Creative evaluation – 3 key questions to keep you on the right track

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Snapshot : Everyone’s got an opinion on creativity, which means navigating creative work through a business can be frustrating. Creative evaluation takes time. You have to manage disagreements and different points of view, and it’s easy to lose focus. In this article, we share three key questions that’ll keep you on the right track. 

Creativity can feel like a big box of Cadbury’s Favourites. Lots of fun and variety, but people’s have different tastes.

Different tastes means differences in opinion about what’s best. (though clearly Dairy Milk is the best, while the less said about Turkish Delight the better.) 

These differences in opinion (about creative work, not about the chocolates) can lead to difficult conversations, drawn-out decisions and delays in delivery.

Clearly, not what you want. 

A box of Cadbury Favourites with the word creativity coming out of it

When you know how to manage creative evaluation, you can improve the quality and speed of how creative evaluation works in your business. This applies both to large-scale projects like advertising and public relations and more specific everyday creative skills like writing and graphic design.

Differences in taste and opinion come up because everyone makes judgements about creative work when they experience it. Consciously or sub-consciously, everyone evaluates creative. 

Is it for me? Do I like it? Will it make me think, feel or do something different?

Hearing how people inside your business evaluate creative work, gives you some idea gives you an idea of what people outside it will think. It’s an opportunity to gather feedback you can use to make the creative work better. 

Feedback is important. It helps you identify what’s working and what isn’t. This helps your creative work to be more distinctive, relevant and engaging and connect better with customers.

Creativity – Deliver a business goal with a target audience

Always remember the purpose of creative work in your business. It’s there to deliver a business goal with a defined target audience. 

The business goal will be a change in customer attitude or behaviour that’ll lead to more sales. 

The target audience is a specific group of customers, not every customer. This is important. The more targeted your creative, the better the impact it’ll have.

Sounds simple, right?

But, there’s often so much noise and distraction through the creative process that the goal and target audience can be overlooked or forgotten. To stop that happening we recommend you come back to three basic questions that you ask yourself over and over again.

  1. Who’s it for? 
  2. What does it need to make them think and feel? 
  3. What do you want them to do about it?

Creative evaluation question #1 - Who’s it for?

A simple question, but often forgotten. 

Creative work has to be for someone. No target audience, no sales.

Your business context shapes how you answer this question. 

The target audience might be one specific person – like a buyer if you work in Business-2-Business (B2B), or a large group of customers if you work in Business-2-Consumer (B2C). 

Archery target with words superimposed to say who's it for?

Your business context covers external factors like customer attitudes and behaviours, competitors and the structure of different sales channels.

It also includes internal factors like your business goal, your marketing plan and which creative skills you need to meet that goal and deliver the plan.

Describe your target audience

Creative work that’s designed for a specific audience works better than creative that’s designed for everybody. The clearer and more specific your description of the target audience, the easier it’ll be to remember who it’s for. 

Your description should come from deep customer understanding based on market research insights. The better you know your target audience, the more relevant the creative work you’ll produce. 

Paint a picture of the audience so everyone involved can visualise them. They should know who the customer is, and what they want. Make the description so vivid, that when you talk about them, it’s as if the customer is in the room with you. 

As if the customer is in the room with you

Which brings us on to a nice simple tactic you can use to keep the customer top of mind. It’s lifted from one of the world’s most customer-focussed businesses, Amazon. 

(check out our separate article on working with Amazon). 

In any business, it’s likely you spend more time with other employees than with actual customers.

Amazon is no different.

So, to keep the customer focus, they famously add an extra empty chair in big internal meetings.

The empty chair symbolises the customer, and makes sure their point of view isn’t forgotten when the business makes decisions. 

Amazon box model

It’s a nice visual reminder to remember who it’s for. Of course, there’s more to creative evaluation than remembering the customer though. It’s also about understanding them. Being able to put yourself in their place. Knowing how they think, feel and do things.

Good creative evaluation means you need to look at creative work from the customer point of view. 

Educating and entertaining creative work

For example, will the customer even notice the creative work in the first place? Where and when will they see it? What will make them stop  and pay attention?

If they notice it, what will they think? Will they find it educational? Will it help them think or know something new or different? 

Or will it be entertaining? Does it tap into their feelings and emotions? 

Creative work needs to do one or both of these things – educate or entertain – to get noticed and connect with the customer. (see our article on brand storytelling for more on education and entertainment content)

Connecting with the customer is what makes them think, feel or do something different. No connection, no creative impact.

To connect with customers, you need market research to understand how they evaluate creative work (both consciously and subconsciously). 

Market research and creativity

Market research helps you make most informed decisions about customers and deliver better marketing results. It’s an important part of marketing and the creative evaluation process.

