The Outlook
Perspective: Ryan Markman

Scaling Performance Creative

Performance creative is a term that you've started to hear a lot more in the last two, maybe three years. Historically, there's been this dichotomy at a lot of brands between the marketing department and the performance marketing department. They're, for lack of a better word, sometimes enemies within a company.

With the emergence and the increasing popularization of digital advertising channels, there's been an increased focus on developing creative: developing image, assets, videos, gifts, all the good stuff that you see on Facebook and other channels that is specifically designed to drive conversion, which is specifically designed to drive ROI. That's what we mean by the performance side of our performance creative. 

Why has this become so relevant in the last couple of years? The major advertising platforms have grown enormously: namely Facebook, Google, and more recently, Amazon. All of these platforms operate as auctions, so when there are more advertisers flooding those platforms with more spend and more ads, the natural thing that happens is cost of advertising (CPMs, cost per thousand impressions) goes up over time. When advertising gets more expensive, your ability to do it better than your competitors becomes more important; otherwise, your chance to drive a positive return on investment (ROI) is really, really slim.

About four years ago, you used to be able to get away with advertising on Facebook with creative that was not very impressive: a stock image of a product and the basic Facebook find-me-new-customer strategy, which uses a lookalike audience based on your existing customers. The market is so competitive now, that if you try to do that today, you'll most likely get crushed. So, there are a handful of levers on how to drive performance on an advertising platform like Facebook:

There's the structure, or how everything is set up in the accounts. There's the targeting that you're using, the bidding types that you're using, different types of automatic and manual bidding, and finally creative, i.e. the actual copy, images, and video used in the ads.

As these platforms have moved towards being more algorithmically driven and with increased competition, creative has increasingly become one of the most important levers to differentiate from your competitors. You need to differentiate versus your competitors because when someone's scrolling through a feed, they're seeing your ads, they're seeing native content from their friends and brands they follow, and they're seeing your competitors’ ads.  

The Best Practices to Know

The focus and the goal of performance creative is about driving a measurable outcome. Usually, that's something like return on advertising spend (ROAS) or customer acquisition costs (CAC). It is really important to do that within the confines of how you want to talk about your brand within your brand voice. The idea here is that our goal is more driving those outcomes than it is completely changing how consumers think about our brand. 

I’ll touch on three categories of best practices, the first being internal organization

Internal Organization

It’s common to have separate teams who own brand marketing versus performance marketing. I think one of the first things that I would recommend that you do is structure your team's briefing and creative operations processes to minimize points that can slow things down from developing, launching, and testing new creative. 

What you don't want is a really archaic brief process where the brand team, the performance team, the CEO, the COO, and the designers are all going back and forth. You want to create as minimal of a process as possible. Let's get on the same page about core concepts, and about what the guardrails are for creating those. 

Doing a lot of idea generation upfront, agreeing on eight to ten concepts that you're happy with can be a really great way to enable the team who's actually developing the creative to have leeway and test a lot of different things. The reason for that is the way the algorithms work (I'm primarily talking about Facebook and Instagram here). You can have a piece of creative that will really just take off. Depending on how your account is structured, that can happen really fast, but if you're spending at a really high rate, creative fatigue can also happen relatively quickly. 

That's when people have seen your ads so much that performance starts to degrade. The other thing that can happen is you can try a few new pieces of creative, and nothing can work. You want to make sure that you're always in a position where you have backups and similar iterations. 

Creative: The Rise of Video

The second piece of best practices: the creative itself. One of the shortcuts is just getting inspiration from brands that you admire. Facebook has a tool called the Facebook Ads Library. For any brand that's advertising at scale, you can put in the handle for their Facebook page and see the ads that are running live.

Unfortunately, you don't have any context on what's performing and what's not. So I'll recommend something that my prior team put together: Ad Creative Bank that was developed by WPromote. What's cool about this is they've taken best-in-class examples of performance creatives and then built an inventory of creative types. 

With the framework you have two axes: one is the different types of creative, i.e. static images, post-production motion (i.e. GIFs), and the other axis is unboxing things like humorous content, lifestyle, product content. You can click into any one of those combinations, like post-production motion, best-in-class examples for unboxing videos and you'll see a bunch of clear examples that can be really good. 

