What is a creative concept?

Every new product or service wants to be noticed in a crowded marketspace. But if you haven’t spent the time building a creative concept for this new idea, your marketing could fall flat.

Simply put, a creative concept is the overarching “Big Idea” that captures the attention of your audience. All of your competitors are fighting just as hard to get their message to stand out. So by creating a unique creative concept for your client, you will be giving their product or service an “edge” in this space.

Keep in mind that the creative concept is NOT the final product. This is just the rough draft, or the outline that gives the client an idea of how their campaign could take shape. It’s that one unifying “theme” that can be used to tie all the marketing pieces together with a nice big bow!

Now, before you can jump in to coming up with this next “Big Idea”, you need to understand why you are creating this concept and what the purpose or main message should be. Your client has likely provided you with a creative brief and/or a communication strategy that outlines what their main goals with this campaign will be, the audience they’d like to reach, their budget, etc.

This brief will act as the skeleton to the creative concept. The bones and structure that will hold it all together.

Ready, set, go!

A good first step in concepting is to brainstorm. Whether it’s in a group, or independently, or both!  This will help you come up with as many ideas as possible and give you a few base ideas to build from. And remember to listen to every single idea, no matter how weird and crazy it is!

Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that just need a little extra love and attention. Take the weird idea with a grain of salt and save it for the next step we’ll discuss soon.

Coming up with that “Big Idea” is easier said than done. Some days the ideas might flow freely, where other days you just feel “stuck” staring at this blank page that’s screaming out for attention. How long should creative a creative concept take you might wonder. Well, that depends on how many people you have working on the concept, their experience and also the client deadline. Some concepts are built overnight while others could take months!

Washing the pig

The honest and messy truth about the creative process, is that it isn’t always easy.

“Creativity is like washing a pig. It’s messy. It has no rules. No clear beginning, middle or end. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, and when you’re done, you’re not sure if the pig is really clean or even why you were washing a pig in the first place.”

- Luke Sullivan, a brilliant marketing man wrote it in “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This”

When a client comes to you with a request, sometimes you might feel a little lost. Where do you begin? You’ll start googling other similar products and find nothing to work with, so… you just take a swing in the dark.

You start washing the pig. You have no idea what you’re doing, but as you go along, you learn what works and what doesn’t. Ideas start to appear that you didn’t even know you were creating, and then BAM, you’re on the road to something magnificent.

What I’m trying to say, is when you feel stuck. Just start writing. Write anything. For example, you could start with something like, “This is an ad about …” and go from there. How does the product make you feel? How does it impact your life, or does it at all? The more you write, the more you will have to work with later on. You’ll find yourself re-reading these simple sentences and picking out key words or phrases that jump off the page. From there you can move onto the next step.

Expand on your ideas

Now that you’ve got some sort of base ideas to get you moving, it’s time to expand!

Don’t feel like you are limited to only one idea either. Concept for as many as you like. You never know which one will spark something in the client or grow into that one “Big Idea” mentioned earlier.

Here are a few exercises you can keep in your back pocket to help you expand on these ideas:

  1. If there were absolutely no budget restrictions, how could this concept work?
  2. Dissect the idea. Pick it apart and see if you can improve or change anything.
  3. If this idea had a mascot, what would it look like?
  4. Read your idea out loud and then, say, “yes, and…”, adding a new piece to the idea each time.

Bring the concept to life

Now that you’ve got a good list of concepts, bring your team together and pitch your ideas.

Your team may be able to help you expand on these ideas even further! That’s the joy having multiple creative brains working on one project. Never take it for granted!

Now’s the time to decide who can help bring these ideas to life. Maybe this concept would work really well in a radio ad! Show the client how, by having a copywriter put together a script, including your choice of music and the tone of the voice that you think would work well. The more details you can provide, the better you can paint the picture for your client.

Is there a design or visual that an art director could create for you to share at the client presentation?

What would the tag line, or call to action be for this concept? Can the you or the copywriter on this project come up with something catchy, witty, memorable to present?

If one of your main ideas is a video. Consider your time and resources. Instead of creating the actual video, it may be best to create a detailed storyboard that will give your client an idea, without breaking the bank.

These are all important steps in the process. These pieces will allow your client to get a real feel for the creative concept, and how it will work together. Asking clients to “imagine” a creative concept you’ve developed is a recipe for disaster.

Pick the cream of the crop

You and your team may have come up with 30 amazing concepts, or you maybe there are only three or four that work. That’s okay too! Aim for a minimum of two or three concepts to pitch to your client. This gives them a few options to choose from, without being too overwhelming.

But how do you pick only two or three when you love them all?! That’s a great question.

The selection can be a team effort. Have everyone on the team refer back to the initial creative brief that was supplied. Do these concepts cover all the bases? Is it a fresh, new idea that will capture your audience’s attention? And last but not least, does it have potential for expansion? There is a good chance that this concept will do SO well, that the client will want to continue playing with it down the road. Make sure that it is versatile enough to do so.

Present like a boss

Now’s your opportunity to bring these creative concepts to your client!

Be confident in your ideas. Remember that they have hired you to create this concept, because they believe in you and couldn’t do it themselves.

Get excited about the ideas! Your client will feed off of your emotions during the presentation. If you aren’t thrilled about it, they are likely not going to be thrilled about it either. But be confident, and they will be more likely to appreciate the work put in.

Be prepared for feedback. Sometimes it’s good, but sometimes you will need to go back to the drawing board, and that’s ok! Chances are, you already have another idea ready and waiting in your pile of concepts that you created earlier. Take the clients feedback and tweak another concept (or the same one you just pitched) to better match their hopes for the campaign.

Whether it’s a home run, or one of those “third time’s a charm” presentations. You and your client will likely find a creative concept that works for you both. Now it’s time to get to work!

Mission complete

Congratulations! You just turned a blank page into a masterpiece.

The more concepting you do, the more tips and tricks you will learn along the way. Just like washing a pig! Find what works for you and focus on your strengths. Soon that blank page will excite you and no longer scare you.

Tips to remember along the way

Don’t beat yourself up

We have a tendency to self-edit and delete ideas that we feel won’t make the cut. Sometimes, especially when we get stuck, we tell ourselves we can’t do this and that our idea isn’t going to be good enough or big enough.

It’s ok not to have a “Big Idea”.

It just needs to be better than the others.

Hold onto ideas that don’t make the cut

Maybe there was one idea that you just loved in the pile, but the client thought it was only, “meh.” Don’t throw it away! Start a creative ideas folder for yourself, where you can keep your unapproved concepts for the time being. You never know when one of these ideas might fit with another campaign along the way.

Half-baked ideas count

Sometimes you might have the beginning of an idea that really excites you, but it’s not a fully cooked concept to bring to the table. Who cares! Bring it anyways. That’s what the rest of the team is there for. Your half-baked idea may spark something or get a conversation flowing that leads to the biggest and best idea yet!