*This article was authored by Meredith Unger, Creative Strategist at Tinuiti

If you find yourself scrutinizing your ads and questioning their performance, the culprit might be your creative. Have you ever pondered why certain ads outshine others or why one format yields success while another falls flat? We have too.

The demand for better, more measurable ROAS is understandably driving advertising budgets towards digital media channels, which is where performance data comes standard. Here all creative can be considered performance marketing, enabling us to transform insights into strategies that drive more cost-effective ad spend across platforms.

In this article, we will break down what creative strategy means and how it is an overlooked but powerful tool in maximizing your ROI. Discover how creative strategy can empower you to optimize your returns through more efficient messaging that resonates with your audience.

What is a Creative Strategy?

A creative strategy is an organized plan of action for deploying an idea or creative platform. This helps brands develop content in a consistent and methodical way that supports specific KPIs and facilitates overall business growth.

It consists of three major parts: the platform itself (what the idea is for solving a business problem), communication orchestration (where and how pieces of the campaign click together) and tactics (what the specific ad unit executions should look like). 

Creative Strategy vs. Creative Brief

Creative strategy and a traditional creative brief are similar but different. While creative briefs are often seen as perfunctory documents containing target audience information, product value propositions, and specifications; creative strategy blends traditional briefing with insights and relevant industry research to build upon past performance and audience trends. 

In short, creative briefs outline what you need, and creative strategy focuses on how you will make it resonate.

Why is it Important to Implement a Creative Strategy?

Without a creative strategy, your ads may not be any different or distinguishable from your competitors. Creative strategy addresses the “why us, why now” aspects of a message. 

Business Insider conducted an experiment on TikTok to see how many ads they encountered in a two-hour scroll; the results revealed 140 ads within 500 videos during the scrolling period. As you might imagine, viewers will only remember a handful of these ads, and an even smaller number actually purchase anything. 

According to Nielsen, great creative is the best way to ensure your ad leads to that coveted purchase. One of their studies found that creative was the largest factor (47%) driving ROI and sales over any other advertising element. In an internet full of competing messages, having a good creative strategy is imperative to ensure your messaging reaches your audience and stands out in the sea of sameness.

Across our routines, we are exposed to thousands of ads a day in various formats from billboards, podcast sponsorships, affiliate content, Meta, TikTok, Reddit, Google… the list goes on. Out of all the messages and marketing, how will your brand use its spend and bandwidth efficiently?

6 Best Practices When Developing a Creative Strategy

Now that we see how vital creative strategy is to improving our ROI, how do we make sure we know how to build a strategy that is effective? Below, we will break down our best practices for crafting a creative strategy that drives results.

1. Define Your Goals and KPIs

Determine the business outcome you are most interested in improving. For example, are you looking to increase awareness or boost sales? If you are aiming to increase awareness, what does success look like? For awareness, you might be seeking a certain CPM, impression share, etc. Success might look like decreasing your CPMs by X%.

Having defined goals and KPIs to aim for will help measure the creative’s success and inform the messaging strategy based on where it falls in the funnel.

2. Find Your Target Audience

In order to create copy and imagery that resonates most with the audience, we need to define whom we are trying to reach and add any research about what they currently know or think of our brand. This piece is critical to consider any audience barriers, motivators, or preferences so we can customize our creative to speak most effectively to the main audience.

Tip: Stick to a maximum of 2-3 key audiences to ensure your message isn’t too broad and watered down.

3. Look Back at Prior Performance and Research Competitors

When it comes to creative strategy, looking at past performance is crucial for determining how to move forward and build upon what we know. If you have not done a lot of creative testing up to this point, you can still learn directionally from what worked or didn’t in the last few months.

Take a look at 3-5 top and bottom performers based on the same key KPI and audience you are trying to reach for this project. It can also be helpful to take a look at what your competitors are doing and summarize your findings to help distinguish your message and answer any comparison questions before the audience seeks them out.

4. Break Down Your Advertising Campaign by Deliverable and Funnel Position

Include important nuances and specs for your production team so that each creative is right-sized for the platform. Ideally, you want to create messaging for the platform vs. resizing from one and retrofitting for all others. This is also a good place to remind them of where each deliverable will live in the funnel or campaign so the messaging fits the desired action.

Here is where you can start to assign specific tests to iterate on within the campaign to learn how your audience reacts to certain creative elements.

5. Right-Sizing The Strategy Against Your Budget

Once you have the creative strategy, asset mix, specs, and testing planned, you will need to determine what budget is best to fit the number of assets for the period of time you want them to run.

If you have a smaller budget, you may want to pare back the number of assets and tests you run at one time to make sure enough spend gets to the test versions. If you have a large budget, it might be a good time to play with more intentional tests and determine which channels need the most support.

6. Determine Your Ideal Timeline

Now that you know what, how, and why you want to produce new creative, determine when you need it and how long it will take to be ready to launch. Sometimes the best plan is the simplest. If time doesn’t allow for multiple tests, prioritize the most impactful variations and plan accordingly.

Your timeline should include any content refreshes you expect based on channel fatigue. For example, if your campaign is running on TikTok, you may want to stagger your creative so you can refresh it more often throughout your flight.

7. Gather Insights and Repeat

Once the project is kicked off and your creative is live, the process is just beginning. In order to build upon your creative strategy for the next time, keep a pulse on the performance throughout your campaign run and recommend any adjustments as needed to the creative to boost performance. Once the campaign wraps, collect data and analyze which variations were winners and what you should hold off on and test again at a later date. Iterate and repeat the process.

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The right creative agency should help guide the messaging and formats that will work hardest for each channel and placement based on facts and performance, not guesswork. By analyzing past performance, marketing teams can learn what messages, media types, and imagery led to improved KPIs performance while tailoring their approach for the next creative campaign. Strategic messaging, testing, and insights are absolutely imperative when forming a plan for creative that delivers real results and pushes past the clutter.

Conclusion

With new platforms and ad types popping up daily, a well-crafted creative strategy is necessary to keep from falling behind your competitors. As we discussed, creating effective ads goes beyond where you put them and how much you spend; it relies on the balance of art and science. Creative strategy will allow you to define your goals, understand your target audience deeper and harness insights from you and your competitors past performance. 

But the job doesn’t end with creative execution. Creative strategy relies on continuous adaptation and iteration to find the right message and format for your brand. Just as the platforms and mediums evolve, so must our approach to our creative. Creative strategy is all about looking deeper, digging into the data and ultimately making sure your creative drives the coveted return on investment. 

Want to learn more? Check out our recent examples of creative client success or contact us today!

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