Ask Lindsay

How To

I’m not a creative expert – so how do I evaluate creative?

Lindsay Says

The creative review process is one of the trickiest parts of brand activation.

When you’ve completed your brand positioning strategy, and are beginning to activate it, the process often looks like this:

  • You give the strategic direction to a copywriter, designer, photographer, or some other creative partner, and ask them to bring it to life.
  • That partner comes back to show you what they’ve created.
  • It’s your job to evaluate it.

Creative evaluation is a subtle blend of art and science, heart and mind. This delicate yet critical balance is not often taught, and only the lucky few find a mentor to guide them toward expertise. Thus, it’s a topic I’m often quizzed about.

The HOPE Framework

I’ve created a three-step framework that I teach my clients to use when evaluating expressions of their brand – from web copy, to logo design, to photography, to print or even TV ads. It’s also a subtle blend of art and science. I call it the HOPE Framework.

  1. HEART
    First, look at the creative they’ve put before you, and identify your immediate reaction. Do you like it? Don’t think about it; just notice your response. How does it land? This is a split-second response, a gut reaction, so the only thing to answer is: Do I like how it makes me feel when I first see it? Don’t spend a lot of time on this step. As soon as you observe your response, put it in the back of your mind, and move on to Step 2.

  2. ON POINT
    This is the chance for your analytical brain to weigh in. In my observation, this step is the hardest and where most people get lost, so it pays to take your time.

    Before you look at the creative, spend some time reviewing both your brand positioning and the brief that set the strategic direction for the creative. Focus on the tone and personality of your brand. Think about the net takeaway that you identified as most important for this piece of marketing to express. Do this for a good 5-10 minutes before looking at the creative again.

    Because you saw the creative in Step 1, you know whether or not your heart (or gut) likes the piece. Now answer the question: Is this creative on point? Does it express the net takeaway I need it to express? Does it embody the brand’s personality and tone? Does it solve the directive outlined in the brief? It’s imperative at this point to be analytical. No emotional reactions allowed; make a purely objective assessment.

    Until you’ve practiced evaluating creative a lot, Step 1 tends to be easy, and Step 2 tends to be awkward. Remember this is a learned skill that requires practice, and give it a go.

  3. EXECUTION
    Now we peer into the future, and imagine the creative you’re evaluating is already in play in the marketplace. The question to ask here is: Are there tactical, pragmatic advantages to this approach? Let’s consider a few examples:
  • Rich Barton, founder of Zillow and Expedia, once wrote a thought-provoking blog post about how to name a company. Among other insights, he notes that high-value Scrabble letters (e.g. Z, X, K) are more memorable to consumers. There’s also less competition: there aren’t a lot of Z names out there, and brands like Zillow, Zulily and Zappos are capitalizing on this.
  • Take great care when evaluating logo design. Pragmatic concerns include whether the colors of the logo reproduce well on screen and on paper. If your budget is tight, having a logo with seven colors is more expensive to print than a logo with two colors. Is your color combination visible to the colorblind (8% of men)? Does the logo work well in black or grey, when color printing isn’t possible? If your company is international, are your colors appropriate across cultures?
  • If you’re evaluating packaging, remember that it will live on a retail shelf next to similar products. Will it visually pop off the shelf when compared to competing products? How does the package fit into standard retail shelving – will it take up enough space to make an impression?

Take a good amount of time with this step. Your thinking must be granular and precise to avoid embarrassing – and costly – missteps.

Bring It All Together

Once you’ve completed all three steps, I suggest that you go back through them again. Review:

  • Do you like it?
  • Does it express the point that you need it to express?
  • Does it have executional challenges or advantages?

The conclusions reached in Step 3 are tough to argue with; they are solid and logistical. Steps 1 and 2 can more nebulous. I’m often asked: What should I put more weight into, Heart or On Point? It depends.

I find that my clients who have been doing this for years gravitate toward Step 2 and forget to check whether they like the creative. So I encourage them to emphasize Step 1. For my clients who are newer to evaluating creative, I find that they tend to either focus on the ease of Step 1 or get lost in the details of Step 3, so I encourage them to devote more energy to examining Step 2.

The HOPE Framework is designed around a fundamental reality: that marketing done right involves both heart and mind, and draws on both art and science. If you use only one side to evaluate, you miss the power and perspective of its counterpart. So be sure to use both.


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