For example, you need to know how, where and when to attract a customers attention to make your advertising and media work. Market research helps you identify how to do that. 

Understanding customers shapes what you create as  website content and for social media posts to engage with them and drive consideration. For that, you need market research. 

And knowing how customers make their final purchase decision shapes how you drive sales through traditional retailer and e-Commerce channels.

Guess what? You also need market research for that. 

Customer Experience Persona

This customer understanding is often collated into a single page document called a customer experience persona.

This template pulls together the key facts about the customer from your secondary, qualitative and quantitative research. The template is set up to be easy to understand and share with others.

You should share this persona template with the team responsible for the creative work.

If that’s your team, refer to it regularly. If you outsource to a marketing agency, make sure they refer to it regularly. 

Customer Experience Personal Template Blank.001

The persona makes it easy to have a single shared view of the target audience for everyone. It paints a picture of customers. Use it to inspire ideas and to creatively evaluate the work against the customer description. 

Once you’re clear on “who it’s for”, the next question’s “What do you want them to think and feel about it?”

Creative evaluation question #2 – What do you want them to think and feel?

You hear the words “think” and “feel” a lot in marketing. Understand how customers think and feel, and you’re a long way to understanding how they make decisions and how to influence those decisions.

Those decisions include creative evaluation. Thinking and feeling are part of how customers evaluate creative work they see. 

What do you think? - the prefrontal cortex

We all think, but it’s rare to consciously think about the act of thinking. Until we just mentioned it, when was the last time you thought about thinking for example? 

But marketers and creatives need to think about thinking on a regular basis. Understanding how customers think improves the quality and impact of creative work.

In basic scientific terms, thinking is a series of electrical and chemical reactions that mainly take place in the front part of our brains, known as the prefrontal cortex

Skull - Marketing Creative Selling

The prefrontal cortex carries out much of the work we most closely associate with logic and intelligence. When you analyse information, explore options and make rational decisions, the pre-frontal cortex is where most of the neurological action is happening. 

These words you’re reading now? It’s your pre-frontal cortex that’s telling the rest of your brain what to do with them. 

When customers experience your creative work, it’s the pre-frontal cortex that carries out the initial evaluation. It’s where you think about what you see.

Is it important? Do I need to remember this or care about it? Do I need to do something about this?

The prefrontal cortex is the first mental barrier consider when reviewing how customers evaluate your creative work. It’s where the brain uses logic and reason to analyse what it sees or hears. And it then makes a rapid decision whether to pay more attention or move on to something else.

The prefrontal cortex is fast but highly selective

This rapid decision making means the pre-frontal cortex is super efficient at dealing with everything our brains get exposed to. But to do this, it has to be super selective. It’s estimated the brain is exposed to around 11 million different inputs per second from the external environment. But of these, it only processes around 50 per second.

Do the maths.

Most inputs to the brain get ignored. 

The prefrontal cortex uses a lot of energy

And here’s another thing. Receiving all those inputs and selecting which ones to process takes a lot of energy. The brain might be only 2% of our body weight, but it uses up 20-25% of our daily energy. 

The prefrontal cortex uses a lot of energy when it’s fully switched on. That’s why it typically works best in short bursts. It needs time to recover and recharge. It’s why your attention span is limited. And it’s why long periods of intense concentration leave you feeling exhausted.

Remember these thoughts when you think about how customers think. Remember (a) they’ll be selective in what they think about and (b) they can only pay full attention in short bursts. 

If you want to connect on a thinking level with customers, it needs to be obvious to the customer that (a) it’s relevant to them and (b) it’s worth the mental energy to pay attention. 

For example, this means your headline matters a lot. Good headlines make a huge difference. It helps customers decide if your creative is relevant and worth the effort (see our article on what we learned writing in 2020 for example, where we show how 80%+ of viewers or readers only read the headline)

When doing your creative evaluation and trying to understand what and how customers think, think about the prefrontal cortex and its rapid and selective decision making. Think about how to make sure the customer knows right away it’s relevant and worth the effort. 

What do you feel? 

Behind the prefrontal cortex though sits another important part of the brain that also impacts how customers evaluate creative work.

This is a part of the brain called the limbic system. Its key role is shaping our feelings and emotions.

These feelings and emotions are again driven by electrical and chemical changes in the brain, partly from inputs from the prefrontal cortex, but also from our different senses.

White round badge with a read heart symbol against a dark grey background

Sensory inputs

Customers experience your creative work through one or more of the five senses. 

The most common sensory input is obviously sight, closely followed by sound.

Sight obviously comes into play with creative skills like writing, advertising and photography.

Sound obviously covers music and the spoken work such as you might use in video production or radio advertising.  

Eye

Creative work can also extend to the other senses like touch, smell and taste.

