Emotion, trust, and technology.

The past six months have been a period of uncertainty and tremendous challenge for marketers, as well as the advertising agencies that support them. Yet in the midst of the tumult, opportunities have continued to emerge – an entrepreneur with a good idea is hard to restrain.

Consider the technology sector. From our perspective, technology start-ups have never slowed down. Over the past year, Creative Department has begun working with a number of emerging technology companies. We’re helping them tell their stories in compelling ways, and they’re connecting with their customers on a deeper level.

What we believe is, the value of technology is ultimately determined by its human impact.
Technology without human consequence is essentially a schematic drawing, but technology that understands its relationship to people has a head start on becoming a brand. And the real money is in brands, not schematic drawings.

The writer Darren Menabney speaks to this truth in an April 2019 issue of Fast Company:

“Many startups focus excessively on data, specs, and financials when presenting or pitching to investors, business partners, or prospective employees. Of course, those numbers matter, but data is not enough, and specs are not enough. You need to add some emotion, some relatability, some human dimension to that data. Stories will do that.”

He goes on to say:

“Storytelling is a powerful tool. It builds memory, empathy, and trust between the storyteller and the listener. It’s something that persuades far more effectively than any other form of communication, because we humans are storytelling creatures by nature. The biggest and most successful brands know this.”

You can read the rest of Darren’s thinking here:


The secret to connecting technology to story? Our deep knowledge of consumer behavior — knowing why people do what they do. That informs everything. Ultimately, there is a human backdrop to everything we do, from strategy to execution. Technology start-ups seem to understand the value in this perspective.

If you’re an entrepreneur with a technology start-up but no story, contact Lauren Anderson at lauren@creativedepartment.com or 513-651-2901. It’s time to show your human side.

SEO strategy: More than just keywords.

Maximize consumer engagement through better experiences.

Creative Department has a long history of providing our clients with simple solutions for a complex world, a focus which has resulted in business success for both clients and agency.

With so much emphasis on consumers’ digital experiences, we wanted to offer a few basic thoughts on Search Engine Optimization, based on nearly 15 years developing digital content. Here are a few important SEO points to keep in mind as you work to maximize your consumer engagement.

 The landscape has shifted. Over the last 3-5 years SEO has become more competitive than ever. This is due to algorithm shifts and an increase in the number of websites. Your approach to SEO just might need an evaluation and an upgrade, especially considering how quickly things change in the digital world.

Part of a larger marketing strategy.  We believe in the power of SEO. However, the Creative Department perspective is that SEO should be utilized as a component to a larger online marketing strategy. It cannot be thought of as just adding keywords to a website and a ranking for a singular term. Because if that’s your expectation, you’re probably missing some serious horsepower in your marketing drivetrain.

When promoting a website online we must think of all of the other digital channels that ladder up to a holistic digital strategy. These include, but are not limited to Paid Search, Content Marketing, Social Media, Video, Display, Remarketing, Email and Marketing Automation. Consistency in messaging – one of the amazing benefits of search optimization – will make certain these touch points work as hard as possible, all within the brand’s established guidelines.

Building better websites. At Creative Department, our take is that SEO isn’t just about building a search engine friendly website. It’s about building a website that is better for people. Websites that are engaging, easy to access, and use. (There’s that CD focus on “simple solutions” again.) Because with a focus on maximizing consumer experience, you create websites that solve problems for your clients, resulting in stronger leads and increased sales.

Three basic forms. Not all SEO is created to accomplish the same results. Here are factors to consider:

Technical SEO: Promotes health of site for search engines to index and promote the site within search rankings.

On-page SEO: Website content that aligns to users’ keyword searches for improved rankings of the website in results.

Off-page SEO: Citations, local listings, and online reviews help users discover local solutions, resulting in organic traffic and increased local rankings.

A few words about keywords. Sometimes, when adequate research isn’t available at the start of an assignment, which is often the case in the current climate of ever-tightening budgets, we use our instincts and evaluate a broad range of keyword options. That way, we don’t miss a creative solution that offers a strong consumer connection.

Writing for effective SEO. Once you’ve found your essential keywords, we recommend that you first start by including them in on-page copy to help with SEO. These should be incorporated into current pages or utilized in creating more effective new content. But that’s just the start of their impact.

Remember to use a keyword in headlines and subheads, but use them judiciously. They don’t need to be everywhere to be effective.

Ultimately, promotion is just part of the challenge. Yes, a smart SEO effort can help get the right eyes on your website, but you’re not exercising the right marketing muscle if you haven’t considered the consumer experience once they find you. Whether you’re making a simple improvement to an existing site or building one from scratch, you should have a good sense of the actions you want them to take. That’s a key component of a solid SEO strategy.

