Archive for July, 2017



Advertising Communication Checks: Valuable or a Necessary Evil?

Posted on: July 26th, 2017 by doyle

adcommchecksFrom the desk of Kathy Doyle

I’ve been conducting advertising communication checks for over 30 years, and one thing has not changed…   most of the parties involved dread them. The agency doesn’t like seeing their creative work questioned based on input from a small number of research participants in an artificial setting.  The client does not like navigating the politics of getting the job done, all the while knowing the agency is less than thrilled. And no one really likes sitting in a back room, or in front of a computer screen, for hours on end listening to the same questions being asked every 20-30 minutes.

Yet there are some very compelling reasons why we continue to conduct communication checks:

  • To make sure we haven’t lost sight of who the target is, keeping our finger on the pulse of how best to communicate with them, and mitigate coming across as pandering or tone deaf
  • To make sure we haven’t missed the mark on messaging, and mistaking what we thought was crystal clear for a totally unintended meaning
  • To make sure the visuals support the message, rather than conflict with it
  • To make sure that brand/product recall is strong. It’s great if people love the ad, but if they don’t know what it’s advertising, what’s the point?
  • To optimize (or eliminate) executions prior to quantitative testing and/or final production. Why not find out if there are ways the execution can be tweaked to strengthen it before spending large sums of money?

Clearly, I’m coming out on the side of considering communication checks valuable.   To maximize their value, here are Six Tips for More Productive Communication Checks:

  1. Limit exposure to three executions per respondent, to prevent fatigue from clouding candid feedback
  2. Video storyboards with audio are acceptable; a complete video (albeit rough cut) is better; don’t make the consumer work too hard to see the idea
  3. Consider exposing the ads in a clutter reel to more closely simulate a real viewing experience and more accurately assess breakthrough
  4. Keep them 1:1 for the most honest commentary. People rarely watch programs or web surf with others, let alone strangers!
  5. Keep them short (20-30 minutes) to prevent over-thinking and to be efficient. We often do 12-18 interviews per day!
  6. Consider conducting the interviews online rather than in-person. When people are at home, they are more relaxed and more likely to provide candid feedback.  Use a platform built for research for the most problem-free experience.

One rule to keep in mind: Avoid using communication checks to kill a creative concept. Not only is the sample size too small, but the research is designed to assess communication not the core concept, so elimination is incongruous in this research context. Follow this one simple rule, incorporate some of the tips above, and the needle can easily be moved from “necessary evil” to truly advantageous!

Five Divergence Strategies for Breakthrough Ideation

Posted on: July 10th, 2017 by doyle

From the desk of Laura Duguid, Qualitative Researcher, Innovation Specialist

Recently I was asked to help design a workshop for aspiring idea generation facilitators. My charge was to devise an overview of divergent thinking techniques for use as a reference tool when designing ideation sessions.

The challenge gave me pause. How would I distill my 25+ years of ideation session design experience into a two-night class? Well, by starting with divergence of course! So, I let my mind wander, allowing incubation and inspiration to collaborate in my subconscious and…voila! A solution emerged. The scores of divergent processes I’ve played with, employed, customized and created over the years seemingly stem from five basic creative thinking strategies:

Divergence2Free Association: A multi-purpose strategy useful for just about any ideation objective. It starts with posing a basic question, “What all comes to mind when you think of __________________,” then what the blank contains really gets creative juices flowing. Consider inserting rich language/descriptors, photography, art, music (actually play some!), texturally rich tactile items, scents, tastes/flavors, you name it! Ultimately, the group ends up with a wealth of divergent starting points to inspire new ideas. Popular free-association exercises include Creative Group Conversation, Mind Maps, and Lights Out.

Snowballing: This multi-purpose strategy encourages brainstorm participants to continually build on each other’s ideas again, and again, and again stimulating volume and therefore divergence. A technique called Brainwriting is one way to do it, but consider also things like teams filling-in two dozen empty blocks on a piece of easel paper or a relay race with prizes to generate the most ideas. Also, after any small group exercise, always group share and snowball further on the ideas.

Personification: Bringing to life a product, brand or service is a fantastic way to generate ideas for positioning, messaging, language, and descriptors. Portray your inanimate subject as super heroes; first, second, and/or third generation relatives; or famous people. For more tangible ideation objectives like new products, services, or line extensions, “person” work can also take the form of role playing (e.g. a target audience in various situations), and hypothetical product or services marriages and/or imagined offspring.

Force Fit: Taking what’s familiar and making it strange to get something new is a wonderfully radical way to get at new products, services, and line extension ideas. Popular force fit techniques include Random Word (pull a word at random from the dictionary and use it as a springboard to stimulate a new idea); Arthur Van Gundy’s Product Improvement Checklist (PICL); and Cross Categories.

Characterize & Change: Mostly applicable to product, service, and line extension work, simply characterize all the benefits or attributes of something and change one or more to get to new ideas. Or, use the more guided S.C.A.M.P.E.R. technique (take an existing idea/product/service and Substitute something, Change something, Maximize/Minimize something, Put it to other uses, Eliminate something, or Reverse it somehow). Another variation is the Negatives to Positives technique (list all the negatives of an idea/product/service then change them or replace them with something positive).

I encourage you to try a technique or two in your next brainstorming session, and experience first-hand the creative power of intentional divergence. Enjoy the ride!