Blog / Market research

What is creative testing in market research?

By Laura Ojeda Melchor |6 min read|Updated Jun 28, 2024

An example of creative testing, where two similar but different ads are compared to see which generates more engagement.

Any marketer knows that a successful ad isn't just an ad. It's a creative effort that's been labored over for months to get everything from the graphics to the messaging to the font styles just right

And people can tell a good ad when they see one. That’s why creative testing is one of the most impactful ways to build a successful ad campaign.

In this guide, you’ll discover what creative testing is, why it’s important, and how you can use it to increase engagement with your brand and drive revenue.

What is creative testing? 

Creative testing is when you show potential customers your ads before you launch them into the world. 

You can use creative testing to see how your target audience reacts and what they think about the creative elements of your ad campaigns.

There are several ways marketers can gather this feedback, including focus groups, online surveys, and split testing. We’ll get into those details later.

With the insights from creative testing in hand, you can improve your ads to make sure they connect with the audience.

Why is creative testing important? 

Creative testing is important because it helps marketers see if their ads appeal to target audiences before they go public. More specifically, this type of testing helps marketers do five things:

  • Gauge emotional impact: It's vital to measure how advertisements resonate emotionally with viewers. Your target audience can give you the type of unbiased feedback you need to make meaningful changes. They’ll tell you which parts of an ad are confusing, which parts they don't like, and which parts they love.

  • Ensure brand consistency: When you test creative content, you make sure it aligns with the established perceptions of your brand. Take Tropicana, for example. In 2009, the company rebranded its famous orange juice carton. Before the rebrand, it featured an orange with a straw inside, evoking thoughts of fresh-squeezed juice straight from the fruit. The company rebranded the carton to instead feature a glass of orange juice. No orange in sight. Consumers weren’t having it. After reportedly losing 30 million dollars, the company went back to its classic packaging. Whether you're building a new brand or rebranding an existing one, creative testing can help save you from snafus like Tropicana’s.

  • Avoid brand risks: Testing your creative materials can prevent reputational damage. Sometimes, we don't see where our products and ads are culturally insensitive until someone points it out. The best time to test ads and products for cultural sensitivity is before they're launched.

  • Refine calls to action (CTAs): With creative testing, your team can experiment with various CTAs to identify the one that's most likely to draw clicks, engagement, and conversions from your target audience. 

  • Identify audience preferences: If you haven't already, you can use consumer profiling to organize your audience into groups based on shared traits. Then you can conduct creative testing with each group to see what aspects of your products or ads they resonate with. 

Without creative testing, you’re basically throwing an ad to the wind and hoping people like it. Creative testing helps to reduce the uncertainty factor.

What to test 

There are six key areas of an advertisement that you can test:

  • Headlines: Test different headlines to see which ones grab attention and deliver a clear, powerful message.

  • Brand slogans: Try out various slogans, jingles, and catchphrases. Which ones best communicate the essence of your brand while also appealing to your audience's emotions and values?

  • Messaging: Evaluate the core messages of your product or campaign. Are they compelling, clear, and relevant to your target demographic?

  • Copy: Test the text in your ads or marketing materials for clarity, persuasiveness, and the ability to motivate a reader to take action.

  • Fonts: Play around with different font styles and sizes to find out which ones fit your brand identity and are easy to read. 

  • Design: Analyze different design elements, including layout, color schemes, and image choices. Which combinations are the most visually appealing? Which ones deliver the core message in a way your audience instantly understands? 

Now that you know why creative testing is important and what you should test, let’s explore the nuts and bolts of the process.

How to do creative testing

When you follow a structured approach to creative testing, you can optimize your campaign for maximum impact.

Here are the essential steps.

Align on goals

Before beginning any testing, make sure you establish clear, measurable objectives. What do you hope to achieve with the creative testing? Is it brand awareness? Boosting engagement? Driving sales? 

It's important to narrow your creative testing to one goal at a time. If you go too broad, there will be too many variables at play to come to any meaningful conclusions.

Develop a hypothesis

Based on your goals, come up with a hypothesis for what you think will improve your campaign's performance. 

Say your goal is to increase online sales through ads. You might hypothesize that using language like "limited time offer" in your CTA will lead to higher click-through rates. Or, you might predict that featuring a BOGO deal in the advertisement will drive your conversion rates up by 50%. 

Make sure your hypothesis is specific and measurable. This will help you design your tests, but it also makes it easier to interpret the results. Instead of a vague hypothesis like "improving ad visuals will lead to better performance," specify what aspect of the visuals you will change. Bright colors? A different font? More dynamic images? 

Then, define what "better performance" means in measurable terms. A 20% increase in engagement rate, for example, or a 10% increase in conversions.

With concrete hypotheses in place, you can easily measure whether your creative testing proves your prediction.

