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

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Snapshot :  Getting creative work out the door and in front of customers can be a challenge. The creative evaluation process takes time. There can be many distractions and differences of opinion as your try to make the creative work better. To keep you on track through these challenges, we recommend you always come back to three key questions. Who’s it for? What do you want them to think and feel? What do you want them to do about it? 

Creativity sometimes feels like a big box of Cadbury’s Favourites. Fun on your own, but better shared with others.

And, like chocolates, everyone’s got their own favourites when it comes to creativity. Make a bad choice, and you’ll be left feeling sick afterwards. 

So while our favourite creative work might be like Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, your favourite creative work might be more like Fry’s Turkish Delight. (Urgh, seriously, does anyone like Fry’s Turkish Delight?). 

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

People’s tastes will and do differ. These differences impact how you evaluate creative work. 

People’s tastes and experience shape how they evaluate anything creative. You can improve the impact and effectiveness of your creativity if you factor in differences in people’s tastes and experiences during the creative development process. Before you start. While you’re doing it. And even once your done, to learn how to do it even better next time. 

Like it or not, any time we experience creative work, we all make conscious and sub-conscious judgements.

Is it for us? Do we like it? Will it make us think, feel or do something different?  

Considering how people evaluate creative and what you need to do about it improves the quality of the creative work you put out. It helps you produce more distinctive, more engaging and more impactful creative work that delivers business goals and connects with customers.  

Creativity – Deliver a business goal with a target audience

The purpose of creative work in business is to deliver against a business goal directed towards a defined target audience. Purpose and direction makes sure your creative work does what it needs to. It means creative work moves your business forward, influencing and persuading customers to choose your brand. 

Most businesses say that they think about the target audience. And then you look at the creative work they put out, and can tell that the customer view got lost along the way. 

So, to help keep the target audience in mind all the way through the creative development process, we recommend you keep these three questions top of mind. If you can’t answer these questions well, you’ve still got more work to do. 

  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?

Simple, right?

But in creativity, simple is often the best way. Creative work in business has to be for someone. It needs a target audience.

Creative work with no audience won’t grow your business.

How you define who it’s for depends on your business context. In some categories (say Business-2-Business (B2B) companies) your target audience might be one specific person, like a buyer.

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

But in most businesses, your target audience is a broad segment of customers who share similar buying characteristics.

Business context – external and internal factors

Your business context includes external factors like customer attitudes and behaviours, competitors and the way the category operates. 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.

For the creative process to work well, you need to be able to describe your target audience. Creative work that’s designed for a specific audience works better than creative work that’s designed for everybody. You need to paint a mental picture of the audience, so that everyone involved recognises who the customer is, and what they’re like. 

Your description needs to be based on deep customer understanding. The better you know them, the more confident you can be in predicting how they’ll react to creative work.

Will they even notice it? Will they like it and think more positively about you? Can you articulate what you think they will do having experience it? And will this action help you meet your business goal? 

As we said everyone judges creative work. That includes your target audience. And while they might not consciously realise they are creatively evaluating you, you can guarantee that some part of their brain is doing exactly that. 

How to think about your target audience

There’s many ways to help your business stay focussed on the target audience, but one of our favourite simple business hacks for this is what Amazon do. 

In any business, it’s likely you spend more time with other employees (internal focus) than with customers (external focus).

Amazon is no different.

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

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

Amazon box model

Of course, this isn’t the only thing Amazon do that makes them so successful. In fact, they also do many things that make them hard to work with. But it’s one simple little idea that has a large impact. It clearly works for them. And if it works for them, maybe it can work for your business too?

There’s more to good creative evaluation than just remembering the customer though. It’s also about understanding the customer. The ability to put yourself in their place. To understand how they think, feel and do things. Your skill at creative evaluation is only as good as your ability to see creative work from the customer point of view. 

Educating and entertaining creative work

Will the customer even notice the creative work in the first place? Where and when will they see it? If it catches their attention, 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 connect with the customer. 

(see our article on brand storytelling for more on education and entertainment content for example)

Connecting with the customer is what matters with good creative work. It’s what drives them to think, feel or do something. No connection and your creative work is wasted. 

To connect with customers, you really need to understand how they evaluate creative work (both consciously and subconsciously). And for that, you need our old friend market research

Market research and creativity

Good marketers love market research. They love it because it helps them make better decisions and deliver better marketing results. That’s what everyone wants from marketing, right? 

We don’t believe you can do marketing properly without it. Our first ever article was about how important market research is. Customer understanding through market research gets you off to the best possible start with new creative work. 

For example, your advertising and media won’t work if you don’t know how, where and when to attract a customers attention. Market research helps you identify that. 

Understanding what the customer wants to know about your brand shapes the content on your website and your social media posts. For that, you need market research. 

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

Guess what? You need market research for that. 

Customer Experience Persona

This customer understanding is often collated into a customer experience persona template. This template pulls together the key facts about the customer in a way that’s easy to understand and share. 

Secondary, qualitative and quantitative research helps you find the information to fill in this template.

