The big day has arrived, your agency is revealing your new Christmas campaign, it’s an exciting moment and as you are ushered into the agency boardroom by your account team you can see the foamex boards face down on the meeting room table. You know the creative team has been working long and hard to give you three options to choose from, your pretty sure the one they like is the final one, it nearly always is. But what will it be and more to the point, how do you know it is going to help you hit the sales target that has been agreed with your Sales Director and MD?
The truth of it is, you don’t. You hired an agency you love and trust, and their creative team is second to none - there is even a Cannes Lions award in reception - but what does the creative process actually look like? Now, there is a caveat here - every agency is different, but I have worked both in and with agencies large and small, and this is what I have seen:
The creative process:
- Proposition: (noun) a suggested scheme or plan of action, especially in a business context. Or, a statement or assertion that expresses a judgement or opinion. Usually delivered by the account team and interrogated by the creative team in great detail. This is the foundation for the creative process.
- Exploration: This tends to be heavily linked to the budget, and ranges from a bit of Googling through to a weekend immersed in the product and, if we are really pushing the boat out, some conversations with users or customers to understand their experience.
- Ideation: The creative team lock themselves in a room (or bean bag filled corner) and come up with the creative routes they are going to explore. This tends to be a long-list of ideas that will then have some creative time expended on them to see how they shape up.
- Concepting: Ideas come to fruition in scamps (hand-drawn layouts or storyboards) and rough mock-ups to bring the ideas to life on a page.
- Internal Review: The senior account team come together with creative to go through the creative concepts and decide what will be presented to the client.
- Client Review: Back to where we started this article, the very first time the client sees the concepts and is taken through the reasoning and rationale behind them.
- Production: Client feedback is incorporated and artworking/shooting starts. We are locked in until the final review, the concept can’t change now and even edits are bad news after this point.
I imagine this sounds pretty thorough, with lots of opportunity for feedback and review to ensure everyone is happy - so what's the problem, you might ask? Well for me it comes down to the fact that this is an artistic process the success of which depends on how well the Creative Director leading the process understands the brand, the product and the customer, and how effective his account team contacts have been at feeding him this information.
What would this process look like if its foundations were in science and not art? Let’s take a look at ‘The Laboratory’, a process we can run for you at EnquiryLab, and how the application of neuroscience can turn “how can I be sure this is going to work?” into “this has been proven to work, and this is why”.
The scientific process:
- Customer Exploration: The majority of the process is spent here, where we have one goal - deep customer understanding. This doesn’t mean doing research, at least not in the traditional sense of asking questions and trusting the answers, it means the application of scientific tools that will uncover what customers and prospects think of your brand and products, and, more importantly, how they think and make decisions. From this stage, we would draw a number of hypotheses to test.
- Testing: This is all about ‘validated learning’. We take the hypotheses from stage 1 and test it on real customers and prospects to see if it actually works, and take the winning variations through from this stage to the creation of a messaging framework.
- Messaging Framework Creation: We believe that the customer journey has three primary stages that are linked to the ‘need state’ of the consumer:
- Awareness: They have a problem that they have identified and they know needs resolving
- Consideration: They have a short list of different solutions to evaluate
- Decision: They have picked a solution and are evaluating suppliers
How the prospect behaves and thinks at each one of these stages will be markedly different and therefore what they want to see and hear will differ too. We map the learnings from customer experience and testing stages across this journey, so that what you say at each stage propels the prospect forward.
- Asset Creation: This isn’t just about pictures, downloadables or explainer videos, it is about processes and more specifically crafting a holistic and interconnected journey to take the prospect from awareness of a problem to choosing your product.
I hope that at this stage you are thinking “well, that makes sense (kind of), but what are these mystery scientific tools you are using to explore my customers?” Ultimately it is one big tool-set called Neuromarketing, and the individual tools very much come down the job at hand, but here is an overview:
- Neurometrics: There are two main tools used here EEG (which measures electrical activity in the brain) and fMRI (which measures blood flow to certain areas of the brain), they both measure the actual behaviour of the brain when responding to stimuli (like an advert). Certain parts of the brain govern particular responses and it is possible to measure things like interest, attention and positive or negative emotions (sometimes called valence), as well as a number of other factors to understand empirically if a message works - and what to do about it if it doesn’t.
- Biometrics: This is essentially the measurement of physical responses such as heart rate variability, eye tracking, facial decoding, pupil dilation and galvanic skin response. These can all be measured over time with a high level of accuracy so it is possible to tell which specific moment in the review of a piece of creative elicited a positive or negative response.
- Psychometrics: The study of personality types allows us to see key variables like how much detail a subject needs in a communication, how open they are to new things, how much we need to reassure them of the safety or effectiveness of a product and how they like to be perceived by their peers.
In simple terms the application of these three data-sets to our creative process gives us the evidence to prove what we need to say, how we need to say it, and the way this information needs to be presented visually to be effective.
So why don’t more companies and agencies use these techniques?
Well ultimately the four most common objections we hear come down to:
- Time: We need to move fast, there is limited time until the project needs to go live.
- Cost: We don’t have the budget for research.
- Expertise: We don’t have access to this kind of data collection internally.
- Attitude: This kind of prescriptive brief gets in the way of the creative process.
We get this and we understand that to change the way ‘we’ have always done things is tough, but we would say if you plan a little further out (think weeks not months), consider the ROI not the invoice value of the research and use a trusted partner, then it really isn’t that hard. Attitude, however, is more tricky - the psychometrics tell us so!
For those creative teams who feel that being told what to say, how to say it and how a layout should be arranged is hampering the creative process I totally sympathise, nobody likes being told how to do their job. My response is to suggest that ‘the job’ is changing and getting on-board earlier in the process to become a part of the testing of a validation process will become the new creative process, and those that do will be unstoppable in their delivery of measurable success.
A prediction: In 10 years time neuromarketing won’t exist, we will just call it marketing and those companies who are slow to adopt it won’t be around to see the change.