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Research Tip: Don’t ask respondents to be art critics

Often, companies want to understand how well the market responds to something they’ve designed.  It could be advertising, packaging, products themselves – anything that involves the creative execution of an idea.

What tends to happen is that a few groups of people are convened in focus groups and a few possible ads (or packages, or product designs) are shown to them.  Less often, the designs are shown in a quantitative survey.

So far, so good.

When things start to go wrong is when the respondents are asked questions like:

  • Do you like the ad/package/design?
  • What do you like about it?
  • What don”t you like about it?

Are these unreasonable questions?  No.  Will they uncover the desired information? No.

What is too often overlooked when testing creative is that the point of marketing communications of any type is to deliver a message – not to be cool, hip, pretty, etc.

By asking people if they like a design or what they like and dislike about a design, we are asking them to do a job that most are unqualified for.  We are turning our respondents into amateur art critics.

Invariably, the responses to the questions above are things like:

  • “I don”t like that color”
  • “A different font would look better”
  • “Why don”t they use a picture of…
  • “It”s ugly”

All are legitimate opinions.  All are useless to us as marketers.

Asking the right questions will get the information that we really need – how effective is our design at communicating the message we wish to send?

The trick to doing this is to evaluate the creative by not asking about the creative.  Instead, our questions will focus on the underlying product or service.

Ask what words or phrases come to mind when the design is viewed.  Now, instead of getting a critique of the artwork, you are learning what thoughts are triggered – and what message is communicated about the product or service – by the design.  Knowing this lets us determine if the message we wanted to convey is getting through.  As a bonus, this process also identifies any unintended associations we may have created.

When this is done in a qualitative setting, the associations can be probed to better understand the linkages in the respondent’s mind.  This is potent fuel for the creatives to refine the execution.

In a quantitative setting, ask respondents to agree or disagree with a series of statements about the product or service – not the advertising, design, or packaging.  These statements would be crafted to describe key attributes or benefits.  By comparing the answers of matched groups – either pre/post exposure or test and control – we can measure the extent to which opinions have been shifted by the communication.  Again, very useful information for marketers and creatives.

The next time you need to test an ad, or a package design, or even the design of a product, remember to focus on the question that matters – does your design communicate the desired message?

About the Author

Ed Erickson is the President of Erickson Research, a Chicago market research consulting firm. You can find Ed on LinkedIn and .

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