You should share this persona template with the teams responsible for the creative work. If that’s you, 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 easier for everyone involved to have a shared view of the target audience. It helps them picture what those customers are like. It’s used to inspire ideas and to creatively evaluate the work against who the customer is. 

So, once you’re clear on “who it’s for”, the next step’s a natural follow on question. What do you want them to think and feel about it?

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

“Think and feel” come up a lot in the marketing world. It’s not surprising because marketing is a lot about customers. And thinking and feeling are big part of who customers are. 

Thinking and feeling are both a big part of creative evaluation. They work together to help you better understand how customers react with they experience creative work. 

What do you think? - the prefrontal cortex

Everybody thinks all the time. But weirdly, thinking about thinking happens quite rarely. For most people, you just think, you don’t think about thinking, right?

But marketers and creatives do need to think about how their customers think. An understanding of how people think helps improve the quality of what you create for the target audience.

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 are analysing information, exploring options and making 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 working out what to do with them. 

In your customers, it’s the same part of the brain that makes instant judgements and evaluation about your creative work. 

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 you need to work through when it comes to how customers evaluate your creative work. It’s where the customer uses logic and reason to analyse what it sees or hears. And it then makes a rapid decision whether to pay more attention or to move on to something else.

It’s that rapid decision making you need to have in your mind, when you’re thinking about how to influence what goes into the mind of your customers. 

The prefrontal cortex is highly selective

This rapid decision making makes the pre-frontal cortex super efficient for navigating us through life and deciding what matters. 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 to 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.

Thinking about what your customers think, remember (a) they’ll be selective in what they think about and (b) they’ll only give limited time and attention to what you want to tell them. 

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

For example, this means your headline for example needs to grab their attention. Good headlines make a huge difference. (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 you do your creative evaluation and try to put yourself in the minds of customers to understand what they think, have in mind this rapid and selective decision making that goes on in the brain. 

Will they know it’s for them, and that it’s worth their time and energy to pay attention?

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, that plays the major role in 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.

Heart pin button

Sensory inputs

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

The most common would obviously be 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 get to interact with your products or services directly. Your create work needs to think about all the relevant senses involved. And even if you can’t do this directly with customers, you can do it indirectly by showing these sensory inputs happening to others. 

In advertising for example, watch how often you see actors stroking something that’s supposed to be nice to touch like clothing materials 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 factor in this sensory impact on the customer. Because those sensory inputs play a bit role in how the customer will feel about the creative work, and how they’ll make emotional connections 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 are more impactful in changing our moods, behaviours and opinions. In terms of creative evaluation, they add an extra dimension to what customers think, by driving what they feel. And when the two happen at the same time, it’s almost always feeling that takes precedence over thinking.

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. 

These are clearly important influences you want to drive to build the connection between your brand and the customer. Customers need to feel something about your brand. 

These feelings and emotions will be better remembered. They will have more impact shaping what customers will actually do after they’ve experienced your creative work. And obviously, what they do is the most important thing in terms of hitting your business goal.

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

Which brings us to our last creative evaluation question. You know your target audience. You know what you want them to think and feel. But unless, they actually do something, then you’ve no chance of hitting your business goal. 


That doing something might not be an immediate response. It might be you prompting them to do something in the future. But either way, they have to do something at some point. So being clear on what you want them to do about it really matters. 

That’s why in creative evaluation, the call to action is super important. This is an overt, clear direction for the customer. What do you want them to do next? 

It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but it does needs to be something. 

The more you persuade customers to do something, the more connected they’ll feel to your creative work. Actions mean they’ve started to make a commitment. And commitment will more than likely lead to an eventual sale. 

That’s obviously your big end goal, 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, most customers won’t take the time to work it out. If you leave it ambiguous, customers will ignore it or forget it. Doing something makes the customer more connected to you. It makes them make a connection, a commitment which then becomes harder to break. 

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. These are a real pain for restaurants.  

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

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

People in coffee shop from above - a great way to keep in touch with your target audience

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.

When you look at any creative work, spend good time on the call to action. Is it clear what they customer is supposed to do with your advertising, video or product page in your e-Commerce store? If you’re not clear, then how’s the customer going to be clear on what you want them to do?

If it’s not clear, fix it until it is.

Conclusion - Creative evaluation

Creative work is not for the faint hearted.

Whether it’s you doing the creative or someone else is doing the creative work for you, there’s a large amount of judgement involved. That means a lot of creative evaluation to make sure you get creative work that delivers your business goal with your target audience. 

To cut through the noise of creative evaluation, keep these three core questions close to hand to stay on track towards your creative goal.

Close up of a hand with thumb up

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

Next, what do you want them to think and feel? Creative works on the logical, sensory and emotional parts of the brain. Consider these different elements when you picture yourself in the minds of the customer. Ultimately, emotional connections tend to have the longest-term impact, but you need short-term logical and sensory inputs to get into the heads of customers in the first place. 

And finally, what do you want them to do about it? Creative work in business has no value unless it ultimately leads to an action by the customer. 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. For advertising, we’ve got a specific guide on evaluation for that too. Or of course, you can contact us directly, if you’d like specific help with the skill of 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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