Creating Smarter Creative with Data

What if we could build a brand’s creative based on truths rather than a hunch?

Many brands have yet to make the shift from big data to the right data. Frankly, most brands don’t know where to start. The sheer volume of information available can make it hard to focus and stick to a data-driven brand strategy. Layering digital sources such as Google analytics with traditional research methods offers a smarter outcome. This is the evolution of how we do creative and branding strategy.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the rise of big data has ushered in a reckoning for creative industries who have been scrambling to adapt their business models, capabilities, and processes to a faster-moving and more exacting marketplace. In the face of this sea change, we think there’s never been a better time to be a creative. Why? Because creative people are highly trained experts in observation, and data gives us new ways of seeing the world. It opens our eyes to truths people are sharing and allows us to build more informed and more effective creative strategies to lead creative concepting. This is not an overhaul of what makes creative teams what they are it is an additional tool in the tool belt to make us better.

At the Creative Department, we look at a range of data inputs to inform our work, pairing traditional research methods with search, social, behavior and analytics. Together, these are powerful and predictive methods for uncovering deep insights into consumer behavior—from what questions or needs the consumer has, to what the consumer cares about and what content and messages the consumer shares or interacts with. This ensures that our work is grounded in accurate and meaningful insights. It also gives us the criteria we need to evaluate creative concepts and proposed messaging, so that we aren’t making decisions based solely on gut reactions.

Here’s how we help brands draw on data from multiple sources to inspire powerful creative outcomes.

Look at Google search queries as windows into user intent.

There are three types of search queries: navigational (the consumer wants to find something specific), informational (the consumer is looking for an answer to a question or challenge), and transactional (the consumer is looking to buy). Each reveals consumer intent, which can inform powerful and focused concepting because it gives you the language (keywords) that people are actually using when they search. It can also help you prioritize how to spend your time and marketing budget.

Embrace rapid prototyping and test, test, test.

Search, YouTube and social ads can be cheap to run and fast to market. Digital channels offer a great opportunity to test messaging and imagery before committing to larger long-term investments like print and broadcast campaigns. You’ll get real-time information about what is generating interest, engagement and conversion—that allows for adjustments without breaking your budget.

Uncover insights in online conversations.

Not only do product reviews and social media comments reveal how people are talking about your brand (monitoring them and responding should be an everyday task in your marketing communications plan), the off-the-cuff nature of the messages people leave online can provide a deeper understanding of sentiment. People are less likely to censor themselves in these forums (as opposed to more formal research and surveys) and more likely to tell you how they really feel.

Dig in to audience understanding.

Between your own website, your social media channels, and information supplied to you by your media partners, there is a tremendous number of potential data points to sift through. Not all of them will be relevant to your marketing strategy and goals. This is where knowing how to identify the right data becomes critical. There are a few we consider standard when it comes to understanding who is engaging with your brand and how: traffic channels, pages visited, bounce rate, demographics (age and gender), device preference, geolocation and category interests.

Use data to take creativity to the next level.

What can data do? At the Creative Department, we use data as a tool to enhance and amplify our work for brands. Contact us to find out how we can use the data you have at hand to fine-tune your creative strategy and engage the audiences with whom you are seeking to connect.

Data Driven or Human Centered?

Here’s how your brand can be both

What if you knew exactly what your customers were going to be interested in next year? How would you prepare? Would you change your products, your services, or your pipeline? Or reposition your brand?

From geo-targeting and online reputation management, to social media engagement and email open rates, the potential for brands to gather consumer data in an effort to predict purchasing preferences and decisions seems almost limitless at the moment. But the truth is, data can only take a marketer so far.

Yes, data provides invaluable (practically irreplaceable) insight, but regardless of your target’s location, their media habits and preferences, their consumption patterns, etc., you still need to connect with your target on an emotional level. That means a brand level. This is something we at Creative Department have focused on since our very first days. We have always believed in the power of simple, authentic, benefit-focused communication on a human-to-human level.

Because the fact is, data can lead you to a consumer’s door and you can knock and knock, but without the right message he won’t open it.

The good news is we’re seeing brands be more human in tone and, thanks to analytics, more personal. On the surface, this seems almost contradictory — more technology leading to more human-centered output. But, it’s part of the trend towards authenticity in a world of clean food and fake news.

What does this mean for brands? You have to be able to balance. To act on your data without sacrificing the human element. Here’s what to keep in mind to make sure the analytics you’re collecting on your marketing efforts are contributing to building a stronger relationship with the people you’re trying to reach.

Question everything—don’t take any data at face value.

For data science to be most effective, it needs to be applied alongside cultural perspective. Evaluate it against your contextual knowledge. Behind every data point is a deeper story that could lead to a more powerful insight. Look at where the data set originated, how old it is, who put it together, and when it was last updated.

