When it comes to sitting down and developing creative, I am not a big fan of “process.” That’s mostly because I find that every creative’s “process” is different, and that agency “processes” often get in the way of a creative’s being able to do whatever he or she needs to do to generate strong ideas.

Yet there is one bit of process that I find important to always follow—and that’s to generate many, many ideas for any project before settling on an answer.

But in today’s advertising world, that’s tough to do. Deadlines come faster than ever, and creatives are expected to turn in work in a matter of days…or even hours. So the temptation for many of us is to develop one or two ideas, then run with one of those.

Of course, that’s the worst thing that any creative can do. Because our initial ideas are usually the expected stuff—the off-the-cuff, easy answers that most any creative can and will have after looking at the same creative brief.

That’s why it’s so important to explore a wide range of ideas. The more ideas we generate, the more likely we are to push beyond the easy answers and get to the good stuff. The stuff that’s not only unexpected, but also thoughtful, relevant and ultimately, most effective.

The rule of thumb I share with my creative advertising students at Virginia Commonwealth University:

  • If it’s a one-off ad, you haven’t earned the right to even think about stopping until you’ve developed at least 10-12 concepts.
  • If it’s a campaign, same thing. But that usually means you’ll be in the neighborhood of 40 concepts, since each campaign has multiple elements.

Personally, I strive to paper the walls with the ideas, and push and push through multiple threads of thinking until I’ve got at least 30-50 to consider.

Let me be clear: a lot of those ideas suck. And that’s exactly the point. Unless you go through the process of generating dozens and dozens of ideas, you’re really never able to tell the good stuff from the bad. And those first ideas? They are almost always the bad ones.

But here’s the thing.

Every once in a while—and I mean, like once in every fourth or fifth blue moon—that first idea actually is the best one. As a creative, you have to leave yourself open to that (very slim) possibility. Sometimes I come up with an idea off the cuff that seems pretty good, but I discount it just because, well, it was my first idea.

And that’s the beauty of the “process.”

If you move on from those first ideas, and generate a ton of work for consideration and review, you will truly be able to evaluate the value of that first idea because you will have something to compare it against. There have been a few times I have looked back over 30 ads and thought, almost begrudgingly, “well, that first one is actually pretty darned good.”

But without those other 29 ideas on the wall for comparison? Well, I’d never feel comfortable going with idea number 1. And neither should you.

While a firm’s brand is made up of more than just the visual identity—logo, color palette, fonts—aesthetics do play a huge role overall in the process of branding. Simply put, your brand’s visual identity should positively distinguish your firm from the competition.

The origins of branding are all about distinguishing one cattle from the next. And in marketing, it’s not just about differentiation. It’s about setting your brand apart and standing out—positively—from the crowded sea of competition. So is your brand an asset or a liability in that endeavor? Here are a few thoughts on knowing when your brand needs a visual update.

A dated or tired look and feel

Just because you can still wear clothes from high school or college doesn’t mean you should. Fashion styles are often representative of their “era” and as time passes, those styles change. Likewise, some brands just look visually dated and are in need of an update. With few exceptions, failing to convey a progressive “with the times” message visually can be a detriment to your brand.


ODEC was challenged by a dated brand and an unsophisticated logo that didn’t reflect the company’s mission.

Remember, the point of branding is to stand out from the competition, but you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons. This doesn’t have to be a wholesale change, just a modernizing of the overall brand look. Obviously, you’ll want to leverage the equity that you already have in your existing brand, but bring that brand into the modern era.

Acknowledgement of the digital age

Many brands have a timeless look (think Coca-Cola) and are not subject to the previous point. However, many brands were developed before the digital age, when we lived in a predominantly print world. As you know, digital has had an enormous impact on marketing and firms have had to expand their brand identity to acknowledge the digital space. Corporate websites, social media profiles, email signatures, email marketing, video and other digital media have added complexity to the traditional brand standards guide.


AMA-Richmond wanted to expand their color palette and create a logo better suited for the web and social media.

On top of that, the traditional primary/secondary color palette can and should be expanded for the web. Some firms have not strategically addressed digital, rather adjusting and adapting on an “as needed” basis. So if your firm has not considered all the various digital applications of your brand and addressed those in a strategic manner, it might be time for an update.

Changes internally need to be reflected externally

Some firms experience fairly significant changes internally that warrants a refresh of the existing brand identity. Whether changes to the business model, addition or subtraction of key services or markets, cultural transformations, etc., these internal changes should be communicated to the external audience. This is where a communications plan comes into play. And part of the communications plan should include a brand refresh or update, because significant internal changes also need to be reflected in a brand’s visual identity and key messaging. If your firm now looks different on the inside, it also needs to look different on the outside. 

Changes in mission and offerings prompted DAS to refresh their brand identity to better reflect their firm.

Changes in mission and offerings prompted DAS to refresh their brand identity to better reflect their firm.

An underdeveloped brand identity in the first place

Some firms never fully established a solid brand identity from the beginning. And so for one reason or another, the existing identity doesn’t adequately represent the firm and needs to be refreshed. As stated earlier, you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons. So if the quality of the visual brand doesn’t accurately reflect the quality and essence of the firm itself, strategic design considerations should be given to the brand.

Refresh vs. rebrand

It’s important to distinguish a brand refresh from a full-fledged rebrand. You don’t always need to start from scratch—developing an entirely new name and new logo. Think of a brand refresh as more of a facelift, leveraging existing brand equity while expanding the look, feel and messaging with fresh treatments and positioning.  While sometimes a brand update impacts the logo, other times it doesn’t; it may just involve looking for ways to explore new type treatments, color palette expansion, photography styles, messaging and other brand elements.

The visual identity of a brand is foundational to conveying the attributes, characteristics and messaging that differentiates your firm from everyone else. If any of these circumstances resonate with your firm, it might be time to consider a refresh.

Do you know a nonprofit marketer who is a strategic dynamo, who is respected as a thought leader, or whose achievements have transformed their organization?

Now’s the time to shine a spotlight on all nonprofit marketing rockstars, and help them achieve recognition for their incredible accomplishments. How? By nominating them for the AMA’s 2015 Nonprofit Marketer of the Year.

The 2014 winner, Kate Grant, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Fistula Foundation in San Jose, California. The organization transforms the lives of women with the childbirth injury obstetric fistula by funding curative surgeries.

Nominations are due by March 31, 2015. The winner will be invited to the AMA Nonprofit Marketing Conference in Washington, DC, in July. Learn more about this prestigious annual award and get the nomination form at www.ama.org/nonprofit.

Registration for the AMA’s signature annual conference for nonprofit marketers is open! The conference zeros in on essentials to help nonprofits engage their audiences and meet mission-critical objectives. It attracts marketers from around the country in organizations, foundations, and associations both big and small.

This year’s conference will be held July 13-15 at the Fairmont Washington, DC in Georgetown. Register at www.ama.org/nonprofit today.