It’s time to move from strategy to execution. Your “concepts” are the creative ideas that will best deliver your message to your target audiences.
With your evidence-based strategy in hand, it’s time to start making creative decisions (also based on evidence!) Coming up with compelling ways to deliver your strategic idea to your audience will require brainstorming and free thinking; give yourself space, and don’t be afraid to ask for ideas (as well as feedback) from colleagues. Draw on your research, and refer back to your strategy and overall objectives; the concepts you need will come from the thinking and work you’ve already done.
- Develop a creative brief.
- Use the communication strategy developed to generate creative concepts.
- Prepare to test concepts.
- Recruit participants and conduct tests.
- Summarize test findings—then iterate.
1. Develop a creative brief.
A creative brief is a short, written document used by project managers and creative professionals to guide the development of creative materials (eg: drama, film, visual design, narrative copy, advertising, websites, slogans) in communication campaigns. Usually, a creative brief is no more than two pages in length; it sets the direction, defines the audience(s), and focuses on the strategic idea. It includes all of the information you gathered for the communication strategy, as well as defines any creative expectations (such as tone and visual guidelines).
A great creative brief will help inspire ideas. It should be a source of inspiration for creative concepts. Importantly, the creative brief is a tool for collaboration; whoever develops the brief should formally present it to creative teams, and be available to answer questions, share further ideas, and be involved in brainstorming.
We’ve created a creative brief template, which can be accessed here.
2. Use the communications strategy to generate creative concepts.
With the creative brief you’ve developed you can now begin creative development.
Creative development is time-consuming and benefits from expertise. It is therefore recommended that you work with a qualified creative partner. Be sure that your selected partner has prior experience and better yet, proven success in the development of creative concepts for behavior change projects and programs. For more guidance, see the Creative Partner RFP Template in the Tools and Templates section.
In the event that you/your team will be generating creative concepts and materials without a creative partner it’s often helpful to start with “blue sky thinking” (allowing yourself to brainstorm lots of different ideas without worrying whether they’re good or bad) and then coming back later to edit and refine.
When it’s time to edit, this list will help you choose the best ideas:
- DO reinforce positive behaviors. People respond to encouragement much better than they do to criticism. Position the messages so that they make people feel hopeful and empowered, instead of discouraged.
- DO incorporate your audience’s voices into your creative content. Your audience are your best resource and the best people to inform you of what will resonate with them. Make sure their beliefs, opinions, and needs are incorporated into your concepts.
- DO rely on your research. It can be tempting to fall back on assumptions about your audience, but that’s very risky. Assuming you have a wealth of research—use it to make sure your creative decisions are evidence-based.
- DO seek to stand out. Create a campaign that makes audiences pay attention (and is markedly different from other communications efforts, especially around HIV, to avoid confusion and/or your audience tuning out).
- DO think about adaptability. Sometimes your audience will change. Sometimes your geographic location will change. Developing creative concepts that are easily adaptable to different situations and contexts will save you time, effort, and resources in the long run.
Remember: Adhere to your communications strategy! Your strategy is your guide and blueprint—make sure your team (and all of your creative decisions) are aligned with it.
Finally, the following guidelines and best practices will help develop creative ideas that inform and engage in the best possible way:
GENERAL CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT GUIDELINES
- On strategy: Is the ad, brochure, poster, or other material aligned with your communications strategy? The concept must answer the question: what’s in it for the audience? How will the product (PrEP) make their life better, happier, safer, or easier?
- Articulation: The more direct the better. One of the biggest mistakes is to use general, empty statements or clichés. Use specific language. Be clear and precise whenever possible.
- Creative hook: You have one chance to grab your target audience’s attention. You need an immediate, resonant idea that will grab people’s attention; in marketing, this is known as the “hook.” Because we’re all bombarded relentlessly by a huge number of advertisements, grabbing people’s attention can be the most difficult thing to do. This is why you must immediately provoke the listeners’ curiosity, imagination, or surprise. You have three seconds, and then their minds will start to drift.
- Call to action: What do you want the ad to inspire the audience to do? Go to a website? Visit a clinic? Call a hotline? Whatever it is, there must be a call to action that is relevant, compelling, and simple enough to grasp quickly.
- Authenticity: The ads flow from an authentic connection to your audience and the product (PrEP). Authenticity is influential and contagious. It makes the product more credible and human. You’re not trying to be all things to all people, rather you’re trying to connect with someone who relates to what you’re offering and is motivated to take the action you desire.
- Simplicity: Whether you have 15 second, thirty seconds, or sixty seconds, the listener is busy. Packing too much into the ad overwhelms the listener. One good point, made well, stays with the listener.
- Effective use of the interplay between emotion and logic: There are points in the ad where emotional appeals are appropriate, and other points where logical appeals are more potent. Few people make a purchase decision based solely on either emotion or logic. Quite often we’re “reeled in” with emotion, and just before we buy we look for a logical reason to rationalize our emotional decision. Successful ads recognize this dynamic and flow accordingly.
GRAPHIC DESIGN BEST PRACTICES
- Never underestimate the power of simplicity: Too many colors, too many typefaces, and too many elements create a hectic feeling in the design and doesn’t allow it to breathe.
- Less is More: One of the best ways to create a feeling of style (and avoid clutter) is to limit the design to two typefaces.
- Choose the right fonts: One of the most important aspects of design is clarity. If you make the text unreadable for the sake of visual appeal, you won’t achieve much success with the project. You’ll find many guides that tell you to use diverse typefaces in a single design, but don’t take that advice literally. The viewer will have difficulties adjusting his eye to different styles and forms, so it would be best to use variants of the same font family. Also, use italics sparingly.
