A smiley heart holding yellow smilies in one hand and blue sad faces in the other

I remember the first time I received the feedback, “I’m just not feeling it.” It wasn’t a client; it was a newer account executive commenting on a creative concept. And the team was less than thrilled with the vague feedback. “Now what are we supposed to do with that? What specifically aren’t you feeling?”

And the account executive could only respond with, “I don’t know. I’m just not feeling it.”

This type of feedback is not exactly how someone gets off on the right foot with their creative team. However, me being an empathetic, “feely” person, I understood exactly what they meant: it just wasn’t working for them. And this vague feedback surprisingly pushed me to be very self-critical. Maybe I wasn’t totally feeling it either.

I played my “irritated” creative role well. But secretly, I loved their frankness — because this vague comment started an uncomfortable feedback conversation and the team quickly began to debate how the work could be improved.

Creative work — from ideas and writing to design — isn’t magic. It’s a process which often needs to evolve from good to great. In marketing, it’s common to find data that supports certain ideas, but we’re marketing to humans, after all. So it’s usually gut feelings that lead us to produce our best work.

Don’t be afraid to provide feedback to your creative team

Creative professionals are trained to handle the emotional rollercoaster induced by vague feedback. Art school critiques — especially when hanging your work up next to everyone’s for mass judgement — are specifically meant to develop thick skin. As established pros, we get it: we’re prepared to hear that other work is a better fit, or something you proposed that we had created is just a little off.

It’s OK to share how you feel and tell us what changes you’d like to see. Sometimes we creatives will push back and defend our choices. But ultimately, it’s to create great ideas which produce the best work possible.

Boundary-pushing work can be uncomfortable at first; agencies should stretch their clients’ branding limits occasionally to allow for new ideas and thinking. But if you feel like something is off or could be better, you’re probably not wrong. Take a minute to gather your thoughts and share them with your team.

If you want to be prepared after dropping that potentially emotional bomb on your team or agency partner, consider asking yourself the following questions to uncover what you’re feeling and determine how you can both move forward.

Is this creative aligned with our brand?

If you’re still “just not feeling it,” it’s probably not a blatant brand violation, just something a little more subjective. Sometimes creatives can reach too far and need feedback to dial it back, while still pushing the brand envelope to remain relevant and achieve marketing goals.

Ask yourself:

  • Is this concept different from what I’m used to seeing? 
    •  Or does this creative just not feel right? 
  • Is the tone unexpected? 
    • Or does it not align with our brand? 
    • It’s fair to say, “It just doesn’t feel like us.” Or, “We are more “this” than “that.” 
  • The most difficult question to ask may be: “Is this who we need to be to achieve our marketing goals?”

Does this creative feel premium?

Even the most rugged-attitude brands and those on the more funny or absurd side when it comes to branding still execute their creative and marketing campaigns at a high level. Regardless of the tone used, professional creative should never feel amateur. When reviewing concepts, your team is likely to communicate ideas rapidly, even when the final art direction isn’t fully fleshed out. And if and when something starts to feel off, be sure to question the final design direction, photography style, messaging and tone. 

Professionally speaking, it’s always better to ask first than regret later.

This often appears when the team starts to make comments like:

  • “I like the subtle humor, but the design doesn’t do much for me.” 
  • “I love the look, but the headline is a little too cheeky.” 
  • “It looks clean, but doesn’t feel clever.” 

Creatives don’t know exactly what these comments mean, but as humans we do. It’s a feeling.

Is this concept not my personal preference?

Everyone has their own tastes and preferences. And on the flip side, your brand, industry and customers all have theirs. But how do you decide whose taste is right? Well, consider reframing the question from “Who’s right?” to “Will this work be effective and compelling?”

Will this creative engage my audience?

This question is usually hard to answer. In B2B, marketers talk a lot about long-term, complicated and technical purchase decisions and buyer journeys. But when evaluating creative ideas and messaging, it’s important to remember that we’re still engaging humans. For that reason, TriComB2B stands by a few human decision drivers to evaluate our own work: Attention must be earned, decisions are emotional, and trust is imperative.

Recently, I was reminded of the following Maya Angelou quote: “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you make them feel.” While used in a different context for marketers, it’s still such a relevant thought for brands to understand. Reframing the question could make it: “Will it engage people?” Your audience is more human than they are procurement decision-makers. Don’t show and tell them something. Instead, make them see and feel something.

Will your creative stand apart from the noise?

The last thing anyone wants is their product or brand to feel like parody. Maybe it’s not your personal preference. Maybe the industry dictates that engineers only look at tech specs. The question you should be asking is not, “Will they like it?”. It’s: “Will it stand apart?”

If you answered yes, you’re on the right track. Some of the best creative campaigns still highlight a brand or product that really isn’t much different from competitors. But these types of situations force you to go big and be bold to stand out. Bring a new idea to the space, stand for something, say it in an unexpected way, and make your competition wish they had thought of it.

Are you feeling it now?