It is standard practice to present multiple options when working on a creative concept. Ideally, creative teams draw a pretty strong conclusion from the research phase and an overall strategy develops clearly. Once that strategic foundation has been established, there are so many ways the creative team can communicate that big idea. Naturally, the best ones get presented to show a range of thinking. It's a fun process. There's a lot of buildup, a little showmanship, and it all culminates in the Big Reveal, where your agency hopes you'll gasp with delight and you hope they present something gasp-worthy. And everybody hopes the target audience gasps the loudest while reaching for their wallet. But sometimes, what you see is not what you expected. Sometimes it's better. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's just different. If you're having trouble landing on (or committing to) a concept, here are some questions to ask yourself.
1. Does this concept advance our brand?
If they have followed a proper process, your creative team began with a lot of research—about your brand, your market, your customers, and your products. They should also have been communicating with you about how you perceive your needs, so that your expectations are addressed. The best concepts will be rooted in your brand promise while conveying the message the market needs to hear. And in a manner that your target audience will find fresh and clever.
If you can't tell how a concept advances your brand, that's a red flag. Ask for more information on it. A good creative team can tell you. A great creative team already will have.
2. Does this concept make me uncomfortable?
The right answer to this question is a tricky one. But you still have to ask it.
How comfortable are you with your marketing message right now? Is it stale? Behind the curve? If you are looking for something really different, and the concepts you see still make you uncomfortable, then trust your gut and go for something a little more grounded. Or ask your agency to explain it better. We can do that.
If, however, you really like your current straightforward communications setup, but the numbers aren't what they should be, then it may be time to exit that comfort zone. Safe messages, no matter how accurate, don't have stopping power. So something that makes you a little uncomfortable is likely a step in the right direction. Take a long look at the option that makes you most uncomfortable and ask yourself why. What's stopping you from liking or embracing it? Is it because it's too daring or risky? So was the first Wright flyer. Be objective about the risks or discomfort and challenge yourself. Then move on to Question 3. It's just for you.
3. How will my customers (current and prospective) view this concept?
Notice I didn't mention the VP of marketing, or the CEO, or your boss, or you. Despite the fact that you need to impress these people, they are not the key decision makers on the purchase of your product. And if you go into an ad campaign thinking like those people whose opinions you hear every day, you'll make the decisions they would make. If you get caught up in second-guessing, you'll develop a Distorted Internal Perception (DIP). A DIP occurs when you start making choices based on the information from within your four walls instead of being objective. Then you start killing ideas. If your VP hates blue, or your boss doesn't like sans-serif fonts, or the CEO prefers ads with dogs, those are all issues you have to deal with. Don't project them onto your audience.
Your audience, both current and prospective, should have your full attention right now. Who are they, what do they need, what do they want, and what are they hearing from your competition? You should know. And if you don't, your agency should be telling you. That's what the research step is all about.
Once you're armed with that information, you can think like your audience. Look at a given concept not from your perspective but from theirs. Suddenly that blue ad really looks pure, the sans-serif font looks contemporary, and the absence of dogs doesn't seem to matter, because you're selling airplane components. You are in tune with your audience. You have reason on your side. And you are ready to go and sell your boss the right ad for the customer. That will impress him.
Your agency is your partner in this whole enterprise. You are their customer and they want to delight you. And you both want to delight your audience. So partner up, get objective, listen to the research, and make good decisions. And ask questions—both to yourself, and to them.