No one builds a house without an architectural drawing, assembles bedroom furniture without the instruction sheet, or embarks on a cross-continental road trip without Google Maps locked and loaded on their mobile device. I mean you could, but it would be ill-advised. Almost as ill-advised as attempting to create impactful marketing messages without having a smart strategy in place. Do so at the risk of torching the budget and having nothing but ashes to show for it.

At its most basic, a strategy helps define what it is you’re attempting to accomplish with your message. Creative, in turn, becomes how you accomplish it. Just as form follows function in architecture, creative follows strategy in marketing. What are we trying to do here? That’s the job of strategy. If the aim is to boost sales by introducing a unique new feature, your marketing strategy can simply be to find ways to show how this feature actually improves one’s life. Then the creative accomplishes this by illustrating tangible benefits in a memorable way. Whiter teeth, more durable house paint, a car that brakes when the driver fails to. It’s the job of creative to serve these benefits up in as compelling a way as possible.

Unfortunately, there is often no obvious difference between your product or service and the competition’s. And that’s when strategy is of paramount importance. This is no time to jump into the creative fire without your strategic asbestos underwear. On the contrary, this requires a fire walk that’s more strategic than ever. Now is the time to really hone in on the marketing problem and reveal information that makes even the most “me too” product unique. The goal is to discover something singular that only you can lay claim to. Eureka! You’ve now refined your strategy enough to deliver a more effective creative product — and deliver the most bang for your marketing buck.

So what comes first, strategy or creative? It’s not exactly a burning question. Companies that put strategy first create brands that last. And don’t end up in the ash can.

About Casey Fluegge

Casey Fluegge, senior copy director, has been writing ad copy for 30 years. When he’s not slinging words for his kid’s college tuition, he enjoys reading American non-fiction, going on a good hilly bike ride, and patronizing the nearest craft brewery. To chat about wordsmithing, you can reach him at caseyf@2rm.com.