Skip to main content

Thanks for Your Opinion

Want better client feedback? Ask better questions.

Unless you’re a mind reader – or possess the greatest creative mind in marketing history – the odds of delivering a perfect ad after only one draft are nearly impossible. But if every creative project seems plagued by constant revisions and innumerable iterations, chances are you didn’t do your homework; which usually means helping the client do theirs.

So, let’s start by defining the word “client.” Whether you’re any agency copywriter or in-house project manager, you have clients. You have “customers.” You have people you’re trying to serve.

Given these circumstances, the first step in generating meaningful client feedback and managing that process is to identify key stakeholders and prioritize their input.

In my experience (and perhaps yours, too), many creative projects can be stalled by the participation of far too many people. It’s natural to want to include everyone who’s impacted by the performance of your advertising efforts. But that definition could easily include everyone in an organization – from the CEO to the local sales reps – and managing such a process is simply impractical.

The trick is to recruit a small group of representatives from each of those factions who are willing to provide thoughtful, collective, specific feedback on behalf of their department or constituents.

Speaking of specific input, you’ve probably found that most clients are pretty good at providing information; often far more than we could possibly fit into three ads (much less one). In other words, they’re not always great at determining which info is most critical in motivating prospects to take action. But that’s okay. Because that’s our job. So, let’s clarify it.

Communication concept. One business ment is speaking into a glass jar with a wire attached to another being held up to his colleagues ear. Illustrative question marks above the business man who is listening.

Asking the Right Questions

First of all, it’s important to remember we’re not journalists. We’re marketers. And while the purpose of journalism is to inform, the purpose of marketing is to persuade.

Don’t get me wrong. Advertising copy shouldn’t sound like a classically constructed argument. You can’t debate your way into the heart of the consumer. But you can present just the right info in just the right way and compel the right prospects to persuade themselves.

How do we do that? I believe it comes back to doing your homework, and that homework begins with asking the right questions. In a perfect world, you might ask your client to complete a creative brief. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We’re expected to perform in the real world. So, any creative brief that might be delivered to those who’ll actually craft your marketing message is likely be one of your own making.

Here are a dozen simple questions to get you started:

  • Who is the primary prospect for this message? How specific can we be? What do they care about most?
  • What is the single most important thing they need to know about our product or service? How is that different from the products or services of our competitors?
  • What’s one other thing that might be nice for them to know and helps support our value proposition?
  • How do we want prospects to feel after hearing our message? Hopeful? Concerned? Inspired?
  • What do we want them to do? Click a link? Visit a website? Call a phone number? Talk to their doctor?
  • How many people will be involved in reviewing this message and providing feedback? Who are the ultimate decision-makers?
  • How long do you expect the review process to take? How close to “perfect” does the message need to be before you can show it to all reviewers?

Some of these questions may seem obvious or elementary, but after you’ve worked on a couple of projects for the same “client,” you’ll already know the answers to most of them and can start fast-tracking your creative briefs.

When performing this exercise, it’s also helpful to remember the purpose is not to gather information but, rather, to set expectations. Once you’ve defined clear guidelines and objectives, it’s much easier to elevate client feedback from the subjective level of “like” or “don’t like” to more constructive evaluation of whether the creative “fits” or “doesn’t fit” your stated goals.

Ideation concept. Woman standing between two business men who are opening boxes full of floating light bulb illustrations.

Set Expectations

Equally important is taking the time to explain rationale and callout specific elements of the creative when it’s submitted for review. It’s not enough to email it to the client with a general request to “Please let us know your feedback.” That just opens the door to all sorts of random, subjective opinions. You have to reset expectations in terms of the type of feedback you really need by asking a few more simple questions like:

Does this message meet the objectives we all set?
Does it include the information you indicated was most important?
What could we do without?


Given the fact that many clients often come back with a request to add something more to their marketing messages, that last question can be particularly valuable.

Once you’ve reached this stage of development, it’s tempting to try and accelerate completion by letting clients suggest design solutions or dedicate copy, themselves. Fortunately, MI’s Justin Smith has outlined a far more productive, alternative approach in his blog, Mitigating Interference in the Creative Process.

There are those who might say that, together, these two systems for managing creative projects take all the “creativity” out of the equation; that it feels more like engineering or architecture and introduces too many limitations. But as any good architect will tell you, limitation is the foundation of creativity. And, in my experience, working against specific criteria not only expedites the delivery of more effective marketing but also improves overall “client” satisfaction.

I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure: Try to please everybody.

Herbert Bayard Swope
Dominic Friend

Author Dominic Friend

As Chief of Creative Strategy for Modern Impact, Dominic Friend not only sets the standard for our client work, but raises the bar for our industry. A graduate of Laguna College of Art & Design, Dom brings his SoCal roots and sunny disposition to Minneapolis; sharing his prolific talent for CPG, product marketing and retail promotion across the omni-channel. Dom cultivates creativity with his unique talents, worldly views and global travel experiences. He’s a true design expert who leverages impeccable taste and inexhaustable passion for everything he does. Read Dom for realistic perspectives on cool stuff – with an unexpected, modern twist.

More posts by Dominic Friend

All rights reserved Modern Impact.