Creative Strategy in Digital Advertising

by Emily Bliss | March 1, 2022

Creative without strategy is art. Creative with strategy is advertising. This article looks at why businesses need a creative strategy in digital advertising. It shows marketers where to start, and the pros and cons of various team structures. Let’s dive in.

The importance of creativity in advertising

Creative is the biggest factor in an advertisement’s performance. It’s the graphics that convey a visual message. The words carefully chosen to plant a seed in the minds of buyers.

According to a 2017 study from Nielsen, creative accounted for nearly half of a digital advertisement’s performance. Other notable factors were reach, brand, and targeting. See the chart below for reference.

Source: Nielsen

In short, ad creative can make—or break—your digital marketing campaigns. Strong ad creative is backed by market research, which helps you capture attention and empathize with your ideal buyers. It’s critical to show the importance of creativity in advertising when dealing with other key stakeholders internally. Otherwise, ads get designed by committee and marketing leaders are held accountable.

Set creative strategy before building paid media campaigns

Building a successful paid media marketing campaign takes a fair amount of resources. Meanwhile, marketing heads can be under pressure to see return on ad spend. It can be easy to underestimate the market research needed for a winning creative strategy.

In some cases, business owners and marketing leaders can become removed from their buyers. They think they know their buyers, so they dictate creative decisions like imagery or copy based on assumptions. If they are wrong, then ad creative won’t resonate with buyers. Or worse, it could cause confusion and damage your brand.

It’s tempting to launch campaigns as quickly as possible, but extremely risky if the strategy isn’t right. Let’s explore how marketers can use audience research to influence creative strategy in digital advertising.

How audience research can influence creative direction

First, you need to know what emotions to evoke in your target buyers for your advertisement to resonate. This starts with market research to understand the profile of your ideal buyers. What’s their demographic makeup? What motivates them to buy?

Audience research starts with hypotheses about your audience based on your company’s collective experience in your market. Then you must collect data to support or refute each hypothesis. This can be done two different ways:

  • Primary research: interviewing or surveying target audiences directly. This gives you more control over data quality and specific insights, but can be costly and time consuming.
  • Secondary research: citing existing data from other research studies. This is typically less expensive, but can be hard to find reliable data about your industry or niche.

Recently, Katelyn Bourgoin joined our Digital Marketing Troop podcast, and shared insights into why people buy, and how to use customer research to market smarter. Listen here:

Audience insights can also be sourced from past or existing ad campaigns. They’re chock full of data. Sadly, many companies fall short in applying learnings to new campaign iterations. This is usually due to a lack of analytical skills or no feedback loop between creative and analytics teams. Creating a culture and process of structured testing leads to a cycle of continuous improvement.

Questions to answer when developing a creative strategy

Market research can be used to help a variety of business decisions. Marketers must use research to answer three key questions when building a creative strategy for digital advertising:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What pain point do you solve?
  • Why are you better than the competition?

Who is your target audience?

First and foremost, marketers should know whose attention they’re trying to attract. What does an ideal buyer look like? Do they skew toward certain demographics? Are they located in a specific geographic area? How much purchasing power do they command? The answers to these questions will set the foundation for your creative strategy.

What pain point do you solve?

After identifying the target audience, the next step is to understand what pain point your product or service solves. One good way to do this is to conduct both qualitative and quantitative market research on your audience. Hearing directly from buyers gives marketers a chance to flex their empathy skills. The same words and phrases buyers use to describe this pain point can inform advertising copy and imagery.

Why are you better than the competition?

Finally, you must understand how your product or service is different from competitors. Good differentiators must pass three tests.

  • It must be relevant. Your differentiator must be something your buyers care about.
  • It must be true. Otherwise, your buyers will feel mislead. They’ll tell their peers and it can harm your brand.
  • It must be provable. Use customer testimonials, reviews, research statistics, or influencer endorsements to prove your differentiator.

Key elements of a creative strategy in digital advertising

A creative strategy in digital advertising is more than just graphic design and aesthetics. There must be depth to your messages. Advertisements must tie back to your content strategy and overarching digital marketing objectives

The audience research you have can be used as a guide for specific elements within a digital advertisement. Here are four key elements to identify for a strong creative strategy:

  • Ideas: What content will you make, what will it say?
  • Offers: What will you offer to consumers? How will you get them to respond, engage and converse?
  • Visual: What will your advertisements look like? Is there a visual theme or guideline?
  • Narrative: Refer back to the content strategy – what is the story we are trying to tell?

Creative marketing team combinations

There are many different ways to set up marketing teams. On one extreme, companies can insource 100% of their marketing needs with in-house paid media, design, content and analytics. On the other extreme, companies can outsource all of their marketing needs to one or multiple agencies.

Most companies don’t have the luxury of either end of this spectrum. They insource key marketing specializations and outsource other functions. For instance, some of our clients design their own creative for performance marketing campaigns, which Silverback manages.

Different combinations may come with different challenges. Marketing directors sometimes coordinate with multiple agencies or freelancers. If there is poor communication between teams, it can lead to sub-par results. Here are a few common structures, and challenges that can come with each:

In-house creative team, outsourced paid media.

This may also be the case for a company with an in-house marketer with some graphic design skills. Outside of navigating image size requirements for each platform, this dynamic tends to result in communication delays. These delays hinder a campaign’s ability to test new creative. 

In-house paid media, outsourced creative.

Some businesses may have grown by figuring out paid search or paid social internally. They’ve grown to the point where they need to outsource ad creative to freelancers or boutique creative agencies. Unfortunately, it can be challenging if the internal team isn’t able to provide directional feedback to the creative team. Creative teams may go adrift in their direction, leaving companies in the painful position of searching for new creative resources.

Separate creative and paid media agencies.

There are scenarios where a company wants two agencies to play nice and work together. In some cases, this setup can work. However, poor performance may lead to infighting, damaging morale and team dynamics. Without clear expectations and trust, this can be a difficult arrangement to manage.

Work with a new kind of agency

Marketing has always been about generating revenue. But the best way to do it is constantly changing. That’s why it’s so important to test ad creative and adjust quickly. Contact us to learn how you can get started today.

Silverback Strategies embeds a team of specialists around you based on your business model. As your marketing needs evolve and grow, you’ll have access to familiar faces that know your business. Creative and paid media teams work closely together to test creative, analyze results, iterate and adjust.

Recognized by Ad Age, Inc. Magazine, and Washington Post as a best place to work, Silverback is a destination for top marketing talent in the nation. Better talent means better performance.

Emily Bliss

Emily is an insatiably curious, experienced marketing leader helping organizations build trust with buyers. She helps clients thrive at the intersection of a powerful brand story and business growth.

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