Don’t get bogged down—know what you’re looking for so you can quickly assess and move forward.

Identify SMART, or SMARTER (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound, evaluated, and reviewed) goals from the get-go. Every time you receive a new analytics report, look at the key findings through the filter of those goals. This will provide you the focus you need to avoid drowning in data overload. It will also help you explain the data and its potential impact to team members and colleagues who are not as immersed in it as you.

Get comfortable with self-reflection and be ready to pivot.

Be prepared to pull the plug mercilessly. There’s a good chance the data you’re collecting may reveal truths that are difficult to face. That campaign you just invested a quarter’s worth of time and money in might not be performing well on social. Your tagline hashtag might not be getting traction. Hint: documenting those SMARTER goals as mentioned above will help you see the path forward when the data isn’t as positive as you hoped.

Remember that you’ll have more power when you use data to predict—not to react.

One of your goals should be using data to help your brand become less reactive and more predictive over time. Most likely, this will require you to collect and evaluate multiple data sets, mapping when and how often people interact with your brand on top of where and why they’re engaging.

Acknowledge the influence of a third party validation and make it work for you.

Customers trust each other more than they trust what brands tell them. And, just like you now have access to an unprecedented amount of information about your consumer, they now have access to a lot of information about you. From product reviews to social media influencers, make sure you have a strategy for how you’re going to transparently engage in consumers’ conversations about your brand.

Know that from here on out, there’s no excuse for not understanding your audience.

Consumer understanding has always been a driver of great commercial ideas. Now that we have the power to understand people’s preferences on an almost subconscious level, having empathy for their behaviors and choices is more important than ever. It’s the one and only way to make sure the data you’re collecting has a meaningful, positive impact on both your brand and their lives. Enlisting people who are skilled at tapping into that empathy and bringing it forward—creative professionals like strategists, designers, and writers—is our passion.

4 Reasons Brands Should Keep Work In-House

And why you’ll still need an external agency if you do

If there’s one question marketing directors are familiar with, it’s “What is the return on that?” Of course, that question isn’t unexpected. They’re responsible for delivering optimum ROI. And in an effort to control costs, an increasing number of brands are turning to in-house creative teams. That’s not a bad thing, assuming the brand understands what work is best suited to an in-house team, versus the expertise offered by an agency.

Here’s the background: the past few years have seen brands taking work in-house in spades. The Association of National Advertisers in the U.S. reported that in 2018, 78 percent of its members had some kind of in-house agency, versus 58 percent in 2013. The benefits to this model are real and measurable, and agencies now find themselves recalibrating their own messaging to make a stronger case for why their outsider status is worth the investment.

Chances are, if you’re responsible for your company’s brand, you’ve found yourself weighing the costs of engaging an agency against building your internal team. The trick is to find the right balance between what each has to offer—how can the two work together to deliver that desired ROI? Here’s how I’ve seen these relationships excel.

  1. In-house teams are fierce guardians of the brand. Passionate about ensuring the integrity of the brand expression, they make sure everything the organization creates is on-message and on-brand.  Advertising agency partnerscan provide the outside perspective brands often need to grow.This outside viewpoint can open your eyes to different potential solutions you didn’t realize were perfect for your business until now.
  2. In-house teams have a clear and singular focus on the target audience. They know them intimately because they are the customers and consumers they interact with every day. However, agency partners can bring new, data-driven strategies to help you uncover and engage new audiences. In fact, recent research from Microsoft found that the marketers who are winning the customer experience race are more likely to be sourcing data and working with agencies because of faster time to market, lower costs, and fewer risks.
  3. In-house teams have an in-depth understanding of—and proximity to—day-to-day business. They can respond to needs and challenges in the moment and share project and initiative status on-demand. But when it’s time to push marketing efforts beyond immediate needs, a strong agency brings knowledge of the broader landscape and an understanding of what other in-category and out-of-category brands are doing. And that’s what informs strategies for bold, statement-making marketing.
  4. In-house teams can make quick work of marketing collateral that needs frequent updating or iteration. But, building an internal team with the right mix of skills to take on special projects requires considerable effort. Advertising agencies are made up of specially hired, cross-functional teams. Together, under one roof, agencies use their combined industry knowledge and experience to deliver exceptional creative when you need it most—like for your next campaign.

At the Creative Department, we’ve worked with in-house teams of all sizes and specializations. And we’ve always approached the relationship as a partnership, providing exactly the perspective, strategy, and fresh creative they need at the right moments to make their brands shine.

We’d love to hear about what you look for from an agency partner and how we can help you ensure that the investment you’re making in your brand pays off.