In marketing, it’s one of the age-old chicken-egg questions: What’s the most important aspect of a successful campaign — a bold creative vision or a kick-ass content strategy? And how different are the two really?
It’s a debate that’s launched a thousand agency arm wrestles and a bevy of heated boardroom brainstorms. And depending on whom you ask, the answer will vary. But lucky for us, we don’t need to mutter aimlessly to ourselves in a fit of presumption. We were able to land two sought-after marketing minds to hash it out for us.
Contenty strategy and content vision working together
Enter Jenna Briand and Miriam Bookey, partners at the creative/strategic marketing agency Redbird Group. Briand, Chief Creative Officer, has spent her career cracking creative nuts at companies such as AOL, Time Inc., NBC and Participant Media. Bookey, Chief Strategy Officer, has excelled at everything from market analysis to content strategy at AOL and a VC-backed digital startup that she cofounded before landing at Redbird Group.
Briand and Bookey have been contemporaries and colleagues for two decades, which would account for the fact that they will occasionally finish each other’s sentences. We met late one afternoon at the Redbird offices in Culver City, Calif., covering everything from their thoughts on vision to strategy to the importance of social media in today’s attention-divided culture. We even played a quick game.
(Portions of the interview have been edited for length and to keep the conversation reading smoothly.)
So, tell me, creative vision and strategy — married at the hip or estranged cousins?
Miriam: Well, we are co-pilots in this agency. We do everything together hand in hand…
Jenna: We do, and fundamentally, our agency believes that to do creative that actually matters to our clients and their customers, it really must be rooted in strategy and a deep understanding of their business goals. We don’t ever want to do creative that feels gratuitous or doesn’t get real results for them.
Miriam: We can do stuff that we really like to do that’s fun and funny and interesting to us… but if it’s not aligned with the brand, it’s not going to work for them or their customers.
Do you work with a lot of clients?
Miriam: We don’t. We’re small, and we work with select clients who need our special expertise. Our superpower is helping big brands be human and talk to their customers and audience in a way that connects to them — and isn’t necessarily advertising. We’ve been doing this for 20 years, telling stories on behalf of brands.
Do you think it’s easier to see what a company’s strategy or vision should be when you’re on the outside looking in?
Miriam: Yeah, if you’re really into your brand day in and day out, trying to tell customers to come buy your widget, you can forget what they care about. Jenna can talk to this…
Jenna: …I think many brands are, understandably, super ROI-driven. And that connection that content can create — and the conversation that content can spark — is not always immediately measurable in the same way. It’s harder for them to want to take the risk, because they can’t measure it in the same way. It’s after they start working with us or other companies that they see the deepening of the brand-customer relationship. Then, they can really get their head around this piece of content that was created purely because it’s useful, humorous — whatever the goal is for this piece of content for this audience. Ultimately, they can start to track how it will move people through their marketing funnel.
At this point, do you think a solid social media strategy is an essential part of every marketing campaign?
Miriam: It’s the heart. If you think about how beautifully you can target with Facebook, how everybody is on some social site… you start there, because it’s so targetable.
Jenna: And you can engage with it and reflect the audiences back to themselves in a much more effective and granular way than you can through a broad nonsocial campaign.
What’s the one thing that you think can cloud a vision or a strategy once you get going with a client?
Miriam: Money. Fear. There are a hundred things I can think of…
Jenna: This is a strategy question, and I’m going to jump in anyway. I would encourage brands to take risks more often, test different concepts. Typically we find there’s not as much of an appetite to try out things. Obviously, we want to protect a brand, but do I think sometimes there’s an unwillingness to take a risk at something that seems unusual for your company… because it’s those moments that a real connection is forged with the customer and it means something. You can’t plan all those moments perfectly, but if you test and try things, you can land and iterate.
Miriam: The 44-year-old man— I’m totally stealing this from Gary Vaynerchuk — who is earning half-million dollars driving his new Tesla is going to interact with a video in a very different way than a 22-year-old female graduate student who’s in debt up to her eyeballs. You want to create a different approach to reach those two different people to sell this thing. It’s not one-size-fits-all anymore. Facebook is not television, it’s not advertising on ‘Seinfeld’ It’s advertising to this person who actually was just searching on this one thing. This is the power we wield.
Jenna: We don’t ever give advice to our clients that they should be on Snapchat if they don’t have any 20-year-olds that they’re trying to reach. But they should know who their customers are, how they’re using those different platforms to interact and how those different platforms are aligned with the vertical they’re in.
How far do you let creative go before strategy reins it in?
Miriam: (laughing) Once we toss it onto creative, you guys got it. We stay connected to the project often through project or account management, but I would say it’s a very rare time that strategy has to come in and rein in creative.
Jenna: I don’t know how other agencies work, but as Miriam said before, we are so synced up. We’re copiloting, so the pass-off is among people who know where we’re going. There’s a lot of creative people involved at the outset, and a lot of strategy people who are involved throughout the creative process. Maybe we are a little more team-agnostic than some companies — but I think it works for us because of our size and personalities and how we like to work with our clients.
OK, quick fire drill. A client comes to you with a new product that they need to take to market in 30 days called DogMa — a dog-walking service specifically for elderly grandmas. What’s your first step?
Miriam: Research where the grandmas are. They’re all on Facebook. Reaching grandmas on Facebook is easy because they’re going through their newsfeed really slowly.
Jenna: Who is the audience? Is it the grandmas? Is it the kids? The families of the grandmas who are looking out for them?
Miriam: Yes, the families!
Jenna: Figure out who those people are. Take a look at the landscape. Is anyone else doing anything remotely like this as a business? How are they doing? What are they doing right? What are they doing wrong? We would probably develop three creative concepts and present all three to the client and narrow it down to one and run with it. And do the full marketing plan to go along with it.
I can see the ads now. You can show a grandma using an app like Tinder to choose her dog walker. Nope, nope, oh yeah, he looks like a nice boy. He can be the one who walks my dog.
Miriam: Yes! And maybe match him with her granddaughter who is single…
There you go. Two in one…
Jenna: We just launched a new business!
A dating app/dog-walking service. I like it. Now back to business… Given today’s media landscape, what do you both think has changed most in how you execute creative vision and strategy versus, say, 10 years ago?
Miriam: We can’t think in 30-second increments anymore. It’s very different. You can create a 25-minute video or an eight-second video. You cannot be constrained by old media approaches. One of our clients is a beautiful, organic essential oil brand. I don’t see a world where we tell them to put a full-page ad in Vogue. Normally for a beauty or fragrance, that’s where they would go. That’s your ticket to marketing. That is not where you go today — that is not the story you tell.
Jenna: I think compared to 5 or 10 years ago, the story has become increasingly important, whether it’s the origin story or the brand purpose. We love doing brand purpose — every brand does have a purpose. They often haven’t identified it or used it as a filter to put their marketing through, but I think customers require it.
Jenna: Most people want to know. They are willing to follow you, if you have something to say.
Miriam: But don’t let any agency tell you they know everything about every platform. No one can, because it changes every five minutes.
Jenna: But what doesn’t change — and maybe this is why we’re so inclined to focus here— is the story you want to tell. If you know what that is, if you know what you stand for and who you’re reaching, you can adapt to different platforms and adapt your creative to reach different people. So focus there first: What are you trying to say?
We’ll help you figure out the rest.
Miriam: And scene!
This article was originally published in August 2017. It has been refreshed for 2018.