Step 7: Using Pretesting to Collect Feedback and Find the Right Direction

Strategic communications planning is the foundation for successful and impactful communications and marketing activities. Each month, Vanguard Communications is releasing a new article describing each step of this important process. Click through to read past articles from our Strategic Communications Planning series. Interested in bringing the strategic communications planning process to your organization? Send us a note and let us know how we can help.

After weeks or often months of strategic planning and development, few things feel more energizing to a communications pro than sending beautifully crafted messages into the world using personal stories, events, social media messages or videos. The possibilities are endless!

Not so fast.

Are you sure the compelling words and clever images will achieve the outcomes you expect? Do you know the audiences well enough to be certain they will respond to your call to action?

Give your messages, images and materials a fighting chance by taking the time to pretest before putting them out there. Pretesting is another critical step in the ongoing strategic communications planning process. Essential to strategic communications plan implementation, pretesting helps you gather in-depth content feedback and avoid the costly mistake of producing materials that do not click with your audience. Some organizations avoid this step because they fear the expense, but if investing resources to conduct pretesting sounds pricey, imagine how expensive it would be to produce an entire campaign that fails.

Pretesting helps answer questions about whether your content is understandable, culturally and linguistically relevant, and motivational to your intended audience. Since pretesting is a follow up to the audience research you likely conducted earlier in your planning process (Strategic Communications Planning Step 3), it does not have to be overly labor intensive, expensive or elaborate to be effective. To maximize resources, consider pretesting messages and materials with the same mechanisms you used to learn about your audiences earlier in the planning process. Such tools may include:

  • Focus groups/discussion groups
  • In-depth interviews
  • Surveys/questionnaires

The pretesting process involves asking your audiences a series of probing questions about proposed messages or materials. The questions may include:

  • How does this message make you feel?
  • What do you think or believe after reading this message?
  • Is this message relevant to your life experiences or work?
  • Do you see yourself or your community in the imagery?
  • Does the information feel trustworthy?
  • Do the materials grab and/or hold your attention?
  • Would the materials inspire you to respond? If not, why?

Once your materials have been pretested, you can make important changes or course corrections as needed in response to the audience feedback. Regardless of how they travel, the only thing more exciting than sending carefully honed messages into the world is knowing they have been backed by strong research and are poised for impact.