Today, the market research industry’s approach to evaluating the impact and effectiveness of brand communications leaves a lot to be desired. It primarily relies on measuring attitudes such as “like” or “uniqueness,” and not on the potential impact on behavior in the real-world. This is why most campaigns fail to deliver results.

At Shapiro+Raj, our approach to evaluating brand communications is inspired by the principles our CEO, Zain Raj, presents in his book Brand Rituals: How Successful Brands Bond with Customers for Life. The foundational premise is quite simple – brand campaigns should do more than just communicate messages – they should forge an emotional attachment and help build a bonded relationship. Exceptional brand communications must:

  • Tell a compelling story that connects to customers’ needs, emotions, and values.
  • Create an attachment and bond by leveraging subconscious, implicit associations, and deep-rooted reactions.
  • Drive action that makes them respond as intended.

Powerful communication is the critical intersection at which a brand’s vision and strategy come to life. Without it, even the deepest insights and best-laid plans fall short, leaving the brand’s success in jeopardy. Unfortunately, despite the importance, we regularly see brands making the same mistakes when evaluating communications.

  • Depending on Rational Responses Only: Humans process information through both system 1 (intuitive) and system 2 (rational). Yet too often researchers only capture rational, logical responses to communications, while missing the implicit and unconscious responses that fuel deep brand attachment and incite action.
  • Measure Liking versus Outcomes: In testing, communication is often graded on how well the creative is ‘liked’ instead of understanding how it will work to drive in-market sales performance. You need to understand both these to improve your odds of success.
  • Not Rooted in the Core Strategy: Most times, creative testing is focused on judging executional elements and not on how the messaging delivers on the core strategy. This balance is critical because the creative should not only break through the category clutter but should also be highly persuasive.
  • Lack of In-Situ Context: Most methodologies tend to assess comms and their impact in an isolated manner. Doing it within a real-world context helps identify the impact on the category and competitive set.

At Shapiro+Raj, we take a comprehensive approach to evaluating communications by considering the conscious, subconscious, and contextual factors at play. The conscious serves as the foundation – we gauge the communications’ ability to meet classic conscious measures such as breakthrough, persuasion, and key message replay. Then we work to uncover the gut level reactions, emotions and connections elicited, the cognitive biases or heuristics tapped. This allows us to better gauge the impact on consumer action AND impact on long-term brand relationships. We test ideas in a realistic context – by assessing them relative to key competitors or decisional context. This is all grounded on the strategic imperatives and the intended marketplace outcome.

Our proprietary A.C.T. method is designed to put all these principles into action to drive impact. The Assess. Connect. Trigger. method capitalizes on the natural shift from System 1 to System 2, allowing us to collect as much data as possible without disrupting or accelerating the shift in modes of thinking.

For each learning agenda we carefully select from our suite of behavioral science-based techniques, choosing those best suited to our client’s goals and creative. Some highlights of these tools include:


Somatic Pulse: Somatic Pulse spectrum allows us to capture System 1 driven reaction to stimuli. Respondents plot the intensity of their reaction on the Somatic Pulse spectrum. A simple scale allows for quick reporting of energy level without getting bogged down by too much reflection or logical thought (avoiding System 2). Discussion is focused on how they’re feeling, avoiding discussion of their rational reasons.

Implicit Association Testing: Accomplished via projective techniques such as image associations to reveal implicit connections and subconscious associations that respondents may not be able to verbalize.

Timed / Quick Response: Rapid responses ensure they are tapped into system 1. Respondents quickly sort concepts or messages to reveal gut-level reactions that guide prioritization.


Emotion Wheel: We tap into the social science-standard emotional wheel to go beyond surface level emotions. By working from the inner (base emotions) to the outer (nuanced emotions), we get clarity on what emotional associations and attachments can be built.

Activating / Deactivating Emotional Framework: We then take it one step further by leveraging a psychology-based framework to uncover not just what emotion is elicited but understand the impact on action. Respondents plot the emotion in two dimensions – positive to negative and activating to deactivating. This second dimension is crucial – for example shock can paralyze or shock can be a catalyst for change.


Narrative Building: Finally, we challenge respondents to craft their own narratives, playing back the message they received. This reveals which aspects of the messages they deem most important, ideal sequencing, opportunities for optimization based on the changes they make. This ‘in-their-language’ approach reveals key triggers to action.

Role Play: Similarly, a role play exercise challenges respondents to ‘pitch’ the product or idea to someone else, giving us a peek into the motivational triggers to action and a potential to co-create.

By strategically utilizing behavior science-backed techniques, we take communications evaluation to the next level by examining your communications through the lenses of conscious, subconscious, and context. This comprehensive approach allows us to gain a deeper understanding of your communications and optimize it to not only deliver a message but also to cultivate strong brand attachment and long-term brand relationships.

We would love to partner with you to take your comms from good to great. Please reach out to us at [email protected] to learn more.