How to evaluate creative ideas

How do you evaluate creative ideas?

In my 25 years of presenting creative ideas to clients, I’ve come across many methods – some intuitive, some analytical, and some are downright goofy. 

Listen to this…

One of my clients used to evaluate our presentations by how many sample designs we brought. Anything less than a foot-high stack of foam-core mounted ads was typically considered not good enough! 

marc stoiber brand strategy

We no longer speak of that client.

But I digress…

In my work as a brand and marketing consultant, I’m always looking for more effective ways to judge the power of an idea and then share with you. Hence, this post.

First, check out this video:

The smart / different 2×2

Graham Robertson is a great brand consultant – and prolific. Follow him on Linkedin, and you’ll be rewarded with a steady stream of fresh marketing thinking.

Recently, he shared a brilliantly simple model for evaluating creative ideas – an interesting take on the old trusty 2×2 chart.

It looks like this:

evaluating creative ideas_Marc Stoiber brand strategy

I love this tool because it enables you to answer the two most important questions in creative work:

  1. Is it creative (well, duh), and
  2. Is it on strategy?

…and put them into a form where you can easily and logically evaluate the strategy and creativity of ideas as two halves of a whole.

This tool is a great start…but I still feel there’s something missing.

That gap is answering an important question: what is creative? 

Strategy, on the other hand, is something I have no problem assessing – if a piece of communication drives me toward the goal it was intended to, it’s strategically on the mark.

But creativity is a term so broad you can drive a truck of elephants through it—there’s no way to get a handle on it.

I think there is a solution, but before I get to that…

I want to do a marketing check-in and remind you that part of presenting or evaluating creative ideas is marketing yourself. 

Ask yourself: Could I successfully market myself on a plane? If you’re not sure what I mean, take a quick read of this post. 

But now, back to creativity.

Creativity is an emotional thing

In the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams shows the insanity of an ‘objective’ formula for evaluating great poetry.

Marc Stoiber Brand Strategy

That’s not to say you can’t distinguish great creative from so-so work. If creativity is innately emotional and subjective, you simply need to invite emotional, subjective beings by to take a look and weigh in. AKA, humans.

During my time at Palmer Jarvis Advertising, we created a simple, powerful way for doing just that. It was the peer review method.

The peer review method

If you were creating concepts to advertise a product, you were required to draft up your ideas as simple felt pen on scrap paper drawings. The goal was 20 great, different ideas before moving to the next step.

Next, you’d invite colleagues in from the creative department, one by one. 

Each person had the opportunity to assess which idea elicited an emotional reaction and which ones (hopefully) stopped them in their tracks. Then, each person got to dot their favourite idea on the back of the paper, making it impossible for others to see which idea was garnering the most dots.

Next, you’d invite colleagues in from the account service floor. 

Ostensibly, they were there to see which ideas nailed the brief (and were therefore on strategy). 

But the real reason? To assess their emotional reaction.

Finally, you’d invite in the janitor, the snack supplier, or any poor soul who happened to be wandering the halls.

In the end, you would have a very good idea which concept stood above as creative – as evaluated by a broad swath of people from fairly different walks of life.

Following this process, it was wonderful to walk into client meetings with your scraps of paper, lay them all out on the table, and start ‘killing’ them one after another – often to the horrified reaction of the client – until only the strongest idea was left. 

As each losing idea was crumpled and thrown away, you could tell the client exactly why your colleagues had found it creatively lacking.

In the end, you had a compelling argument for the power of your creative solution: It wasn’t mathematical, but it worked.

I’ve written more about walking the fine line between new and terrifying and new and exciting when it comes to creative ideas. You’ll find that here

How do YOU evaluate creativity?

I’m always happy to hear from people who have developed their own tools for how to evaluate ideas, especially creative ideas.

There’s no doubt there are countless ways to get thousands of eyeballs on your ideas using social media. If you have a great one, please share.

Anyone with a sincere interest in developing their creative chops will thank you.

Liked this story? Want more? Make sure to subscribe to get my insights straight to your inbox.

And don’t miss these posts either:

Are you making obvious marketing mistakes?

Using creative dissonance to build surprising brands

The selling power of trusted, familiar ideas

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