The Reason You Should Never, Ever Give THIS Most *Useless* Piece of Feedback

I’m an angry copywriter.

I hide my deep, intense, dragon-warrior anger a lot on this site and in my books – I pretend I’m, like, zen – but every so often it comes out. And here it is now, showing through loud and clear: my anger.

I’m angry about something.

Something that might seem to be of such little consequence.

Something that, in comparison to most things in life, will feel tiny and sort of stupid.

But something that is, in fact, a major trigger for most of the world’s:

  • Copywriters
  • Designers
  • Web testers (i.e., A/B)
  • Consultants
  • Creative agencies
  • Developers
  • Creator-types in general

Do you want to know what it is that gets me all riled up? Okay, here it is – ready?

It’s the response I’ve heard SO MANY TIMES when I’ve presented a creative concept, a headline or a whole page or experience to a client. (A perfectly well-intentioned client, to be sure. But that’s not the point.)

Here’s the anger-inducing response:

I like it.

>>>growly face<<<

I like it.

It doesn’t have to just be “I like it”. It could also be “I really like it” or “I love it”.

What’s so wrong with saying something as nice as “I like it”? Am I just a major bi-otch?

Maybe, but here’s the problem as I see it and (keep reading) as science sees it: It doesn’t matter if you like a headline, a concept, a page. I mean, hell, I like it or I wouldn’t present it to you – and does that matter? Maybe it matters, say, 15%. And, okay, fine, that you like it also matters another 15%. How about your mom? Does she like it, too? How ’bout the people at your church? If you show it to a kindergarten teacher, will she like it enough to throw a magnet on it and smack it to the fridge?

None of that matters!

Whether we like a headline or creative concept or page design doesn’t matter at all. ………………Unless we’re the ones doing the buying.

All that matters is whether customers are compelled to sign up, buy or otherwise execute on the task we want them to. Sure, before a customer sees something, it has to go through this huge, lengthy vetting process – this insane creative feedback loop – or it would never make it to a customer-facing space to begin with. Gotcha. And, no, I’m not raging against the machine of creative feedback (although…). I’m raging against the type of feedback.

Critical feedback that shows an awareness of a) the customer, b) the data, and c) knowing that you don’t have a clue what’ll work—— that’s all great feedback. Happy to hear it! Happy to give it!

Just don’t say that you do or don’t like it.

(Yes, “I don’t like it” is just as bad. No, wait, it’s worse ‘cos it’s mean, too.)

If you agree not to say it, I’ll agree not to say it or get mad when you don’t say it. Okay?

False Consensus Effect: Proof That I’m Not Just an Angry Copywriter
Okay, so, to my extreme delight, there’s this wonderful psychology principle / theory called False Consensus Effect that basically means this:

You think everyone thinks the way you do.
And you’re wrong.

You can read more about False Consensus Effect here on PsyBlog – and you can check out all the other great psych-stuff while there.

With that effect in mind, you can begin to see why “I like it” is no good and what the assumptions are behind such a statement that make it no good.

Of course, there are 2 possible assumptions whenever a client says “I like it”:

  1. The client thinks everyone else will agree with him/her
  2. The client thinks they’re paying for you to be their hired hands (because their hands are busy writing your cheque) and so all that matters is their opinion

Let’s throw the second one out the window ‘cos those guys are just plain douche-bags. (See? Angry copywriter.)

If we focus on the first assumption, we can see why “I like it” is bad: you think everyone thinks the way you do, but you’re wrong. So stop it.

So What Should You Do or Say Instead of “I Like” or “I Don’t Like”?
Feel free to introduce your feedback with your personal opinions and preferences. Sure – let’s talk about your feelings. Great.

Once that’s out of the way, though, let’s get down to business – the money-making side of business. You hired a writer, designer, consultant, agency or whatever to help you do something that will bring you more money… so we have to look at a headline, concept or page through green-tinted glasses.

When giving feedback, speak about what we all know and/or are hypothesizing about your customers, your site visitors, your identified challenges — the reason we’re all in the room.

That kind of feedback is SUPER helpful.

If you tell me, “Joanna, this headline is all about downloading ringtones when we know that 65% of our visitors come to our site to download podcasts”, great! That’s the kind of feedback I need. Now we can talk critically about the copy. And, trust me, your designers and developers want the same kind of feedback! (If they don’t, um, they’re probably not really inspired, engaged or experienced.)

Finally, to end this rant, if it really comes down to 2 or 3 options, you can’t make a decision on which concept, headline or page to go with, and “like” factors in – but everything else is the same – then you can see which variation your customers/visitors like.

How? Why, by A/B testing of course! Test the 2 headlines, 2 concepts, or 2 pages, and let visitors vote with their credit cards or email addy.

Cool? We’re okay?

Just don’t say you like or don’t like copy, and we’ll all get along great.

I feel a lot better now. Just had to get it off my chest.

Next rant? Peer reviews in Fortune 500s. My blood is already starting to boil.


About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copyhackers"

  • In a time of so many sleepwalkers and semi-robots, it’s refreshing to read the rants of someone who practices a few things that only real Humans are capable of, like critical thinking and old-fashioned hard work. Science-based work, that is. Always laser-focused on consistent and predictable growth.

  • lancecj

    Fun post to read, Joanna! 🙂

  • Ben Nesvig

    Great post. I think Dave Trott also touched on this topic in his book Creative Mischief, although much more briefly. I’m someone who just learned that saying “I like it” is horrible, horrible feedback. Instead he recommend all feedback start with: “It works because…” or “It doesn’t work because…”

  • I feel your pain. You know what I find worse though? When they go “Errrr, yeaahhh? I think that’s probably about right.” Seriously people, we need proper feedback! I’m going to stop now before I make myself angry again.
    Nice post.

    • admin

      You’re so right, Ben. I think the sense is that “creative types” are hyper-sensitive — like we can’t handle feedback (and misread everything as criticism) — so clients just want to get out of the uncomfortable situation they find themselves in when giving us feedback. As if we’d break down if they were real with us! Or like we don’t have the business acumen to appreciate real feedback. Odd.

      Of course, then there are the jerks who go through your concepts like you’ve churned them out on an assembly line: “No. No. No. Maybe. No. Maybe. No.”

      …Maybe there’s just no pleasing me. 🙂 Damned if you like it; damned if you don’t. I feel a new rant coming on…

  • Ian


    I’ve wasted so much time creating/designing/writing emails that originally were designed to bring in more income…only to have someone say “I don’t like it” in the review, with no critical feedback or even expertise on how to bring in income from an email.

    Then by the time I’m done with the unnecessarily long review process, I get the “I like it” which means I can send it…even though at that point the final product is significantly weaker in terms of what it is suppose to do…bring in income!

    This article resonates well with me and gives me a few talking points to articulate my frustrations with the “I like it” / “I don’t like it” people.

    • admin

      Glad my rant helped! At least we can take comfort in the fact that we’re not alone in our frustration —- I think every “creator”-type has to deal with exactly this. Or maybe it’s just you and me. 🙂

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