- White space is valuable and powerful: Do not underestimate the power of whitespace in your work. One of the best examples of whitespace in modern graphic design has to be Apple. Rarely are any of their product images hard-edged; instead, they use shadows and plenty of empty space.
- High-contrast color palettes can help grab your audience’s attention: However, be aware that too much contrast is not a good thing in design, so don’t go for red/green, purple/yellow or orange/blue combinations. You need to choose colors that complement each other more subtly. Go for the colors that capture the mood or tone you’re aiming For example, green reminds people of peace, freshness, and nature, while deep blue can be mystical or intriguing (or even depressing).
- Choose images whose quality will remain consistent across the design: The illustrations, diagrams, graphics, and images you use add more meaning to the overall project. You need to make sure the quality of images throughout your design remains consistent. For example, if you’re combining your own photographs with some professional images you purchased from a stock photo website, the viewer will notice the lack of consistency. The style, proportions, framing, lighting, and quality of these elements should remain constant throughout your design.
- Respect the rules of the hierarchy: What’s the most important element of your design? If you’re trying to emphasize a textual message, then you don’t want to overshadow it by positioning it over a bright, colorful image. Hierarchy is an extremely important aspect of graphic design. You need to prioritize the elements and achieve that priority through scale, compositional placement, typography, and color. The most important message of the design should remain dominant no matter how many other elements you use.
- Aim for a clean, readable design: You just crafted a great design? Shut the computer down and take a rest from it. After few hours, take a look at it. What feeling does it evoke? Does it look too busy or dark? Then you need to reach the right balance of brightness and contrast. Your text should be very clear and easy to read, and all other elements should work towards that goal.
Use the flowchart below as a guide to create drafts of different types of materials. In addition to materials, programs might want to develop and test concepts, themes, slogans, tag lines, for use in and across all materials and activities.
3. Prepare to test creative concepts.
The end product of a creative seems like magic, but the best campaigns are often based on multiple rounds of review and refinement, based on feedback from audiences. Concept testing is key.
A “concept” is a creative idea that has not yet been designed into its final form; for example, a concept might be a tagline with an image, or the first script of a radio advertisement. It’s wise to test concepts in the very early phases to identify strengths and weaknesses and estimate their market and audience potential. You’ll save time and money, and better identify the strongest ideas, if you test your concepts.
Testing is not only about whether or not the audience likes a concept; it’s also about their understanding of it, and how motivating it is. You want to test to find the answers to the following elements:
- Comprehension: How clear is your concept? Can your audience correctly grasp the message? Are there any confusing elements or misconceptions?
- Appeal: Does this concept capture the audience’s attention? Do they like it, or is it off-putting in any way?
- Believability: Does the audience trust the message?
- Motivation: Does the audience feel motivated to adopt desired behaviors?
- Relevance: Is the message consistent with the audience’s values and beliefs? Can the audience identify with the material on a personal level? Is it relevant to them and their lived experiences, or do they feel that it is “talking to” someone else?
A sample list of questions is included in the tools & templates section.
There are different ways to investigate these aspects of your concept with an audience; often, mixing multiple testing methods is the best way to ensure you get a complete and accurate analysis of your concepts. You can choose from the following methods based on your audience test size, time, budget, and the nature of feedback you need:
Depending on the type of test you choose, you will prepare sample material of your chosen concepts; these samples are how you will present the concept to the audience.
For example, if you are testing an audio sample using self-administered surveys and focus groups, you should provide a digital audio sample for participants to listen to before completing the survey, as well as a recording to be played in the room at the start of the focus group.
You will also need to develop consent forms to ensure and record all respondents’ awareness and willingness to participate in the testing process.
4. Recruit participants and conduct tests.
The success of your tests depends on recruitment. Choosing respondents who closely align with your target audience is vital.
Using your Audience Profile, develop a screening tool for your participant population, to ensure selected participants are representative of your target audience. You may also include influencers in your tests, as they may have unique insights about your audience.
As you recruit and work with respondents, keep the following best practices in mind:
- Start each interview, focus group, or other interaction with a word of welcome. Offer a brief overview of the test and its purpose and give respondents a chance to ask questions.
- Reinforce that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. Encourage respondents to provide their honest views and receive their answers with an attitude of non-judgmental interest.
- Take notes and/or record feedback (audio or video) as appropriate. Always obtain permission from participants before recording the session.
- Be respectful of your participants’ time.
- Always show appreciation to your respondents for sharing their time, energy, and insights.
- Inform participants on how their responses will be used.
Additionally, be intentional about taking notes and processing insights as you work. At the end of each test session, review the results and make notes about the findings. Look back at the questions you set out to answe, and write down any insights gathered through the test.
As you near the end of multiple tests, organize and synthesize findings to look for trends. For example, you may organize notes from all tests according to the Appropriateness, Comprehension, and other elements being tested—this can help reveal trends in the responses.
Use these synthesized results to modify your creative concepts, and potentially your strategy as well. If budget permits, it is immensely valuable to perform a second round of testing after you have modified your creative concepts based on the first round of results.
Checking in on your progress
Creative development can be one of the most exciting phases of your work—this is when the strategy, research, and ideas begin to take the shape they will need for real-world change. The process of testing can also be surprising, illuminating, and sometimes challenging, as you begin to observe your work in the world and see how your audience engages with it.
Approach this phase with the same open-mindedness and spirit of investigation that you brought to the earliest research phase—this is an important time to learn.