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Research as a creative compass 

hand holding compass on boat

What’s the role of research in the creative process? 

In a nutshell

  1. Research can be a valuable tool in the creative process when used correctly.
  2. Set clear objectives and ask the right questions for each stage of the process.
  3. Foster a collaborative approach between research and creative for the best results.

Some argue that research stifles creativity – and this can be true. Research used ineffectively or at the wrong time can kill good creative and give research a bad name. 

However, there is a way to use research strategically, without compromising the creative idea. Using the right type of research at the right time can support and nurture creative ideas, leading to even more impactful and effective campaigns.  

If it’s done correctly, with an understanding of people and their context, research can be a valuable tool for creative teams, rather than an obstacle to overcome. Let’s explore how. 

Chart your course 

Picture this: you're a sailor embarking on a journey. You've got your ship and crew ready to set sail, but before you can navigate the unknown waters ahead, you need to chart your course.  

In the creative process, that's where research comes in. Just like a sailor needs a map and compass to guide them, creative teams can use research to guide their ideas. To make the most of your research journey and unlock powerful insights, you need to set clear objectives – embarking on creative research without them can mean the death of good ideas. 

At TRA, our research prioritises the measures which marketing science tell us drives the mental availability of a brand: brand distinctiveness, differentiation from other advertising and salience (recall of brand and message) - especially as related to category entry points.  

We are cognisant that simply measuring appeal of creative alone is not a reliable way to gauge the creative effectiveness of an idea. Asking people for their opinion on an ad concept is not very useful, especially in the early stages of the creative process.  

Instead of just asking for opinions, your research should ask targeted questions that will help you steer towards your creative destination with purpose and clarity. What’s the intended message? How is the message relevant to you? What’s new about the idea? How does this an idea fit with the brand? Questions like these support the development of the idea and are far more useful than a simple critique. 

Check your bearings 

Before you set sail, it’s important to adjust your sails and check your bearings. Early research is all about mapping out the general route you'll take, identifying potential hazards and opportunities along the way. In real terms, this means identifying market gaps and tensions and unearthing powerful insights to help inspire the creative idea. 

As you continue the journey, research can help to explore concepts and refine them before production - adjusting your sails to catch the right wind and optimizing your speed. In the later stages of your creative process, you’ll want to use research to evaluate the impact of the campaign to make sure you're still on course and making any necessary adjustments.  

Throughout the entire journey, research can help steer creative teams and stakeholders through rough waters, navigating disagreements towards a clear, impactful idea.  

Respect the ocean 

No sailor sets sail without a deep understanding and respect for the ocean.  

Similarly, no creative research can succeed without a deep understanding of their audience, the cultural context that shapes their beliefs and attitudes, and the psychological principles shaping their behaviour in the research process context.  

The insights around the creative ideas are far more powerful and helpful for creative refinement when we apply the lenses of cultural insight and behavioural science to research. Creative research should always take care to encapsulate a deep understanding of context and use this to inform and deepen insights. 

Work with your crew 

Finally, remember that sailing is a team sport.  

Just as sailors need to work together to navigate stormy seas and unpredictable weather, creative teams and research can work together to navigate the twists and turns of the creative process.  

A culture of mutual respect and trust between the creative and research teams is imperative to making sure we’re working together towards a common goal.  

Set sail for success 

So, is research a force for good in the creative process? It all depends on how you use it.  

Just as a sailor uses a compass to navigate to their destination, with the right tools and the right approach, research can answer key questions, provide insight into consumer behaviour, help creative teams stay focused on their objectives, and set sail towards success.  

Mark Hobart
Mark Hobart
Managing Partner, TRA Melbourne

Understand the forces of culture and shape radical ideas

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