NOTE: We first published this blog in 2018, when we were all nestled in our offices, hallways were buzzing with chatter, and meetings were live and in-person. And in thinking back on how much our work environments have changed over the past few years, we thought it would be helpful to revisit these tips. Now in 2021, Zoom calls, virtual presentations, and, well, really anything can seem like a challenge! But with a fully remote team, we’ve learned some of the must-dos and don’ts when sharing creative feedback virtually. Enjoy!
The screenshare of your meeting is just about to start. You’re finally going to get a peek at an early version of the creative project your remote marketing team has been working hard on for the last few weeks. You’re excited to see some awesome eye-candy and/or hear some brilliant content. But what if you don’t love it? What if you hate it? What if you don’t know if you love it or if you hate it? Regardless, you want to be a good colleague or client and give feedback that is honest, yet respectful. But, you’re not quite sure how to do that, especially when you’re separated by a computer screen. We can help.
This is business
I think Picasso is a genius, you couldn’t disagree more and are a fan of Monet. E.E. Cummings is my favorite poet. He leaves you scratching your head, but you can recite Robert Frost. Who is right and who is wrong? Neither of us. Because we are talking about art and poetry which are entirely subjective and based on personal opinion and taste.
While we are all tempted to look at marketing creative as we would art and poetry (and it partially is those things – hence our name), the truth is marketing is about business and the communications that help meet business objectives. Words and visuals are simply creative tools we use to break through the clutter and gain awareness, but there is so much more strategy that drives the end result. Keep this in mind each time you review a creative project.
There is no “I” in marketing
Before you begin a review session, remind yourself there is no “I” in marketing. Okay, there technically is! But there shouldn’t be when giving creative feedback. To be blunt, what I like or what I don’t like – if based only on personal preference – is not credible creative input. It is opinion only. And while your creative team certainly appreciates your opinion, it is the opinion of your audience that determines how well the creative meets its objectives. So, rather than focusing on what you like or don’t like, consider how what you are seeing and reading supports your business objectives.
Take a look through their glasses
You elevate your response from opinion to input when you give it via the lens of your audience. Here is a stereotypical for-instance: If you’re a fifty-year-old selling snowboards to teens and twenty-year-olds, you may not love your creative. It might seem too loud or too brash or too “insert adjective here.” One of the best actions you can take is to embrace the notion that it doesn’t matter if your creative speaks to you. It matters if it speaks to them.
But what if you are your audience? What if you are a forty-year-old selling to other forty-year-olds? You might think that makes input simpler, but it actually makes it even more difficult. Now it is even harder to strip away your preferences and opinions because your creative is supposed to speak to you, right? Perhaps. But keep in mind that its speaking to a version of you that is less informed, less ingrained and less enamored with your company or brand. So how do you do give feedback with all that stripped away???
Here’s why we’re advocates for branding, planning and goal-setting. The strategic anchors of your brand and marketing plan are the best resources you have for basing your feedback on marketing and business rather than opinion. Express what you are seeing or reading by addressing how it does or does not support your brand. Use your marketing plan and goals as the foundation for why a piece may or may not reach the audience you want to target via the words and visuals being presented. Be specific and make your feedback actionable. Tie your input directly to the goal of the piece and how it helps or hinders achieving that objective.
Here’s some examples to help illustrate the difference:
“I’m not sure if these logo colors resonate with the younger audience we’re trying to reach.”
“Do you think this phrase really speaks to our company’s brand?”
“Does this feel a little distracting? Maybe we could pick one thing to focus on.”
NOT SO HELPFUL
“I don’t like these colors!”
“I don’t care for that tagline.”
“There’s way too much going on in this design.”
Now let’s be real
Even if you go in with the very best of intentions, taking your emotions and biases out of the equation so you can focus on giving feedback that is objective, goal-oriented and useful is hard. Really hard. And creatives actually want your emotions – good and bad – when expressed the right way. So, go ahead and get it out, with the caveat that what you are saying is indeed biased. Your thoughts may give some new creativity to the art of the project. But be understanding if your creative team pushes back or has the opposite opinion. In those moments, mutual respect is the best rule-of-thumb.
Ask questions and stay engaged
If something isn’t working for you or if you’re confused by a choice that was made, ask your team to walk you through it. Asking questions will give you better insight into their perspective and you might discover that the design/content actually works in ways you hadn’t yet considered. This is especially important in the virtual world. When you’re not in-person with your team, you might miss out on body language and reading the tone of the room. While it’s definitely important to give yourself some time to digest what you’re seeing and hearing, don’t be so quiet that others on the call are wondering if you lost your internet connection! Jump in with questions, feedback, or even just clarification that you’re processing. It will set a more collaborative tone to the meeting and let your creative team know that you’re engaged.
Bonus tech tip: If you can, make sure to turn your video camera on during these remote feedback sessions (and encourage your team to do the same). Giving a thumbs-up, flashing a smile, or even showing your furrowed brow as you ponder the art will go a long way in communicating to your team how you’re feeling!
Say “Yes, and”
Keep the creative ideas flowing by maintaining a positive tone. Nothing kills the creativity and energy of a team quicker than Debbie Downer and Naysayer Ned. Rather than disagreeing, say “yes” to a suggestion and build on it to keep the creativity going. For example, you might say, “Yes, the word ‘exciting’ is too vague and we’re missing a few key words from our brand playbook.” Realize you have the power to inspire your colleagues and team to create the best ideas and creative executions possible.
Next time you schedule a virtual feedback session with your creative team, be sure to keep these tips in mind! Ultimately, your goal in providing creative feedback should be to elevate the brilliant execution your team has created, so keeping it positive and open-ended will always make for a successful meeting.