Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all. – Thomas Carlyle
How did the human race become the dominant species on Earth? Is it our keen fashion sense? Our obsession with reality tv? Or maybe even our tendency to claim countries with flags?
No, it was our ability to use tools. And, not just any tools, but the right tools for the right jobs. Our intellect allowed us to discern when a tool was called for. And with our handy opposable thumbs, we crafted the tools needed to get the job done. Using the right tools is still the key to success – in life and in business.
Is your marketing agency leveraging the tools that it needs to succeed? And, is it using the right tools to help it get ahead?
Here’s a round-up of some of our favorite tools for creative agencies, tech innovators, content marketers and anyone else who ideates and creates.
These are the tools that will help you take your creative business to the next level and grow your agency.
Every business that trades in creativity understands the value of a free and open flow of ideas. Editing and judgment be damned, first, you just have to get the ideas out there.
But, then you must do something with them.
Some agencies use whiteboards or giant easels for brainstorming sessions. But’s it’s a hassle to transcribe all those ideas in a portable form that easy to carry and, more important, act on.
So, what to do?
Luckily there’s several handy apps and programs that your agency can use to pitch and organize ideas in a meaningful, actionable way.
For instance, take Lucidchart. Lucidchart is a mind-mapping and flow-chart technology embraced by such corporate giants as Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Netflix.
Mind mapping is a technique for visualizing and organizing ideas.
Genevieve Conti of Zapier describes mind maps as:
…a visual way to organize your thoughts around one topic using words, colors, images and numbers to highlight ideas and draw connections.
Mind maps also are a simple and intuitive way to brainstorm ideas and then expand upon those ideas with other associated concepts. This process improves brainstorming because the visual nature of the mind map allows you to see and explore the concepts with more depth.
Lots of information can be shared and summarized quickly with the use of simple keywords and lines to establish associations between them.
You can learn more about the mind-mapping process itself here.
But, back to Lucidchart.
Lucidchart is a web application that can be used on Windows, Mac, iPhone/iPad and Android devices. The user-friendly interface allows you to display ideas and associated concepts with keywords, images, and icons. And, you can add links to web pages or files to supplement your ideas.
Lucidchart allows you to collaborate with your team in real time. And, best of all, you can access and manipulate your mind maps from anywhere.
So, the ideas your team shared at your last brainstorming are immediately available to them as soon as they walk out the door.
And that’s a heck of a lot handier than waiting for type-written transcription of your last brainstorming board.
Lucidchart offers several subscription options starting with a basic package costing only $4.95 per user per month, making this one of the most cost-effective tools on our list. You can also step up to more robust features with their Pro, Team or Enterprise packages.
Other Brainstorming Tools:
Mindly (a free mind-mapping app available for both iPhone and Android) encourages you to “organize your inner universe.” And, indeed, the mind maps you create with Mindly resemble small solar systems. Each topic can grow additional “moons” of related concepts or to-do items. Before you know it, your brainstorming session is represented by a multi-tiered galaxy of ideas.
SimpleMind Pro lets you choose from several mind-mapping templates and create exportable mind maps featuring text, images, icons, files and web links. Sadly, SimpleMind Pro does not allow you to collaborate in real time.
Project Management Tools
Brainstorming great ideas is only the beginning of the journey.
Acting on those ideas makes the real difference between agencies that try and agencies that succeed.
Follow-through, time management, and effective collaboration are all essential to moving an idea from the ether into reality.
So how do you keep your team accountable, moving forward and on track?
This is where project management tools like Asana, Trello, and Basecamp come in.
These tools all share one trait – they allow you to organize and manage tasks or projects visually.
Humans process visual information better than text-based info:
Visualization works from a human perspective because we respond to and process visual data better than any other type of data. In fact, the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Since we are visual by nature, we can use this skill to enhance data processing and organizational effectiveness.
And, that’s precisely what tools like Asana do.
Asana is a clean, Zen-like program that allows you to organize tasks into easily managed lists or boards. You can assign tasks to team members and apply due dates to keep items accounted for and on schedule.
As tasks progress, you can physically move them from stage to stage to create a quick visual snapshot of your overall progress at any time.
Asana isn’t a closed system – it can integrate with over 100 other apps, so you can pull in relevant data and files or export your project plans.
Asana is a web application that you can access via any operating system and browser. And it’s also available as a mobile app for Android and iPhone; so, you can take it with you on the go and manage your projects from anywhere.
You can give it a try for free. Asana offers a limited feature version for teams of up to 15 members for absolutely no charge. If you want features like advanced search & reporting, or task dependencies, you can step up to the Premium version for $9.99 per member per month.
But Asana isn’t the only option out there. If Asana isn’t the right fit for your company, check out these alternatives.
Other Project Management Tools:
Basecamp touts itself as your company’s “central source of truth.” This web-based tool (with terrific mobile apps) can be used on any operating system and offers online chat, message boards, file sharing and task management all in one convenient hub. You can learn more about how it works here. And your team can give Basecamp a try free for 30 days or sign up for one of their affordable paid plans. We’re huge fans of Basecamp and have used it at crowdspring since 2008.
