How To Overcome Creative Blocks in Your Marketing Plan

How To Overcome Creative Blocks in Your Marketing Plan

Mike Krankota, authorWritten by Mike Krankota, Art Director

We’ve all been there: You have this magnificent idea, but you can’t get it out of your head and onto paper. Or perhaps you have grand hopes for a goal but are having trouble plotting out the concrete path to get there. Whether your project is visual, conceptual, or written, we all struggle with this process from time to time.

For clients working with agency partners, this creative block often manifests itself through statements like, “I’m not sure what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it,” a strategy that often leads to extensive trial and error that introduces added frustration for all involved. On the agency side, it can manifest in the form of hours spent staring at a screen until the imposter syndrome fully takes over and every idea feels equally terrible. In other words, creative blocks are no fun for anyone and often contribute to outcomes no one is satisfied with. So how do we combat them and break on through to the other side?

As an Art Director with many years of experience, I’d love to walk you through my process for dealing with creative blocks on the path to better real estate marketing (using a bit of good humor along the way).

Write Your Way Out of the Problem

The best advice I have ever received in my career—and one I pass on to my team—is that sometimes the messaging should steer the design and not the other way around. If you’re feeling like the idea isn’t quite there, often a great copywriter can pull it out of the trash with a magnificent tagline or bite-sized messaging idea that gets things going. Don’t be afraid to reach out for written inspiration to help get the gears moving again on your project. In lieu of external copywriting help, creating a word cloud of simple bulleted list of the big ideas you want to convey can also be a great place to start. You can also reach out to Threshold for help with your creative process! Our writers specialize in writing their way out of the problem and helping inspire messaging-driven content.

brand guidelines document for real estate brand

Walk Away For a Minute

A wonderful mentor advised me once to sometimes go walk a dog. Take care of your plants. If you must, mess about on social media or something. Just take that little break. Keep the thing in the back of your mind, let the ideas happen organically, and just see what comes up. It can be easier said than done (there is a certain inertia to overcome before getting away from your desk), but brains are excellent at working through challenges in the background and sometimes that’s the best path forward.

Personally, I rely on my garden and dogs for help with this. I didn’t acquire these things specifically for this purpose but they certainly don’t hurt. For others on the creative team, it might be pestering a cat, taking the trash out to the dumpster, or doing a crossword. Whatever your strategy, walking away from the desk is a fantastic way to consider, find, and explore new ideas.

Flip It Upside Down

So you’re looking at a possible idea. Say it’s a name. A logo. A website. But something isn’t quite right. What if you flip it all the way over to find new ideas? What is the opposite? And when you consider it, does it resonate? Is there a place to find a new perspective from flipping the idea and seeing the other side of it? Why or why not?

Often, our internal creative discussions start with “what if…” and that is why we succeed. Asking that question always leads to big ideas.

pencils on colored backgrounds representing inverses

Sleep On It

This tactic is like “Walk Away For A Minute” taken up a notch. It works best when you’re partway through your creative process or have reached the end of a certain stage and can’t decide how to proceed to the next. In these cases, sometimes, the answer is to just muse for a moment. Again, your brain is great at working through things in the background, so sleeping on it (literally or figuratively) can really help you wrap your mind around a complex project or elusive strategy.

For example, at Threshold, we always encourage clients to give immediate ‘gut reaction’ feedback but also to think about it for a few days and offer additional thoughts after they’ve had time to sit with it. Sometimes, the presentation is what draws you. Or a color. Or a feeling. But ultimately, you need to make sure this is the right call for you and your company/property/startup/etc. and giving it some time can sometimes be the best way to get there.

That said, make sure the time you take is intentional and structure. Give yourself a deadline and think about the questions you need to answer in order to proceed. If you wake up the next morning and still like everything you saw, consider why. What appealed? Why did it resonate? How can we turn this into something that sells?

At Threshold, we are experts in this process, so we try to guide feedback based on our levels of experience. It’s a fun process, especially when timelines allow the opportunity to involve multiple stakeholders in the creative process to ensure the end result is something everyone feels invested in.

Phone a Friend

Sometimes, a single creative can do this. Often, it’s a group effort. “Hey, I have this idea, any thoughts,” is all it takes. Creative teams are naturally collaborative. We are stronger than each individual part, and the sum of a true team is far greater than you can imagine.

This is a strategy we use constantly as an agency team, but it applies to client teams too. If you can’t come to a consensus among those you collaborate with, it’s often wise to ask someone who understands the larger goals of the project. Their feedback, whether positive, negative, or neutral can help push past the half-baked concept and illuminate actionable steps toward a more perfect execution.

Threshold has a collaborative environment that demands that the best idea wins, regardless of who came up with it. At the same time, we pride ourselves on being a client partner who can work with everyone to make sure it’s a win all around. After all, if you can’t successfully champion the ‘why’ behind a particular strategy, there’s likely a better idea out there and working together is the best way to find it.

creative marketers providing design feedback

In Conclusion

Creative blocks and “I’ll know it when I see it” attitudes are a pain for both agency creatives and client-side stakeholders. But a holistic thought process and a willingness to collaborate can turn something that seems impossible into some of the biggest wins of your real estate marketing plan.

