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

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Why read this? : Creative evaluation can be tricky. We look at the challenges you face getting creative work through a business. Learn how to deal with disagreements and different points of view. Read this to learn 3 key questions which help keep your creative evaluation on track.

Creativity can feel like a big box of Cadbury’s Favourites. Lots of fun choices. But what I like, may very well not be what you like. 

For everyone who (rightly) thinks Dairy Milk is the best, there’s also someone else who (weirdly) loves the Turkish Delight.

The same differences in taste and opinion happen during creative evaluation. They lead to difficult conversations and delayed decisions and delivery.

Clearly, not what you want.

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

Creative evaluation is a process that’s meant to help improve the quality of creative work. You use it in big projects like advertising and public relations, and more everyday creative tasks like editing blogs and evaluating photos.

You get people inside your business to look at the creative and give you feedback. This gives you an idea of how it’ll land with people outside the business (i.e. customers). Feedback is important. It helps you identify what’s working and what isn’t. This helps your creative work be more distinctive, relevant and engaging and connect better with customers.

Creativity - Influence your audience to deliver a business goal

Don’t forget what creative work is for. It’s there to influence your target audience so you hit a business goal. The business goal will be a change in customer attitude or behaviour which leads to more sales.

The target audience is a specific segment 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 get forgotten. To prevent that, keep coming back to these 3 questions :-

  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 can be a specific person. A buyer if you work in Business-2-Business (B2B), for example. Or a big customer segment 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 designed for everybody.

The more specific your description of the target audience, the easier it’ll be to remember who it’s for. 

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

Paint a picture of the audience so everyone can visualise them. Create a customer profile your agency can use. (more on this below). 

Example of a customer segment profile for a hypothetical customer for perfume called Defender Dionne

They should know who the customer is. 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's in the room

This brings us to a simple tactic to help keep the customer top of mind. It’s from one of the world’s most customer-focused businesses, Amazon

In any business, you probably 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.  It makes sure their point of view isn’t forgotten when the business makes decisions.

It’s a nice visual reminder to remember who it’s for.

Amazon box model

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’s 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 educate and / or entertain to connect with the customer. (see our brand storytelling guide for more on this). 

Connecting with the customer is what makes them think, feel or do something different. No connection, no creative impact. You use market research to understand how this connection works.

Market research and creativity

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

For example, you need to know how, where and when to attract customer attention to make your advertising and media work. Market research helps you find that out. 

You need to know what type of website content and social media posts will drive consideration. Market research helps you work that out too. 

And you need to know how customers decide what to buy. Guess what? Market research tells you that too.

Customer Experience Persona

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

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 an agency, make sure they also refer to it regularly. 

Customer Experience Personal Template Blank.001

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

Once you’re clear “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 their behaviour. Especially,  how they make decisions, and how to influence those decisions.

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

What do you think? - the prefrontal cortex

We all think. But we don’t often think about the act of thinking. Until you read this, when was the last time you thought about thinking, for example? 

But marketers and creatives should regularly think about thinking. 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 which 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. 

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

When customers think about your creative work, they’re using their pre-frontal cortex. It evaluates the creative by answering key questions like :-

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

You should have the prefrontal cortex in mind (!) when thinking about how customers evaluate your creative work. It’s where the brain uses logic and reason to analyse what it sees and hears. And it then decides whether to pay more attention or move on to something else.

The prefrontal cortex is highly selective

The pre-frontal cortex is very efficient at dealing with everything our brains get exposed to. But to do this, it has to be 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 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 this 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 has 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 what we learned writing article for more on this). 

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 sits another important part of the brain which also impacts how customers evaluate creative work.

This is a part of the brain called the limbic system. It shapes our feelings and emotions. That includes how we feel when exposed to creative work. 

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 5 senses. 

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

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

Sound covers music and the spoken word such as used 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 e.g. for perfumes (good smells) and 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 how our brain handles feelings and emotions. It responds to sensory and other inputs to make us happy or sad or frightened or angry and so on.

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 thalamus, the hypothalamus, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. This system not only drives emotion, but it directs behaviour and helps create long-term memory. 

Creative work which 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 more easily than logical facts. Feelings and emotions have a strong impact on what customers do after experiencing your creative work. That matters if you want that to be buying your brand.

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

What you want customers to do is our last creative evaluation question.

You know your target audience. You know what you want them to think and feel. But unless they do something, you won’t hit 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. It’s how customers know what they’re supposed to do next. 

Actions make customers feel more committed to the brand. This commitment signals they’re moving along the journey 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 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 number of no-shows. It shows the value when you ask customers to make a commitment by acting. By doing something.

One restaurant found a way to reduce these no-shows by adding 2 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 committed to doing so.

When you look at creative work, make sure the call to action is clear. Make it clear what you want customers to do. From your advertising campaigns to your product pages, make the action clear. Because if there’s no action, then there’s no impact. 

Conclusion - Creative evaluation

Creative evaluation means managing lots of opinions, and understanding how people judge what they experience. 

You work with the feedback to deliver better creative work which appeals to your target audience and helps you hit your business goal.

That’s the purpose of creative after all.

To stay on track with your creative evaluation, focus on these 3 key questions.

Close up of a hand with thumb up

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

Next, what do you want them to think and feel? Creative works on the logical 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 inputs are important. 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 leads to action. It’s the call to action which drives customers to buy your brand. That’s obviously what you want your creative work to deliver.

Check out our how to give great creative feedback article for more on this. We also have specific guides and articles on evaluating advertising, copywriting and logo designs. Or get in touch if you’ve specific questions on 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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