In the movie When Harry Met Sally, Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Jess (Bruno Kirby) move in together and fight over her rolling coffee table. Jess insists: “I have good taste!” And Marie answers: “Look, everyone think they have good taste and a sense of humor, but they can’t all taste good.
When it comes to marketing, the question of who has the right “taste” for breakthrough visual content and what design will inspire an audience to action plagues the creative side of business.
Every marketer can remember a visually creative design released by a brand that made them say, “What the hell were they thinking? You can probably look at your own brand and think about the same question: “What was I thought?”
Taste aside, most marketing campaigns are ultimately measured not on aesthetics, but on how they motivate action (what the audience wants to hear). Get enough action and the arguments over aesthetics will go away. This is the classic “data wins” argument.
But sometimes that’s not the case. This usually happens when a senior manager wants the design to have a particular look.
Both design and performance have their place
There is a time and a place to prioritize creative tastes over performance. For example, a brand should design a logo or visual representation of what the company stands for without consensus from the buying public. This creative strategy begins and ends with internal decision makers. The only question is who makes the final decision. (In When Harry Met Sally, Mary’s taste won and the table was gone.) The goal of branding should be to ensure that the person (or team) with the right “taste” makes the decision. ultimate creative.
The flip side occurs when the brand designs visuals to convert customers or deepen engagement with audience members. Whether it’s an advertisement with “buy now” or “subscribe now” or a social media image with “please give us your feedback” or “comment below”, the brand wants the visuals to help persuade the audience to do something.
In this case, one could say that the taste of the brand does not matter as much as what motivates the audience. The brand’s goal is to ensure that its creative decision maker is someone (or a team) who can balance the company’s tastes with what the audience will find most compelling.
The need for creative taste tests
Marketers often have to test this tension between brand taste and customer resonance.
My consulting team recently worked with an e-commerce company in the home design space. Much of its content includes photos, videos, and images of work being done on homes by contractors and designers. The marketing director adamantly insisted that no one appear in the images. The format (social media, brochures, website, etc.) didn’t matter – he only wanted pictures of drawings. This creative preference without anyone has become part of the brand guidelines.
One day, a new agency made a mistake. They did not see the brand guidelines and content posted with images featuring people. The campaign outperformed similar campaigns by almost 1.5 times. Following this happy accident, the marketing team finally convinced the CMO to test social media imagery and found images with people next to the designs with exponentially higher engagement and conversion rates than the pictures without people.
This home design company is not unique. I often hear marketing teams say things like, “This creative vessel is so hard to shoot. Our CEO/CMO/Director (or even our agency) wants all of our creative visuals to look very unique. »
But these decision makers will do better if they recognize that they need to test their assumptions. The creative process needs to include something that gauges whether the good taste of these frames reflects what moves the audience.
New research on social media visual content
To see how tuned marketers are with their visual content strategy, we partnered with VistaCreate to find out the following:
- What they think of their abilities to create visual content on social media as a repeatable strategic process
- How they create and use images on social networks organically and as part of paid content advertising/promotion efforts
- What types of images and platforms work best
You can view the results in the report, Strategic Visual Content for Social Media: Creating Balance. Here is my take on the points that I found persuasive.
Are brand standards getting in the way of excellence?
A third of marketers rate their visual content on social media as average or below average. But interestingly, 88% of marketers say their visual content meets their existing brand standards. These findings indicate that adhering to existing brand norms (brand taste) defeats the purpose of creating high-quality visual content on social media (to motivate an action).
In other words, the attempts of many brands to impose their taste in visual creation can prevent their success.
You are not your target market
We also tested marketers’ assumptions about visual content against consumer opinions.
Here’s how it worked. First, we asked a group of marketers to rank five social media ads for a cleaning service as if they were marketing the brand.
In a separate survey, consumers (non-marketers) ranked the same five images based on what they would most likely be if they were interested in the cleaning service.
The (non-scientific) results were fascinating. But, given my earlier example of the e-commerce home design business, they weren’t surprising:
- The #1 ranked ad marketers landed (the lime Easy Cleaning ad) in the #4 (second to last) niche among consumers.
- Marketers’ ad #2 (the sage green cleaning services ad) ranked first among consumers.
- Both marketers and consumers ranked the same ad (an ad featuring a man with two thumbs up) in the worst placement.
These findings indicate that marketers need to go beyond our assumptions when determining visuals for their social media post. This means finding effective ways to quickly iterate on creative ideas, then working to validate hunches, assumptions, and guesses by testing the ideas.
Remember, as one of my marketing professors told me at least a hundred times, you are not your target market.
You are the person who ensures that internal teams have the necessary skills, align with repeatable processes, and can access the platforms and tools they need to do their jobs.
This is the heart of great creativity – a process fueled by tools (yes, maybe even AI) and, above all, handled by curious people committed to the best result.
This is the way to conceive a great design.
I hope this research will be useful to you in your work.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute