Testing visual designs for impact and effectivity


Modern marketing is based on measurability. The times of making the majority of choices based on gut feeling are far behind us. Return on investment is key, not in the least part because many a budget is cut since we were hit by financial turmoil. So how do you measure wether a visual design, be it a print ad, instore (digital) signage or a tv commercial, is sorting the maximum possible effect? How do you know whether your design works?

Real world testing

Sometimes you find yourself in the luxurious position that you are able to run a test campaign in the real world and simply measure its result, before going full scale. That is not to say that such measurements are simple to execute. The real world is rarely perfectly predictable and sterile. You will need to be absolutely sure you can isolate the variables you are testing. Furthermore, statistical analysis is usually required to ensure subtle results are significant. Not a scenario, therefore, one should underestimate!

Lab testing: Stopping power

In some cases it can be worth analyzing whether your visuals have the right attention-grabbing impact to stop someone in his/her tracks and get your message across. Simply changing a font or a color stroke can make the difference between something that stands out and something that is lost in the mess of everything else. An old school, but effective method is to “hide” a design among similar visuals and ask respondents if anything stood out, or if they remember specific aspects of the message you are trying to get across.

Lab testing: Attention retention

Many commercials are great at grabbing attention, but loose it too soon to really make a lasting impression. Facial coding can offer a solution to find out how your production is functioning in this respect. Facial coding is a process in which the viewers face is recorded and analyzed for micro expressions that give away our emotional response. This way one can very clearly identify moments within a production that trigger positive emotions and moments that trigger negative emotions or no response at all.

Lab testing: Emotional response

we are really getting into the realm of neuromarketing here! Using medical equipment for measuring brain activity, we can track which parts of the brains are stimulated at any given time. From this, we can derive wether there is a positive or a negative response to what we are seeing. Negative responses are highly undesirable since they translate into negative product associations.

Have a look at the commercial below, for instance. It was widely received as a very good ad. Positive responses all around. Neuromarketing experts, however, found that the ad triggers brain activity associated with feelings of shame and embarrassment, which translates into poor commercial performance.

This example highlights the importance of testing your work. The outcomes can be very surprising, yet have major financial impact. Often, lab testing is seen as a redundant source of extra costs, but think about what it would have meant for Renault if the production of such a massive campaign had a 10% more positive impact. A very realistic result that would easily justify the additional costs.

Thomas van Straaten

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