5 Reasons You’re Giving Bad Feedback

March 17th, 2015

5 Reasons You're Giving Bad Feedback

Marketers work in a world that thrives on feedback. We are constantly working through feedback and revisions cycles, both with our clients and our own internal teams. We invest countless hours executing on feedback. And a lot of that feedback sucks.

Here’s why your feedback is falling short, and how you can make it better.

Evaluate Content Based on How It Meets Objectives

Objectives. Objectives. Objectives. How can you provide actionable feedback on a piece of content without an understanding of the objective of the content? Whether it be a blog post, a white paper, or an ebook, if you don’t know what it’s intending to accomplish, how in the world can you offer feedback?

For example, the objective of a top-of-the-funnel blog post might be to attract new visitors to your website with an engaging headline followed by information they find useful. However, the objective of a landing page is not about attraction of new visitors—the objective of a landing page would be to convert a current website visitor to a lead. These two objectives are very different.

Seth Godin reminds us, “It’s important to criticize an idea based on how well it meets its objectives. If you don’t like the objectives, criticize those separately.” This is the only way to have a grounded, objective-based discussion. It’s like having a common denominator to judge all feedback against. Any feedback that is not based on how well a piece of content meets objectives should be discarded.

Your Feedback Makes the Content Different, But Not Better

This is a question that should be asked throughout the feedback process, and it’s a tough one if you’re the one giving the feedback. You have to take a hard look in the mirror and ask, “Does this feedback make the piece better, or simply different?” While many agencies are happy to let clients request tweaks until they’re blue in the face (as long as they pay for each revision), this generally doesn’t end with a superior design. Ask everyone during revisions, “Are we making this better? Or just different? Are we moving toward a highly superior end product, or are we just spinning our wheels?”

You’re Suffering from Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias refers to the tendency to selectively search for and consider information that confirms one’s beliefs. But everyone has their own personal style preferences, tonality, and pet peeves, so we naturally gravitate towards the ideas that most agree with what we already like and believe.

This is, of course, a trap. For one, we are not our customers, and we should be solving for our customers. Secondly, we are not considering certain marketing ideas which may have huge potential because the ideas don’t conform with our personal preferences. The key here is objectivity: If you are able to be objective with your evaluation of your marketing content, you will find yourself with an entirely new set of criteria and entirely different feedback.

You’re Not Asking Questions

When a piece of content is first presented (let’s say a blog post), you’re going to want to judge immediately after reading it and say, “This was a great post,” or, “This was not a great post.” But you’ve acted too quickly. You’ve evaluated the post without first understanding it. Instead, you should ask the marketing team why they wrote what they did. What objectives were they trying to accomplish? Which buyer persona was it intended for and for which stage in the buyer journey? What customer-centric issue was it intended to solve for?

Once you have a foundation for better understanding the post, you can then provide more objective feedback that is in context, which will ultimately get you a better end result.

You Don’t Know Why You Don’t Like It

Let’s jump to the world of design for a moment. We tend to explain why we like (or don’t like) a design in terms of the characteristics of the design. Take this example from sociologist Duncan Watts:

“When people try to explain why the Mona Lisa is the most famous painting in the world, they talk about her mysterious smile, the gauzy technique, the background. And yet they are not really explaining the painting’s appeal; they’re just describing the painting. What they are really saying is that the Mona Lisa is a great painting because it is more like the Mona Lisa than any other painting in the world.”

Giving helpful feedback is challenging. It really is. Sometimes when you think you’re giving feedback, you’re just saying words. You’re not actually saying anything actionable. For instance, we’ve probably all heard feedback from a team member (or a client) where they’ve simply said, “I don’t like it.” But here’s the key: “I don’t like it” is NOT feedback . And guess what? Neither is “I like it.” Because they haven’t explained why.

You’ll encounter folks who try to give you feedback and simply say, “I don’t like it.” And that’s fine—there are things we don’t like. However, “I don’t like it” is not actionable feedback. There’s a rationale as to why the client doesn’t like your blog post or infographic or ebook. Maybe they don’t like the tonality, hate oxford commas, cringe at the color green, or maybe they had a bad experience with a Bauhaus font once, whatever. The point is you have to dig to understand why it is the feedback giver is unhappy, and once you uncover that they detest AP style and have mixed feelings about the color yellow, you’ll be that much more successful in the next round.

There you have it. Next time you’re giving feedback, think about the person who will ultimately make the edits. Think about the objectives. Think about your customers—are you keeping them in mind? Put your own preferences aside, and you’ll find yourself evaluating your marketing on a whole new level—and you’ll make some new friends on your marketing team.

And when in doubt, just “dial up the cool factor.

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