A Deep Dive into the Strategy Process for a Brand Awareness Campaign
A peek behind the scenes of the development of our latest campaign for SmugMug.

For better or worse, I’ve always asked a lot of questions. Good questions, dumb questions, questions to avoid actually answering, existential questions, inappropriate questions…no question has been off limits. As an adult, I’ve come to see this as my superpower. But as a first grader whose report card simply said “she asks too many questions,” it took me a while to get here. 

Today, I get paid to ask a lot of questions. I’m a creative strategist here at Teak, an intentionally small “boutique” brand agency. My goal is always to get to the core of the problem. I've learned that insight is buried under an Everest of questions often barricaded by conflicting answers, but that’s the fun part. I might even go so far as to say that it’s the enlightening part because on the other side of every answer is a human experience and that is all I was trying to understand in first grade, and today. 

This article is a strategist’s perspective on how to use questions to build an effective campaign. If you’re new to strategy, it’s my hope that this case study will help guide you through a line of questioning (and how we land on answers) to build a creative strategy for your campaign.

Phase 1: The “is that obvious?” questions: pressure testing our assumptions

SmugMug produces a digital solution for photographers to store, share, and sell their photos in one spot. They’re also longtime partners and friends of ours. Recently, their marketing team came to us with a question we hear often from clients: how can we become more of a household name? 

There are a couple of places to start to begin answering this question. One step is to get as clear of a picture as you can of your target audience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with clients who thought they knew their audience only to realize they don’t know as much as they thought. (To their credit, SmugMug’s research team does a great job interviewing their audience and they have a lot of insightful data.) For this project, we partnered with SmugMug to take a hard look at the audiences we had targeted for previous campaigns and to more tightly define their audience of photographers so that we could be more effective with both our messaging and media spend. 

Another step was to look at what had and hadn’t worked in the past and why. We realized most of our messaging was for product-centric campaigns promoting tools that their research team had found were important to this target audience. Yet, despite different creative executions of this messaging, growth had remained consistent. 

With this information, we dove into another important step: reevaluating our assumptions. This is where my impulse to say “this may be a dumb question, but…” always kicks in, but I assure you there’s nothing obvious about this step. In this case, I wanted to challenge the previous assumptions made that led us to the campaigns we created, specifically around who the target audience was and their needs and behaviors. 

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Phase 2: The “let’s go there.” questions: interviewing real photographers

The question we were curious to understand among photographers was what motivates you to keep taking photos? The thought was that if we could understand their “why” (rather than what they needed), we could get a more holistic understanding of the audience and perhaps unearth an insight to support a campaign that felt more personal or attention-grabbing. To get a better understanding of this I worked with SmugMug’s research team to put together a survey that had 4 open-ended questions (among a few demographic questions): 

We sent it out to SmugMug’s internal network of volunteer photographers and received over 130 responses from the subsect of photographers we were targeting. This is one of my favorite parts of my job because reading their answers felt like reading someone’s diary. They were impassioned and vulnerable: 

What made you decide to pursue photography: “My path to becoming a professional photographer continues. A creative hobby had grown into a deep passion, a visual meditation saving life moments... My wife of 32 years passed away 7 weeks ago and I am struggling with grief. My photographs of her are so important now.”

Why do you continue to pursue photography: “I will always want to be better and improve my skills.  I still shoot the high school band even though my daughter graduated 9 years ago...I may be making only a small impact on them, but  I hope I provided them with documents of their high school memories as well as a bit of mentorship. Now that I am approaching retirement age, I have started doing some landscape and wildlife photography. I want to stay active and never stop learning how to improve.”

It’s anecdotes like these, from real people, that provide the rich context for sparking powerful creative ideas, but it’s quantifying the qualitative data that gets marketing teams to sign off on creative.

Strategist questionnaire checklist: 

Tools I used: 

Phase 3: The “what can we learn?” questions: analyzing the data to capture qualitative and quantitative findings

In order to quantify these deeply personal responses, I read and categorized the responses to catalog themes like how many people talked about a passion for photographing nature versus animals, how many have been doing photography since they were young versus picking it up later in life, etc. (Yes, this can be a subjective process. That’s why having a large enough sample size is important to identifying trends.)

Here are a few high-level findings that came out of the data:

After sharing the findings with the SmugMug team, we decided to test a more personal campaign direction as we felt it had the power to resonate strongly with this audience. We developed a hypothesis that if we shifted the messaging away from the product and more towards something emotional and aspirational, we could get more photographers’ attention and observe a lift in brand awareness and affinity. 

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Tools I used: 

Phase 4: The “now what?” questions: turning insights into creative

After presenting the findings to SmugMug and developing a hypothesis (which I handed over to the media team to develop KPIs and a media strategy,) I then collaborated with my creative team to hone in on the insight and outline a few campaign directions. (As I understand, other strategists might have outlined a creative brief before presenting to the creative team. For us, we’re such a small team -two partners and me- and their skills and experience in creativity far surpass my analytical brain that it often proves more fruitful to workshop creative directions together.) Getting to a key insight means finding a revelatory truth that changes the way you see the world. A good insight is temporary and new, meaning what is revealed today is tomorrow’s common knowledge. After reviewing our audience's feedback we came to understand that personal growth happens through a lens. From there, we began building concepts that embodied this insight.

As an analytical thinker working among creative thinkers, let me articulate that powerful creative doesn’t happen overnight. It is a recipe consisting of time, (many) bad ideas, the human experience, and simplification. Don’t speed through this step, and don’t try to overanalyze it in the beginning. Here are some examples of our earlier stream-of-consciousness while developing the campaign idea.

Ultimately, both SmugMug and Teak agreed on a concept that is today called the “This Lens” campaign. This campaign boldly celebrates a photographer’s camera as much more than a tool for capturing an image. It spotlights the influential role the camera plays in the lives of individual photographers. Our strategic process concludes with a question that we now ask the world: what power does your lens have?

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