To Test or Not to Test – part 2

So now that you’ve decided what to test, with whom and how, what is your role?

1. Manage your expectations

Know that testing has its place and its uses, but don’t expect testing to provide you with earth-shattering revelations. This is relatively rare. More often, what research can provide is valuable nuances. Such as discovering a particular word has an unintended connotation to audiences. Or that certain types of images or the tone of your photographs evoke a mood your team was too close to the work to see clearly.

Most of all, don’t expect your customers to tell you the ‘big idea’ or give you strong clues as to what it is. That’s our job as marketers and creative people to figure out. And be careful not to take too literally responses to questions as to ‘why’ someone liked or disliked an idea. Often a human being cannot tell you in the moment why they felt an attraction or aversion to a thing. “I just do,” is usually the most honest answer. It is the work of the moderator, analysts and those observing the research to surmise the ‘why’ by seeing common patterns and putting them into social context.

2. Attend research, and pay attention. (who should observe the testing – i.e., you)

All too often, I’ve seen clients and agencies commission expensive research studies, and barely attend them. A few years ago I was horrified to see a client/agency team working on a major beer brand simply socialize their way through focus groups like they were cocktail parties, and to occasionally mock the participants – who were part of their target audience. Not smart and not cool. Nor is it respectful to your customers to ignore them as they talk about your brand or product. I could just hear the ghost of David Ogilvy turn in his grave.

Research matters, and you’re paying a lot for it. Attend every session you can. Open your notebook. And open your mind as you watch the behaviours and listen to the words and the tone of those words. Listen for patterns and jot down key phrases. The final report will have far more meaning for you if you do, and in some cases, your comments on the initial draft of the report will be more on point because you noticed things that even the moderator may have missed.

3. Become emotionally sensitive.

I’m not saying you should bring a box of Kleenex to research or become an armchair psychotherapist. But you do want to look for emotional responses underneath the words. You want to listen past the expected words (most responses to creative can at first seem quite bland) and look for the moments when some real emotion is betrayed in the voice, body language, mood of the respondent.

4. Don’t test unless you have to. (why test)

If as a client or as an agency, you have a concept or campaign that you feel very strongly about, where you feel a very clear sense of ‘this is going to work’, I would advise you not to test. Go with your sense of certainty and don’t cloud your vision. Testing is for when you’re not sure, or when you have stakeholders who demand to see some evidence that you consulted with consumers before investing dollars into a campaign or a brand/product launch.

As you can tell, I’m not a big proponent of testing ideas. If you have an agency with a strong strategy offering and talented creative teams managed by savvy account people, and you have good instincts, then save your money and do pilot programs, test drops, etc. See real human behaviour – in real life context – with regard to your brand or communications, and then incorporate that insight decisively.

But if testing is required, then we recommend an emotionally intelligent approach, one that does not put your customers in the classic position illustrated by the Henry Ford quote: “If I’d asked my customers what they really wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’.”

– W.