Left brain; right brain. Right brain; left brain. What’s the connection?

I’ve struggled to write on the topic of strategic creative and research because I don’t know where to start. They seem like opposites, but they’re not. They’re more like magnetic poles, connected by a coherent energy field. Or, even like the proverbial chicken and the egg.

So, to start somewhere, let’s start with how I use research to start a creative project.

Research informs strategy. It tells us what’s working and what’s not, so we can focus our creative efforts in the areas that need it most. I’ve always worked with qualitative research—listening to clients, listening to clients’ clients, listening to the chatter around a client. You can’t do great creative without some great listening, so I approach quantitative research the same way. I listen to the data. It doesn’t drive or direct, but it has a voice in the process. That voice helps target my creative efforts—where are the gaps I can hit? If I have multiple messages to communicate, which one can or should lead?

I love testing creative possibilities with research. Focus groups generate either clear qualitative data on what works, or clearer questions for the revision process. Brand promise testing gives data on how an institution’s audience reacts to nuances of language. Analytics can tell you which web pages or social media posts have had an impact.

As a writer, I love that stuff. It makes my life easier when I face the dreaded blank page: the blank area is smaller and I already have an outline.

The whole chicken and egg cycle can be elusive, but it’s the ideal, if it can be done well: research helps me shape and target effective creative. The effectiveness can be tested with research which then informs another round of more effective creative.

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