How Real Estate Designers Can Promote Racial Justice in the BLM Era

How Real Estate Designers Can Promote Racial Justice in the BLM Era

picture of the author, a graphic designerWritten by Emily Barker, Graphic Designer

In the midst of the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests around the U.S., the design community revived discussions of anti-racism and activism and how it fits into the field of Graphic Design. Just what exactly does designing for social change look like? Specifically in the field of marketing and advertising, the topic of social justice can often feel at odds with the day-to-day worklife in an agency. That’s especially true in the field of real estate–centered design, where the emphasis is often ‘heads-in-beds’ and being 100% leased up, without much room for discussions on equity. However, this sort of all-or-nothing thinking, especially in fields that are complicated, nuanced, and related to issues of housing and equity, can stymie conversations on race and equity before they even get started. The truth is that there are many avenues toward anti-racist marketing while also meeting the needs of clients whose focus is on leads and leases, and real estate designers have a unique position in advocating for those anti-racist strategies.

Creating Historically-Informed Real Estate Design

Anoushka Khandwala in her article entitled “What Does it Mean To Decolonize Design” talks about understanding the schema of one’s own history as a way to re-examine motivations and find new and better modalities of design for the future. She argues that, “With every design choice we make, there’s the potential to not just exclude but to oppress; every design subtly persuades its audience one way or another and every design vocabulary has history and context.”

What can that mean for us as real estate designers? At Threshold we delved into the history of redlining and the Fair Housing Act as a way to better understand the industry and its numerous failures and shortcomings. This meant a combined team of creative and digital staff researched the history of the Fair Housing Act and redlining to create an agency-wide presentation of the history of the Fair Housing Act and red-lining. The creative team made social posts outlining the history of redlining and the creation of the Fair Housing Act during the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. For more information on redlining and how it denied Black American’s housing and generational wealth in the U.S. please click here.

instagram post about the history of redlining

What this revealed to us was that, as real estate marketers, we had an obligation to help our clients adhere to the FHA rules and regulations. Strictly speaking this meant using photos of diverse individuals in the marketing materials, ensuring that websites were ADA compliant, and using FHA and ADA icons. But it also revealed holes in the system or gray areas where we could advocate for our clients to choose inclusive marketing and branding strategies and also choose to go above and beyond in their digital marketing strategies to prioritize inclusivity.

How Designers Can Be Advocates for Social Change

In Jarrett Fuller’s article on Isometric Studios he describes the studio as one that is “rethinking the way in which designers build a better world”. The founders Andy Chen and Waqas Jawaid describe their clientele as broad: “We’ll take on any kind of client who demonstrates a desire to think about what authentic inclusion looks like, what foregrounding marginalized narratives looks like.” The article goes on to describe the work of Isometric as that of advocates as well as designers.

This is a familiar role for designers as we are already advocating for good design as we talk to our clients about our work and advise them on the best choices for their brand. Isometric Studios would take that same advocacy a step further and challenge the client’s perspective on social issues when needed and advocate for development of brands that support the greater social good. Sometimes this advocacy can look like recommending that a client incorporate people of diverse races in their lifestyle photography or choosing a logo that celebrates the existing community culture where their new development will be built.

diverse group of residents at apartment pool

One important way to have these conversations with clients is to directly addressing the elephant that is so often in the room: gentrification. By addressing this openly we are better able to advocate for our clients to help them maintain a positive reputation and resident satisfaction. These types of conversations present the opportunity for us to simultaneously advocate for our client and the greater community’s needs by encouraging our clients to create positive connections with their communities.

How do we ask our clients to connect with the communities they will exist in? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Hosting events for the neighborhood at the property
  • Striking mutually advantageous partnerships with local businesses
  • Resident appreciation events that feature goods and services from the local community 
  • Hiring local instructors to teach fitness, art, or meditation classes
  • Hiring local artists to design artwork for the property
  • Host a concert of local musicians
  • Offer communal spaces to local groups for weekly meetings
  • Organize volunteer days with residents or staff in the local community

The point of these conversations and ongoing partnerships with the community isn’t to whitewash the real estate industry, but to offer real-world pathways for community engagement for our clients.

Isometric Studios, in their interview with Jarrett Fuller describes their name’s origin as “a floor plan drawn at a thirty degree angle where the same scale is used for every axis, creating a non-distorted image. ‘It’s an ideal that isn’t really possible,’ Jawaid said. ‘But we’re interested in that ideal. We’re designing for that ideal.'”

In the same way, we can also struggle towards a more ideal design practice in real estate design. We can become advocates for creative work that will be better suited for this current, complex, and multicultural world and our clients will benefit from the nuance that design will bring to their brands.

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