The innovative breakthrough, early ad testing with creative professionals

Testing ads with creative professionals and using research in the creative process


Testing Ads Using Creative Professionals Early In The Process


Human centred design, often called Design Thinking, has transformed how most large agencies are producing campaign ideas and driving product innovation for their clients.


Inspired by the lean-advertising movement, creative teams are allowing for minimum viable campaigns to be evaluated and stress tested internally and with consumers before the client even gets to review the work. This need for validation early on in the process is healthy, considering recent research shows that brands that focus on early validation see an increase in sales efficiency of the final campaign by over 30%.


40 years ago, this would not be news. Historically, research has been an integral core competency at agencies, but like the media buying functions, and even production to a certain extent, has shifted to independent research firms who manage the process, methodologies and budgets with clients directly.  


At we’re trying to bring more attention to the early process by developing our product called Sense Check, which allows tailored groups of 30 external professional creatives to evaluate any brand or agencies’ work to identify areas of improvement, strengths and actionable feedback to improve the concept behind the campaign.


If the trend continues where research becomes more integral in the design process, researchers from the brand clients could be adding tremendous value to teaching and imparting their process and techniques on their agencies.


Basic concepts of moderating a focus group, panel bias, survey design and thematic analysis could be given to agencies which would yield more tested ideas and campaigns by the time they reach the client.



The Creative Process. Where Research Could Help!


We've spent the last 2 years (and most of our careers) learning from agencies and brands about their frustrations with the creative process. Most of the challenges, we found, are natural outcomes of how departments and organizations are structured. A few common themes include:

1) No extensive tools or resources at agencies to conduct research.

2) Tension between agency and client during feedback sessions.

3) Understaffed and overworked agency staff means less time for collaboration, client knowledge development and feedback channels.

4) Fragmentation of emerging creative disciplines (mobile, social, CRM, personalization) makes it hard for clients and agencies to "know it all"

5) Consumer segmentation changing from pure LSMs to psychographics without adequate tools or understanding

6) No on-the-ground resources available to understand foreign markets, track global trends or test creative with locals

Check out our blog post on fun quotes on research in the advertising process

Qualitative Research Methodologies in the Feedback Process


What we love about qualitative research is its focus on exploring and explaining the "why" of research questions.

Although the creative process is grounded in lots of consumer and media data, usually the creative insight or breakthrough still comes through qualitative exploration of consumer feedback, in-depth interviews, ethnographic immersions and focus groups.

We also believe that tapping into the professional ability to vocalize and articulate their feelings, emotions and observations about creative concepts will add a new dimension into qualitative approaches.

Take our own Logo design for example: By using best practices in qualitative research, and not just calling a feedback meeting, we were able to generate constructive and well informed feedback from our internal staff and clients in the industry.

They were able to reflect and provide comments through tailored surveys that seemed more informed than they might have given if we shot over a quick email or asked for feedback in a real-time chat room. Through questionnaire design, the right people were asked the right questions and our research team was able to conduct a more proper analysis than if they were forced to take notes during a feedback session.

What Value Professionals Add to the Early Stage Creative Development?


Positioning - Optimizing product and brand message statements

Say we wanted to find out how a brand is positioned in the market compared to others. We could form hypotheses around why it is positioned where it is. So from a qualitative point: How are the customers talking about this brand, how is it enjoyed, why choose this particular brand compared to others?



Actionable Advice - The missing “Why” and “What Now” Creative Research


Imagine the motor industry was known to experience high turnover rates, but the problem was it couldn’t quite be clearly defined. The data might show that it is indeed true and say something like;


In a study done of 100 companies in the motor industry, 3 out of 10 employees leave every month.


But it wouldn’t provide much insight into the why? How do they really feel about their job or future of their respective industry? This is typically one of the chief complaints about creative research techniques offered by existing vendors.


Getting a  6 out of 10 doesn’t really explain why a campaign’s engagement score is so low, nor what could be done about it. Layering in a panel of professionals can help expose some of the reasoning why certain indicators could not be performing well, and more importantly: what to do about it.


To make more informed decisions, we need more insight into the relevant information.


Qualitative gives a coherent story to the accurate statistical data that exists, the what to the how many. It is important to provide confidence to clients or buyers of market research by gathering all the relevant qual and quant in order to put back in them the confidence of their initial concept ideas.



Professional Feedback > Non-Professional Feedback


Well, let’s be clear here: we are not slamming creative feedback coming from non-professionals. BUT… it is unmistakably refreshing to get paragraphs of responses from professionals that are able to articulate concepts of emotions, feelings and technical design suggestions.


There is little need to have to read between the lines with professionals as they are trained to critique and guide during this process and can also use metaphors that cut straight to the point.


Crowdsourcing - Overcoming Organizational Limitations at Agencies and Brands

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For such an old concept, this is still an emerging discipline for many. We've been actively understanding how large, online and independent "crowds" of creative professionals can tackle creative challenges often more effectively than a single agency or department.

Using the crowd for feedback allows for more objectivity than is often found within organizations, more unique insights from different minds and ultimately a better source for the client and agency to make decisions from.

Reduce Risk through Crowdsourced Feedback


Organizations, by design, often create bubbles that keep teams, departments and brand owners away from interacting with the outside world and people on the street.


Often breakthrough ideas come from a piece of information from outside that everyone missed. The same holds true for risk.


It only took one of our panellists to surface the fact that one of our logos was 98% identical to one of their clients’. By using professionals when testing creative concepts and campaigns, you are getting access to minds that are working on dozens of clients, reviewing hundreds of other pieces of information that your team might not have access to and thinking about problems and opportunities in a different way than you.


The Broader Picture


Looking ahead would like to firmly position itself within the creative process that exists between the brand and its respective agency.

The objective is to work alongside agencies, to be recognized as a facilitator, provide unbiased and objective feedback from like-minded creative professionals so as to alleviate the pains of constant checks between the two players.

To help brands improve not only their response time to completion of a campaign but also to prevent them from using their ‘Get out of jail free card’ card by playing it safe and completing all the ticks from a major marketing firms’ standards.

Where they could possibly be dubbed as producing content that has a ‘copy and paste’ feel, or is too generic, because it ultimately lacks colour or sense of real differentiation from their previous ads seen before.

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