Why Creative is More Important than Ever in Performance Marketing

One of the main mandates for brands today is to create content. Short-form videos for TikTok (different than short-form videos for Instagram and YouTube), scroll-stopping imagery for Facebook and Pinterest, eye-catching display ads…the list goes on. 

But for so many brands — and, let’s be real, digital marketing teams — the process of creating these assets can be disorganized, time-consuming, and decidedly not strategic. And while there was a time when brands could still run highly successful campaigns with this haphazard approach to creative, those days are undoubtedly over. Thanks to changes across the digital marketing landscape, the creative assets a brand has in its arsenal have become more important than ever. In this article, I’ll explore why this is the case, and pull back the curtain on how effective performance creative gets made. 

In An Age of Automation, Strong Creative is Key

The last 18 months have ushered in a new era of performance marketing. It’s one in which brands are simultaneously operating in an increasingly restricted playing field and need to execute effective strategies across more channels than ever. 

As our director of performance discussed in a recent blog post, updates across Google’s and Meta’s ad platforms have stripped away many of the controls marketers could finesse to target customers efficiently in favor of increasingly automated campaigns. Brands and their competitors are now likely doing the exact same thing when structuring their campaigns on the backend of these platforms. 

The result? Creative is the only lever left that brands can pull to differentiate themselves from their competitors. This is why it is more important than ever for brands to invest in continually creating content and refreshing their existing assets. 

How to Produce Strategic Performance Creative

So how can brands generate creative that ultimately drives conversions? It is all about fueling automated campaigns with creative that communicates a strong point of view, then testing multiple value props, and quickly iterating on what works (and ditching what doesn’t). 

Brand Story

The foundation of successful creative in today’s digital marketing landscape is a strong and clearly defined brand story. Because it is so easy to sell products online, the brands that stand out are the ones that leave a gut impression on consumers. They know their story and value props, and aren’t afraid to communicate them over and over again with their creative assets. 

So the first step before diving into any asset generation is to get clear on the essence of the brand. What sets it apart from its competitors? What are the key features of their product or service that they want to communicate? What are the values of the company? Creative has to be in line with the answers to these questions, and reinforce those value props at every opportunity.   

Creative by Platform

Creative teams must then figure out the best way to tell that brand story on all of the various platforms they plan to advertise on. In order to create assets that convert, teams should have a clear understanding of both where the creative will ultimately live, as well as the broader strategy behind it. 

TikTok in particular is an interesting case study to look at when thinking about this. The platform’s algorithm is so good at reading users behavior that ad content needs to appear as native as possible. In order to break through to reach customers, creative has to be entertaining and authentic above all else. This means it is a great place for brands to leverage the grittier side of their story (think founders sharing raw footage of the early days of launching and behind-the-scenes videos) and to partner with creators that are aligned with their audience. 

Though UGC also reigns supreme on Instagram, audiences are used to a certain level of polish from the ads they encounter on Meta’s platforms — and the same definitely holds true for what audiences expect out of display and YouTube ads. 

For example, to promote Barstool Sports’ business-focused newsletter, The Water Coolest, Coast Digital regularly creates videos recapping the most interesting stories featured in that week’s send. This story-forward approach works because the team identified an angle that didn’t ask the viewer of anything until we provided them with something they may not have known, or found interesting. Instead of using strong CTA language, we simply let the viewer know that they could sign up for the newsletter if they found our video interesting and wanted more stories like this delivered to their email daily. This strategy helped slash the client’s CPL (cost per lead) by 83% over 8 months. 

Iteration & Optimization is Everything

Though there are general best practices for the type of creative that performs best on each platform, brands need to be prepared to constantly test and iterate within that framework. In the absence of detailed user data that brands had access to pre-iOS 14.5, testing value props and angles within the creative they fuel campaigns with can be one of the few ways left to understand which audiences make the most economic sense to market to. 

Coast Digital’s partner Homefield Apparel — which sells collegiate apparel featuring vintage logos and designs — is a great example of this. The three value props we test in their creative are…

  1. The wide selection of universities they create apparel for; 
  2. The premium quality of their T-shirts;
  3. The authentic and officially-licensed vintage designs featured on their apparel. 

Each of these value props aligns with a different segment of potential customers. There is a huge market of people who want comfortable shirts to represent their school, people who want to represent more than one school (so appreciate Homefield being a one-stop-shop), and vintage lovers. So, to understand what pool of consumers is the most profitable, our team creates various ad sets meant to appeal to each of these audience groups, and then continues to test and refine in real time from there. This iterative strategy has allowed us to help Homefield Apparel increase its revenue by 77% over the course of 2022.

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