How to Be a More Creative Marketer in Four Easy Steps

It's Less About Advertising and More About Whole-Brand Identity

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Once a year, Creativity goes for a power walk in Ad Age's wingtips for the making of our creative-marketers issue. The marketers report showcases the ideas and opinions of brand leaders who have demonstrated, in our estimation, a grasp of creativity in some form or other. So what's a creative marketer? Our list over the past few years has included communications success stories, certainly, but more and more the companies that land on the list seem to be less about advertising and more about whole-brand identity. The report is lousy this year with companies born from a singular idea, those for whom marketing approach and brand identity are inextricably linked.

Trust is cited up and down as key to client-agency relationships and great work. But the fundamental unit of trust in that equation, it seems, is a marketer's trust in the identity of its own brand and the ability of the whole company to foster meaningful expressions thereof.

Here, four tips from those who put at least as much effort into what their brands are as what they say.

1. Mean what you say. But first, mean something.

Eric Ryan, co-founder of design-forward, environmentally considerate household-products maker Method, says the company "started from a brand point of view. Then we built a company around that."

The founders of Threadless, the tee success story whose audience is also its design force, cite the importance of authenticity and people onboard who believe and participate in the brand. "There isn't a secret to making things appear that way," says Creative Director Jeffrey Kalmikoff, evoking other fairly creative marketers. "You just do it or you don't."

2. Ideally, have some ideals beyond your brand.

The founder of Howies (now part of Timberland), the Welsh clothing company that was world-conscious before you could dine out on such a trait, says: "The thing that has not changed from day one is the desire to make people think about the world we live in. This is, and always will be, why we are in business." The new Howies store in London will feature "30 to 40% other stuff" such as a lending library and a water fountain to refill bottles; the company leads a brand camp (in the wilds of Wales ... in yurts); its skateboarding team has traveled in a chalkboard-paint-covered van soliciting opinions on nuclear energy. Not from Cardigan, Wales, and don't have a skateboard team, you say? So what? Anyone can take some inspiration from the company's efforts to cleave to a big mission and to bring a bigger-picture sensibility to a brand.

3. Learn to let go (and for God's sake loosen up).

On the subject of assaying new forms of communications, eBay Senior Director of Brand Marketing Kevin McSpadden's embrace of experimentation is what launched the company in the first place. "It's the micromanaging of your brand that prevents it from flourishing. ... Innovating, trying new things and engaging people in new ways -- for me it doesn't feel risky. It feels good." He also notes that the company isn't afraid to "take the piss out of ourselves" in its entertainment efforts.

4. You're a leader -- act like one!

Says Method's Ryan: "Consumer research tends to be a trailing indicator, not a leading indicator, and we can't follow the trend. We've got to set the trend and be visionaries -- it's our only chance of success. When you take that comfort of consumer research away, it forces you to actually think."

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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and E-mail her at
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