logo, great photography, or some nice copy: it’ll be out there, in the real world, catching eyes and pricking ears. With any luck, turning targets into customers.

But few clients connect with the role of brand strategy so intuitively. It’s not as obvious, because unlike advertisements and logos, brand strategy isn’t something most of us are reminded of every time we scroll through Instagram or flip on the TV.

Which is why many businesses have trouble seeing its value. They know they need design and a website: why can’t we just give it to them? Why must we insist on weeks spent researching, interviewing, analyzing, and thinking?

No one answers the question better than brand strategy icon Jon Steel:

“For an agency to be useful to a client, it needs to take aim before it fires.”

Strong strategy is every bit as important as great creative.

As Zac Martin, a senior planner at Ogilvy, defined it, “strategy” is just a fancy word for “focus.” Without focus, even the most creative branding in the world risks falling flat. With focus, brands and agencies can work together with clarity about their audience, their audience’s problems, and how the brand will address those problems.

Without focus, brands fall into the trap of trying to be a bit of everything for everyone. Rather than planting their flag firmly in one territory, their fear of missing out pulls them in one direction, then another.

But with focus, both client and agency understand precisely what the brand stands for. Which is step one in making sure customers do, too.

Nike stands for the athlete in all of us. Apple stands for our creative side. Disney stands for the magic of childhood. Tesla stands for the innovators and rule-breakers.

Strategy is the compass every good brand needs. Nike and Apple aren’t just getting lucky time after time, ad after ad. Their message is bigger than any one commercial, print placement, special offer, billboard, stunt, or tweet.

Brand strategy clarifies that message. And in doing so, it opens the door to creative work that knows what it’s saying and why.

Ready, aim, fire. In that order.