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The Method Behind Great Creative

| Author: Nick Joseph, Copy Architect | Topic: Copywriting Best Practices

4 Lessons About Trusting The Process

Ever seen a Franz Kline painting? An abstract expressionist painter active in the ‘40s and ‘50s, Kline created massive black-and-white canvases that somehow manage to be simultaneously chaotic and controlled, alien and familiar. They hit you on a gut level, capturing movement in a way that makes the canvas itself seem as if it’s hanging on for dear life.

Despite their immediate feel, however, each of Kline’s paintings was in fact the product of a long and painstaking process. For each new piece, Kline would create dozens if not hundreds of sketches, searching for exactly the right figure to paint. He would then gradually combine these images and transfer them onto a larger canvas, immediately discarding the results if he sensed that even a fleck of paint was off.

Much like a great abstract painting, great marketing content often just seems to happen. But in fact, behind every memorable campaign there’s an equally painstaking and proven process. Here are four key lessons, learned from experience, about the method behind marketing success.

1) Understand That Less Is More

Part of what Kline was doing when he endlessly revised was making sure that every curve, shade and brushstroke that made it to the end product deserved to be there. In both quality and quantity, less can be, and often is, more.

Similarly, direct language and legible design are at the heart of strong marketing. Here’s how Jeff Tweedy, songwriter and lead singer of Wilco, puts it in a different context: “Don’t let adjectives make you think you’re being poetic. An ‘impatient red fiery orb loomed in the whiskey-blurred, cottony-blue sky’ is rarely going to hit me anywhere near as hard as ‘I was drunk in the day.’ Just saying.”

As a copywriter, heeding this colorful advice has meant continually learning to cut copy that isn’t working in service of the content. Fortunately, helping writers like me balance the poetic with the practical is one of our editorial team’s specialties. Revision is a thankless but critical part of the process.

2) Ask The Right Questions

Your marketing team should be experts in your business – but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily experts in your industry. That’s why we conduct interviews with SMEs (subject matter experts) before starting any content. SME interviews are an indispensable part of our process because they provide an opportunity to collaborate and get on the same page.

As time has gone on, I’ve learned to apply that “less is more” approach to conducting these interviews. After all, as our core values put it, “no fluff.” The editorial team is invaluable here, helping to define the final product even in these early stages. Following their lead, before writing or asking any interview question, I ask myself:

  • Do we already know the answer?
  • Should we already know the answer?
  • Do we need this answer for this particular project?

Making the most of our clients’ valuable time has led to smoother processes and more successful projects. Plus, it helps that our trusted client services team always does wonders setting the table and making SMEs feel at home and eager to contribute.

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3) Use Your Team

Speaking of those valuable colleagues on the other side of the aisle from creative, it bears emphasizing that the best marketing teams boast a wide variety of strengths and skill sets. Unlike Franz Kline’s painstaking solo efforts, building a successful marketing campaign is a collaborative effort.

For instance, a fellow Square 2 copywriter sang the praises of the design team in a recent blog. Speaking for myself, I know I’ve had many content ideas that a designer saved from mediocrity (again, see our core values – “remarkable or nothing”) with an inventive visual approach. For this, I guess I’m overdue for my own love letter to design.

Knowing your strengths and trusting your colleagues is an integral part of the process (as the above SME interview example similarly attests). In my experience, it’s only by combining these diverse capabilities that we can consistently create content that’s the best possible version of itself.

4) Check It Again – And Again

Visual art is all about happy accidents. For instance, Franz Kline’s signature style was allegedly inspired by the phone book pages he painted on in his early days, which took on an abstract quality when the young painter happened to blow them up on his primitive overhead projector.

In marketing, however, accidents – everything from typos to inaccurate estimates – must be avoided at all costs.

Recently, I was walking through my Philadelphia neighborhood and caught a glaring grammatical mistake – the wrong version of “its” – on one of the historical location markers that are all around the city. For something that should go without saying, rigorous proofreading is an often-overlooked step in far too many writing endeavors.

At Square 2, everything – and I mean everything – goes through an editor. Keeping track of a fast-paced Accelerated Engagement, much less keeping up with the latest updates to, say, AP Style, is a team effort. Having someone who’s skilled at catching everything from an outdated source to a misspelled last name gives peace of mind both to us and our clients.

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Posted By Author Nick Joseph, Copy Architect

Nick Joseph is a Philadelphia-based copywriter at Square 2. In his other writing life, he's a freelance writer, editor and content strategist. He earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Irvine, where he taught composition and studied the history of American poetry. Before moving to Philadelphia, he lived in Long Beach, California, Sydney, Australia and various parts of the South.

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