Trello is a free web application that allows you to work collaboratively and organize your projects across all of your devices. (Mobile apps are available for both iPhone and Android.) Trello features a visual organization system that allows you to map out processes and tasks, upload and attach files, and integrate with other apps your business is already using. Not quite as full-featured as Asana, it offers quite a lot for a free application. We love and use Trello for content planning (for our blog) and for product roadmaps.
If you work in a creative business, then you know the importance of good design. And, you also know that “good” design isn’t enough; it also needs to be thoughtful and brand-relevant.
So how can you ensure that each design meets these important metrics?
The first step is to plan properly. Brainstorming ideas helps, but you need more than just the concept and direction that brainstorming typically provides.
Enter the mood board. This tool can help to elevate design conceptualization and planning to the next level.
As we wrote in our previous article, “How to Use a Mood Board to Inspire Your Small Business Brand,”
A mood board is a collage filled with images that express a central theme. Photographs, magazine clippings, textures, works of art, color palettes, words, illustrations – any visual medium that communicates your concept or “mood” is fair game.
Mood boards serve multiple functions. The act of creating the board allows you to visually flesh out a design idea. And, the completed board can then be used as a tool for communication – with clients, investors or your design team.
To learn all about mood boards – the science behind how they work and how to create your own – check out this article.
Other Digital Mood Board Tools:
Niice is another sophisticated web application that allows you to build beautiful mood boards. It supports team collaboration and features an artificial intelligence that automatically organizes your image library for you. Niice offers mobile support – but as of right now, only for iOS.
Agencies are at an inflection point. Clients are cutting costs and demanding more innovation and creativity. Competition is becoming fiercer, but resources are becoming scarcer.
Crowdsourcing is a fantastic tool that should not be overlooked in your agency’s toolbox.
Crowdsourcing will help you do more, in less time, while meeting the increasingly demanding needs of your clients.
First, the scale of crowdsourcing exceeds even that of the biggest global advertising agency. It brings in more people to focus on a certain ad brief…. Naturally, receiving more ads increases the odds of getting a few truly exceptionally creative ones.
Second, the diversity of people involved in ad generation is far greater in a crowdsourcing campaign than any agency in the world. This allows marketers to get outsiders to think about the brand and, more importantly, use outsiders’ fresh and novel perspectives in generating an authentic ad.
Third, crowds and creatives in agencies are motivated for different reasons. Crowds are often motivated by intrinsic reasons — they generate ads because they enjoy the creation process. Their participation is entirely voluntary…. We know from psychology research that intrinsic motivation is the fuel for creativity…
Crowd creativity is powerful. As Acar points out, large numbers of diverse and motivated creatives bring high levels of dedication, fresh perspectives, and unique ideas.
If you’re an ad agency looking for your next commercial spot, a branding agency looking for logo options or a marketing team looking for its next great content… you may find your solution in the crowd.
Tongal is a crowdsourcing site boasting a team of over 125,000 filmmakers who want to help you create your next great video. Their current “In Production” list includes videos for such well-known brands as National Geographic, The Lego Group and Quicken Loans.
Here’s how it works… Clients post a brief outlining what they’re looking for. Directors pitch their video concepts. The winning ideas are chosen and produced.
But, maybe you don’t need video. Maybe you need copywriting or a new logo, website or product design. Fret not! There are crowdsourcing options for you, too!
Other Crowdsourcing Tools:
Crowdspring is a world leader in crowdsourced design and naming. Over the past decade, crowdspring has helped tens of thousands of the world’s best agencies, entrepreneurs, small businesses, Brands, and non-profits with logo design, web design, product design, packaging design, and even naming businesses and products. You can get a finished design in as little as one day. Custom design and naming projects on crowdspring start at $299 (including all fees) and there’s a 100% money-back guarantee.
The world’s best small, midsize and large agencies choose crowdspring for design because of crowdspring’s huge community of creatives (210,000 from 195 countries), industry-leading intellectual property protections and policies, award-winning product and customer service, and Pro tools build to agencies.
Crowdspring’s Pro tools for agencies include:
- White-label, agency-branded presentation sites to help agencies deliver great results and get feedback from their clients.
- Unlimited public and/or private focus groups.
- Team collaboration tools (with granular user permissions).
- Private galleries.
- Search engines exclusion.
- Non-disclosure agreements with individual approval options.
- Customized project legal contracts.
- 100% Money-back guarantee.
- Work with one, three, or dozens of designers at the same time.
- Pay as you go. No set up costs, no minimum monthly or yearly spend, and no surprises.
Scripted is a crowdsourced site for copywriting. If you need a blog article, product description or email newsletter, Scripted’s pool of thousands of writers has got you covered. To hire one of Scripted’s writers, you must be a member. Memberships start at $149/month; and, then you pay per piece. It’s a bit of an investment, but it’s more cost-efficient than hiring a full-time writer for your staff.
For more visual marketing tools, we recommend you read 12 Awesome Visual Marketing Tools That Will Help Grow Your Small Business.
The right tools can make or break your agency.
The late, great Paul Arden – advertising and motivational guru, and author of It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be – once said,
If you get stuck, draw with a different pen. Change your tools, it may free your thinking.
We encourage you to consider how these tools might make your agency more efficient, creative and cost-effective.
Growing your agency’s creative business has never been easier.