With some of our clients gearing up to launch new campaigns, I’ve had the opportunity recently to spend time listening in on a few market research interviews. It’s probably one of my favorite parts of the process. I may be alone in that feeling.

For those of you who have never been to or participated in a market research session, it’s pretty straightforward: a consumer comes in to give their opinion about the pieces we’re working on — in our case, it’s usually a doctor or a surgeon. An interviewer walks them through a series of questions and discussion prompts to try and get a sense of what they think about how strong the messages are or how eye-catching the images are.

After talking to a bunch of different people and gathering a bunch of different thoughts, it all gets put into a report that basically tells us whether our audience liked the work or not, and what we could be doing differently.

My job during all of this is to sit in a dark, usually windowless room behind the two-way mirror, listen to the conversation and take notes. From time to time, I might pass along a question or two to the interviewer to get some more clarification about something that came up during the conversation.

It’s certainly an experience hearing something you’ve created being talked about in such a direct way, getting picked apart line by line, listening to the subjective reasons someone does or doesn’t like a particular piece. One doctor likes a concept because it reminds her of a recent vacation she’d taken, while another doctor hates it because it feels too relaxed and not professional enough. One pans a concept simply because he doesn’t like the colors we used. Another completely misses the point but likes the animal in the background, so that one is his favorite.

The responses can seem strange or contradictory. Sometimes they’re frustrating or funny or reassuring. But whatever our target audience is saying, there’s always something we can learn. If they tell you what you’re expecting to hear, you know you’re on the right track — great! If they struggle with an idea you like, maybe it needs some rethinking. And if they come back with something completely unexpected, well, you probably have a lot more work ahead of you.

The point is, we spend loads of time as creatives coming up with cool ideas for headlines and images, thinking up new ways to spin information or show off our client’s latest product. We talk about these ideas with each other and we talk about them with our clients, but market research gives us the chance to really dig in and listen to what the audience thinks — and I think that’s pretty cool.