I’ve written that communication is about stimulus-response. Planners’ main responsibility is to determine the desired response, i.e. associations about brands. I’ve elaborated the heuristic to determine the cognitive desired responses. I’ve also emphasized the importance of planning for the emotional desired responses. Now it’s time to start discussing stimulus.
In the most general sense, stimulus is anything that the audience sees, hears, or experiences that triggers associations or feelings related to brands. Quoting advertising legend Jeremy Bullmore, “People build brands as birds build nests, from scraps and straws we chance upon.” So stimulus can be many things, either planned (like advertising) or unplanned (like bad customer service). But for this post, I will only discuss on planned communication, like advertising, PR, digital/social, or activations.
If determining response is a planner’s main responsibility, then stimulus development is the domain of creative craftspeople. This doesn’t mean that planners don’t play any role at all in the creation of stimulus. There are few things planners must do to help develop great ideas:
- The first and foremost is to manifest enthusiasm and encouragement
- Inspire the craftspeople with clear and concise creative briefing
- Give constructive feedback
Do you notice that I put creative briefing that is widely understood as a planner’s most important deliverable in second place, below encouragement?
I’m not surprised if most planners will spontaneously say that their main contribution to the creative process is by providing strategic thoughts, from which ideas will blossom. But they are missing the most important part.
As eloquently asserted in this inspiring post by Emma Cookson that I wholeheartedly agree:
“… the main contribution any strategic planner can make is to create a climate of positivity. To project enthusiasm and optimism. To convey confidence and conviction that the solution we will all come up with as a team is going to be great. Because that conviction, that positivity, that enthusiasm – it doesn’t just make you feel better as a creative, it literally makes you better. It makes you better at your job, it makes you able to do better work.”
This is not just a wishful thinking of a creative person. It has a solid scientific base in psychology. In psychology there’s this concept of self-efficacy, defined as someone’s belief about her capability to execute or perform a task successfully. Self-efficacy is very important in creative tasks or work. We need to believe in our own capacity to succeed in order to succeed in them.
Self-efficacy is malleable. It can be shaped by information that comes from different sources. They can come from our own experience. For example, if previously we have kept failing in similar tasks, of course our self-efficacy will be discounted. They can come from observing others we think similar to us. They can also come from feedback from others, like from our supervisors, colleagues, and clients.
Tierney and Farmer (2004) conducted a field study in a R & D department of a chemical manufacturing company, and they gathered evidence supporting this model:
Considering that information that shapes self-efficacy can come not just from our supervisors, I hypothesize that this model can also work, especially in communication industry where creative development processes always involve people outside the creative department:
So what does it mean? There are many ways a planner can make our colleagues in the creative department genuinely feel they are fully supported to solve problems creatively:
- Verbalize clearly, repeatedly, and supportively that our colleague can come up with innovative work
- Ask them regularly and proactively if they need more info or data they need to do their job, and give them what they ask for
- Praise and publicly recognize their effort when they try to offer something unexpected or groundbreaking, even when it doesn’t eventually work
- Encourage them to set goals related to innovating the genre of the category
- Stand up for or defend their innovative efforts in front of suits or client service
- Take pride in their work and accomplishments
- Encourage them to collaborate with others. Stress the importance of idea sharing among colleagues
- Encourage them to communicate openly with people in other departments
This is not always easy, as planners do have bad days too. Plus I have to admit that at least from my experience, planners tend to be introverts who are not always eager to reach out to others. But I believe if planners really value creativity (as they should) and truly understand the importance of collaboration, they will do these steps in their own style.
Don’t forget that it is through this set of behavior that a planner gains respect from their colleague —instead of from writing clever-looking, jargon-filled slides to impress wrong kind of clients.
Cookson, Emma “Eeyores can’t be planners” Once more unto the breach: An advertising strategist’s musings http://emmacookson.posterous.com/eeyores-cannot-be-planners
Tierney, P and S. M. Farmer (2004)”The Pygmalion Process and Employee Creativity” Journal of Management 30(3) 413–432 http://webs.twsu.edu/farmer/Articles/Tierney%20%26%20Farmer%202004.pdf