Create ad variations 

Design multiple versions of your ad that align with your hypothesis. This could involve variations in headlines, images, or overall layout. Each variation should be designed to test a specific element of your prediction, making it easy to pinpoint exactly what influences your outcomes.

Other than the specific element being tested, keep all other aspects of the variations consistent. This ensures that any performance differences can be attributed solely to the changes you are testing.

Choose a testing methodology

Picking the right testing methodology is key to evaluating your creative variations. Remember, you can run more than one test. 

Here's a quick look at three common creative testing approaches:

  • A/B testing: Also called split-testing, this method tests two versions of your ad (A and B) to see which one performs better. Each version is shown to similar audience segments under the same conditions.

  • Multivariate testing: This approach allows you to test multiple variables at once, like different headlines and images together. It helps you understand how the variables interact and affect audience behavior.

  • Open-ended testing: A less structured method, open-ended testing is ideal for the initial phase of a campaign. To do it, you'll ask your target audience for feedback on an idea or early stage of a campaign through focus groups or surveys. Open-ended testing can help you gain insights into what your audience thinks about your creative efforts.

You can use all sorts of testing mediums to get these results, from online surveys to in-person focus groups to one-on-one interviews. 

Running your test

Now for the fun part: running your creative tests! This is the core step where you get to engage directly with your target audience. It involves presenting different creative variations to your audience under carefully controlled conditions. 

Here’s how it goes:

  • Select your audience: Determine which segments of your overall market will participate in the testing. You can always start with a broader audience and then narrow it down as you gather feedback. But try to match the testing audience to the people you plan to target with the advertisement. 

  • Set up controlled conditions: Establish a controlled testing environment with minimal external variables. This might mean further organizing your audience across different platforms, times of day, or even geographical locations. The goal is to neutralize external influences that could skew your data.

  • Distribute variations: Deploy the various creative versions to your chosen audience segments. If you’re using digital platforms, use automated tools to help randomize and manage the distribution. This can also help ensure each segment receives the intended variation.

  • Monitor engagement: Track how each segment interacts with the creative variations. Look for metrics like click-through rates, conversion rates, time spent on ads, and social sharing.

  • Ensure compliance and consistency: Throughout the experiment, make sure everyone follows the testing protocols and conditions remain consistent. This includes maintaining the duration of exposure and the frequency of ad presentations across all test groups.

Compensate your respondents: It’s important to send respondents incentives for sharing their feedback with you. Or, even better, offer it upfront. One systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found that incentives increase the likelihood that people will consent to taking a survey in the first place. And we already know they increase participation. Our guide to survey incentives can help you figure out how to deliver compensation for your respondents’ time.

Analyze the results

Once you're done with a round of testing, analyze the data to see how each variation performed against your goals. Look for statistically significant differences between the variations to determine which elements influenced the outcomes.

Statistical significance helps you make sure that changes in ad variations are causing real effects and aren't just happening by chance. It usually involves calculating p-values through t-tests or analysis of variance (ANOVA)

In simple terms, a p-value is a number between 0 and 1 that tells you how likely it is that your data could have occurred by chance. A low p-value—typically less than 0.05—confirms that the observed differences are significant.

For example, let's say one ad variation consistently gets more clicks than another and this difference is statistically significant with a p-value less than 0.05. This would mean the change in the ad was effective.

Analyzing data this way helps marketers decide which ad elements work best—with the numbers to back it up.

Optimize based on results

Use the insights gained from your analysis to optimize your ads. Expand on any elements that worked well and reconsider those that didn't deliver. The optimization process often involves tweaking your ads and rerunning tests until you get the desired results. 

But once you do get those desired results—aka, ads that wow your target audience on all fronts—you can spend your marketing budget with confidence. The ads have been tested and edited and tested again, and they're ready to shine. 

You can sit back and watch your audience click, engage, and convert—before ramping up your creative testing efforts for your next campaign. 

Key takeaways 

Creative testing takes time and effort, but it’s worth every investment you make. Here’s a recap of what you need to know:

  • Why creative testing is important: Creative testing provides marketers with valuable quantitative and qualitative data. With this data in hand, they can refine elements of their ads—CTAs, messaging, and overall design—with confidence. 

  • How to do it: To test your ad material, start by setting objectives based on what you hope to achieve, like increasing brand awareness or sales. Then, create multiple ad variations to test different elements. Choose a testing methodology (like A/B or multivariate testing), and analyze the results to see what works best.

Ready to start testing your ad elements with your target audience? Tremendous can help you attract the right respondents. We make it simple to send your respondents everything from cash to gift cards in minutes. Sign up now and send your first reward today, or take a demo with us to see how it works.

Published June 28, 2024

Updated June 28, 2024

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