One thing to note is that the rise of video advertising in general has been meteoric. This is certainly true on Facebook and Instagram. Within the Google ecosystem, this is seen primarily through the rise of YouTube advertising. Video advertising is not going away anytime soon. In fact, systems are being built to encourage advertisers to do more video creative. Facebook has done a lot of research and users who are scrolling through the feed are four to five times more likely to engage with video, even light animation.

Videos are really valuable, particularly for the top of the funnel where you're finding new customers. It's also one of the things that brands tend to have the least of, so it's where you don't have to make the most investment. Post-production is really the shortcut right now; it's much less expensive to produce. Everybody has static images, and by adding moving text overlays, different post-production effects, or by turning images into gifts, you can create a lot of post-production assets pretty quickly. 

Keep in mind the context of the platform that you're advertising on. A lot of times, the really high production value stuff doesn't always perform the best because it clearly stands out. Don't be afraid to have somebody film something of them sitting at their desk, and when we're back in offices again, to have someone walk around the office and, film some stuff. Decreasing that mental barrier from a production value and really replicating what is more native to the platform is a key to the recipe for success. 

As always with any type of advertising, think about who your customer is. Ultimately, you’re trying to get them to stop scrolling. Whether they're flipping through stories or flipping through the newsfeed, what is that thing that's going to stop the scroll? 

Testing Infrastructure

You want to give yourself a lot of dry powder.

In other words, you want to have a lot of creative ready to go at any point in time. And if you don't, you want to have a process that is conducive to going out and creating more videos, gifts, images quickly if you need them. A way to do that is create more iterations and things that you have with just different colors, different texts, different after effects, just to increase that longevity. If something takes off and does really well, you're going to want to have those things to swap in and see how they work.

Also, build your tests with intentionality. What are you testing? Are you testing a different way?  Are you testing unboxing versus somebody using a product? It can be whatever you define it to be, but make sure you don't just test Ad #1 versus Ad #2– think about the conceptual idea behind Ad #1 and #2, and how can you build data around that? 

There are really two main ways to think about how to structure a test in Facebook.

1) Put different ads in the same ad set. The ad set is the level at which the targeting happens. So we're essentially going to say, ‘Hey, here's an audience, here's a target audience, here's three to four pieces of creative.’ Then we're trusting Facebook's algorithm to show the pieces of creative to those people. The benefit of doing this is it’s the fastest way to find winners and losers. The downside of doing this is it's not going to be as perfectly scientific.

2) A/B testing framework, which is more scientific: you randomly take people within your target customer or target audience, and then hold them out from being the population that sees the ads. Then you measure how many more people are being shown the ads and are taking our desired action, whether it's clicking, purchasing, whatever that may be compared to the people who are held out of the test. 

Most people take that first option that's less scientific, since you'll be able to drive performance more quickly. A/B testing takes more time. If you're really trying to figure something out about where your north star should be from a creative strategy standpoint, and you think these two pieces of creative give you good insight into that, that's a good time to use A/B testing. 

Creative is Key

It’s important to make sure you have a clear source of truth, and that the team is aligned on how you're measuring the success of creative. That's where something like Yaguara can come in and add a ton of value. It helps visualize your goals and what you're measuring. 

Also, don't just compare the ROAS of Creative A versus Creative B with no context. The audiences you're targeting will have a huge impact on the ROI of those. Let's say you have one creative that you mostly use to find new customers, and another piece of creative that you mostly use once somebody has already added something to cart and you're trying to get them to complete the purchase. Typically, the already added to cart is a much higher ROI, so make sure to try to adjust for that: compare certain creatives within your new customer acquisition, remarket certain creatives within your existing customer, and remarket certain creatives so that you're not just testing one specific strategy.

Back to this idea of intentionality: can you tag your creative with things that make it what it is?  Can you tag at the ad name? Can you tag which model you used, or which product is featured in it? If you tag that in the right way, you can look for insights across all of those common themes or tags. Rather than saying, add one beat, add two, you can say, ‘Oh wow. Our unboxing content is driving two times the return on advertising spend then just content of people using the products.’ That'll help you develop specific learnings. 

The importance of having creative that is engineered to drive performance on digital advertising channels is crucial to success. Digital advertising is going to be a part of the growth strategy for most e-commerce brands, even if it's not where most customers come from.  the platforms are too competitive not to be good on this crucial piece of digital advertising.