Testing Creative Concepts and how to do it

By Tom Dougherty

“A sovereign’s first duty is doubtless to conform with the wishes of the people; but what the people say is scarcely ever what they wish: their desires and their wants cannot be learned from their own mouths so well as they are to be read in the heart of their prince.” -Napoleon Bonaparte

When To Conduct Research

testing creative conceptsAt Stealing Share, we insist on conducting primary research for our clients because we understand the brand value of the nuances within the market place when developing brand strategies. However, we do everything in our power to convince our clients not to “test” brand theme lines, logos, and marks once the belief systems in the marketplace have already been uncovered, learned and mastered.

To our experience, there exists no satisfactory method of determining the true equity in these important creations despite all claims by well meaning firms to the contrary. Once the brand has been researched and understood to be meaningful, different and true, then the execution of that brand should be evaluated by the experts.

We Have Been Guilty Too

Over the years, we have conducted many focus groups, one-on-one interviews and conjoint analysis on behalf of well-meaning clients to ascertain the value and limitations of logos and brand theme lines and have found all methodology lacking in the ability to deliver value.

meaningful research

We have found the best methodology is to test the strategy and preceptive values behind the equities before the creation of them and we have made our process to do just that. The vast majority of brand development firms do this in reverse. First, they create the marks and lines, then they attempt to test the validity of the creative without understanding whether the strategy itself is correct. This is akin to having a waiter bring your meal to the table before you’ve selected something from the menu.

Logos and Theme Line when Testing Creative Concepts

Qualitative research on brand theme lines, logos and marks is not worth the paper upon which it is printed. Failure resides not in the methodology, but in the backward process leading to the study. John Wooden, the former UCLA Basketball Coach Emeritus, and winner of 10 NCAA National Championships while at UCLA, was fond of admonishing that we should “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

And all research studies used to understand the acceptability of a logo, mark, and theme line are exercises in activity rather than accomplishment. They make us feel better because we are doing something not because we are gaining anything of value. We are surprised many companies still insist that we conduct it. We do it for them, reluctantly, not simply because it is a benign waste of their money (see number 1 below) but because many times the results are quite simply cancerous (see number 2 below).

Scenario Number One

The movie and TV industry is famous for testing pilots and pre-release versions of movies and TV series. They spend millions of dollars on this, tweaking names, endings, plot lines, and casting — and yet the end-result has more failures than successes. The reason for this failure is that when asked, test subjects will voice opinions.

testing creative concepts
Research makes a difference

However, these opinions are always viewed in a vacuum and the importance or validity of those opinions cannot be measured. The problem is that no one knew if they cared about the subject matter in the first place — something that should have been be done much earlier. The end result is that failure occurs more often then success appears.

We believe that the research examining what the market values and believes should have been conducted long before the image was burned onto the celluloid. When this is done in advance, experience tells us, there are more successes than failures because the industry knew what was wanted and of interest before the screenplay was written and not the other way around. The process of testing after the fact means it could be testing the wrong strategy. It is also at best a waste of money and at its worst destructive. That part of the story is found in number 2

Scenario Number Two

In number 1 above, we stated that …“when asked, test subjects will voice opinions. However, these opinions are always viewed in a vacuum and the importance or validity of those opinions cannot be measured.

testing creative concepts
One size does not fit everyone

When asked, test subjects will voice opinions. However, these opinions are always viewed in a vacuum and the importance or validity of those opinions cannot be measured.” The opinions voiced very often eviscerate the power in the brand. This is much more likely when research is conducted on theme lines than it is when testing marks.

Our experience with theme testing is that the end result is generally a vanilla reduction of the original idea. Testing, by its very nature, is a study in caution and more often than not the raw power of a theme that is designed to ignite passion gets reduced to its lowest common denominator. By removing all that “offends” and sparks passion, you often remove everything that is memorable and meaningful. If you believe, as we do, that “the price of clarity is the risk of offense” then testing your “pre-tested” strategic theme is putting your future in the hands of amateurs.

It Gets Worse

Focus Groups testing creative concepts
What does the target believe?

To make matters worse, often, this kind of research uses focus groups. Focus groups are comparable to hand towels with regard to coverage: functional after dinner, but utterly futile after a long shower. Research should prove projectable, and focus groups most certainly are not. Neither positive response nor negative response from focus groups is reliable.

Within one focus group, there will be a wide spectrum of responses ranging from positive to negative and everything in between. Many ideas are hailed because the focus group approves of them or disregards them immediately, because the group gave it a thumbs down. Napoleon concludes, “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.” With focus groups, a scapegoat is produced and marketers feel a false sense of security when in reality, rock, paper, scissors would be equally effective.

Right In The First Place

Beliefs direct human behavior, and we insist on the completion of behavior modeling before conducting any research. The modeling projects preceptive beliefs that affect brand purchases, trial, and loyalty. Only after we recognize these possibilities do we embark upon the creation of the brand equities.

testing creative concepts
Stealing Share is a Science

We look to incite what “can be” or “should be” in addition to what IS. Most research acts as a snapshot of the existing market when the real value of research lies in the testing of possibilities. When looking to build a brand that steals market share and changes behavior, it is imperative to challenge everything and observe the problem dispassionately. Research is a crucial element of the brand development model, and yet most of the existing equity research is worthless and tainted with bias before it even has a chance to use its legs.

Great research is revealing, connecting the brand to significant consumer beliefs. This connection, however, does not happen by chance. It requires understanding consumer beliefs and testing them. In other words, “A marketer’s first duty is doubtless to conform with the wishes of the customer; but what the customers say is scarcely ever what they wish: their desires and their wants cannot be learned from their own mouths so well as they are to be read in the heart of the strategist.”

(Read more about the types of market research that work here)