You might run a PR event for example, where customers directly interact with your brand. That type of creative can involve all the senses. You can also drive indirect interactions by showing these sensory inputs happening to others. 

In advertising for example, watch how often you see actors touch textural items like clothing fabrics or expensive furniture.

Look at how often you see actors eating and enjoying the taste in food advertising.

Even smell crops up in advertising for perfumes and aftershave (good smells) or cleaning products (bad smells). 

Your creative evaluation needs to consider the sensory impact on the customer. These sensory inputs influence how the customer will feel about the creative work, and how they’ll emotionally connect to it. 

Emotional connections – The limbic system

The limbic system is at the centre of how our brain handles feelings and emotions. It responds to sensory and other inputs to make us happy, sad, frightened, angry, proud or guilty. 

These emotions last longer than the fleeting thoughts of the prefrontal cortex. They have a big influence on our moods, behaviours and opinions.

When you hear people say they did something without thinking, or they didn’t know what they were thinking, that usually means feeling (the limbic system) has overruled thinking (the prefrontal cortex).

The limbic system is made up of multiple interconnecting parts of the brain including the hippocampus, the amygdala and the hypothalamus. This system not only drives emotion, but it directs behaviour and helps create long-term memory. 

Creative work that appeals to this part of the brain builds stronger connections between your brand and the customer. It helps them feel closer to your brand. 

People remember feelings and emotions easier than they remember logical facts. Feelings and emotions have a strong impact shaping what customers will actually do after they experience your creative work.

That’s clearly important if you want what they do to be buying your brand. 

Creative evaluation question #3 – What do you want them to do about it?

What you want customers to do should be your last key creative evaluation question.

You know your target audience. You know what you want them to think and feel. But unless they actually do something, it makes no difference to hitting your business goal. 

“Doing something” doesn’t have to mean right away. It can be a prompt to do something in the future.  Either way, they have to do something at some point.

That’s why in creative evaluation, the call to action matters so much. This is an overt, clear direction for the customer.

When you influence customers to act, they start to feel a connection to the brand. They feel more committed because of their actions. This commitment is a big sign that they’re moving closer to making a purchase.

That’s obviously what you want, right?

Find out more. Call us. Book an appointment. Click here. Download the e-Book. Buy Now. 

All clear calls to action. 

Unambiguous. Direct. Action oriented. 

If you don’t spell these things out, customers won’t make the effort to work it out. Leave it ambiguous and customers will ignore it or forget it. The call to action to makes it clear what you want the customer to do. 

Call to action - example for restaurant bookings

We recently read an interesting call to action example about restaurant bookings, and how to reduce the amount of no shows. It shows the value when you ask customers to make a commitment by acting. 

One restaurant found a way to reduce these no shows by adding just two words to the standard way they took a reservation.

Rather than the vague “Contact us if you can’t make it” which customers could easily ignore, they asked a more direct question and call to action Will you contact us if you can’t make it?”. 

See the difference? 

They certainly did with a dramatic reduction in no shows. Customers were far more likely to call to cancel a booking if they’d acted i.e. said out loud they would do so. They’d made a commitment to act. 

When you look at creative work, make sure the call to action is clear. Is it clear what you want customer to do with your advertising, video or product page in your e-Commerce store?

If you’re not clear, how do you expect the customer to know what you want them to do? Because if they do nothing, then your creative hasn’t worked. 

Conclusion - Creative evaluation

Creative development can be a tough process. Creative evaluation means you need to manage lots of opinions and understand how people judge what they experience. 

That means a lot of creative evaluation and feedback to deliver creative work that hits your business goal with your target audience.

That’s the purpose of creative after all.

To stay on track with your creative evaluation, keep asking these three key questions.

Close up of a hand with thumb up

Firstly, who’s it for? Paint a picture of the target audience that everyone can recognise and understand. Market research is your friend here. Use it to fill out clear customer experience personas that show exactly who the creative work is for. 

Next, what do you want them to think and feel? Creative works on the logical, sensory and emotional parts of the brain. Consider the prefrontal cortex when you think about how customers think, and the limbic system when you think about how they feel. Logical and sensory inputs help you get noticed, but emotional connections form stronger bonds in the long term.

And finally, what do you want them to do about it? Creative work in business is meaningless unless it ultimately leads to action. It’s action that drives customers to buy your products and services. That’s obviously what you want good creative to deliver.

Check out our creative skill guides to find out more. We’ve also got a specific guide on how to evaluate advertising. Or of course, contact us directly if you need more individual help with creative evaluation. 

Photo Credits

Thumb up (edited) : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Target (edited) : Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Amazon boxes : Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 on Unsplash

Skull : Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Heart pin button : Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Eye : Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

Cafe : Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash

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