Creative Testing: How to Maximize Success

by Haley Nininger | December 29, 2022

When it comes to running successful paid social campaigns, there’s more to do than simply set up your ads, make some tweaks, and watch them perform. You need a comprehensive creative testing plan that helps you determine which elements of your creative strategy are resonating and which could use some improvement. 

By testing your ads, you’ll gain actionable insights and be able to make informed changes to boost your campaign’s efficiency and effectiveness. Whether you’re new to creative testing methods or an old pro, there’s always a case to amplify your efforts to refine your results. 

What is Creative Testing? 

Creative testing is a system in which paid media and creative professionals routinely test new messages, CTAs, designs, and other creative elements to determine the best combination for a business’s audience. 

Here at Silverback, we see ad creative testing as one of the most impactful pieces of an effective, holistic digital marketing strategy. After all, in today’s saturated markets, it’s increasingly difficult to catch the attention of your audience, especially in a post-pandemic world where most businesses are forced into virtual networking and sales models. Ongoing testing allows you to work towards a data-driven understanding of what imagery, messaging, CTAs, and other elements resonate best with your most valuable audiences.

Why You Should Test Your Ad Creative

Why even bother investing the time and resources into testing your assets? For starters, it’s not enough to rely on a simple lead capture strategy anymore. To truly succeed, you need to both capture and create demand. With the rise of automation and the decreasing control, marketers have over ad campaigns, it’s important to continually test and learn which creative elements most effectively entice your audiences to take action. 

Unfortunately, businesses that just focus on capturing existing demand find themselves unable to innovate or pigeonholed into the industry’s status quo. Companies that succeed ultimately understand the importance of creating demand AS WELL as capturing it. 

If you’re not sure if your own ads and campaigns need testing, here are some compelling reasons to give it a shot and see how it impacts your success.

Loss of Control and Fewer Traditional Targeting Levers

We’ve seen Google and other platforms make a broader push towards automation with several of their latest product developments and updates, including:

  • Google’s rollout of automatically-generated ad assets
  • Discontinuing content targeting for YouTube conversion campaigns
  • Facebook continues to struggle through the headwinds of iOS14  

What do these events have in common? It all ties back to automation and a lack of targeting control resulting in unprecedented shifts in how to approach your digital marketing strategies.

The rise in automation has decreased the level of control marketers have had over the last several years. Suddenly, the levers of control and constant optimization we’ve grown to know and love are disappearing. We’re suddenly seeing a wild shift in the industry – prioritizing creative strategy and broader audiences as critical components of any good paid media campaign.

Higher Relevancy and Personalization

According to Nielsen’s 5 Keys to Advertising Effectiveness, over 56% of paid media campaign performance relies solely on creative assets. Your brand accounts for another 15%, but we’ll argue that brand and creative often overlap. When you combine the two, you end up with nearly 70% of your campaign performance determined by the creative alone!

Of course, some targeting guardrails and the bones of paid media ops are still critical to the success of a campaign. Yet the Neilsen data supports the direction the industry is moving. It’s absolutely necessary to truly understand your audience and buyers, what makes them buy, and incorporate that into your creative strategy.

Today’s audiences are also more digitally savvy than previous generations. They are highly skeptical of their conversations and interactions with brands. 

Presenting a generic sales pitch just doesn’t work like it used to and requires more personalization and nuance. Instead, uncovering your audience’s true pain points and leveraging your “solutions” in your ads builds a foundation for a stronger, more personalized connection with your audiences.

Helps Spend Your Budget as Efficiently as Possible

A/B testing and the ongoing optimization of your creative assets does more than create compelling ads — they help strengthen your paid media strategy. Over time, you’ll also see A/B testing refining your foundation for efficiency. When you invest in creative testing methods, you no longer have to doubt whether your ads will give a high return on ad spend (ROAS), as future ads will build upon data from previous creative tests.

Catering your messaging for each funnel stage will also allow for more robust insights. You want to meet your prospects where they are in their journey with a goal of effectively and efficiently encouraging prospects to take action.

Creative Testing Methodology 

The approach to testing your assets can vary depending on your preferences and ads, but we keep some commonalities and best practices in mind. Silverback uses customized creative testing methods that include developing hypotheses and element-level testing. Here’s a breakdown of our approach:

Methodology

During the methodology stage, we dig deep into audience research or customer insights and leverage those insights and data points. From here, we can develop hypotheses about your audience(s) and how they’ll engage with your ads or convert. As you study your ads and refine your testing, you’ll also enjoy a greater understanding of your audiences and new ideas for segmenting them further. 

Overarching Concepts

Next, we leverage audience findings to develop overarching concepts that translate into individual variants. From the format of your ads to the creative itself, you can develop a testing framework and experiment with varying concepts throughout the funnel to get more clarity about how your audiences engage with your brand. 

Element-Level Testing

Element-level testing includes everything from ad copy and imagery, to overall messaging and ad formats. These concepts are rooted in variants across your entire ad platform mix. Here’s a visual example of breaking down this step.

Of course, there are more ways to dig into ad testing than how we do it at Silverback. Here are some other options to consider: 

Split Testing

Split testing, or A/B testing, is the cornerstone of testing with a side-by-side comparison of your ads or creative. You can split-test anything from copy to video to see which ads perform the best. They’re easy to execute, and many tools, like Google Experiments, will allow you to control the amount of traffic allocated to the control and experiment campaigns.

Let Your Budget Dictate Your Testing

Depending on your budget, there may be times you feel overwhelmed by ad creative testing. In reality, you can make small, cost-effective changes over time and still learn what resonates. Try changing just the image or copy of a LinkedIn ad and refreshing it for the following month. You may be making small, simple changes, but they’re still easy to test and offer more insights into your campaign.

Build Testing Bridges Between Your Paid and Organic Advertising

If your paid and organic teams are working on separate initiatives, it’s time to break down the silos. Share your creative assets and testing to look for clues. Your organic team may have thoughts about what copy works for which audience based on their own experience. Or your paid team may have ideas about structuring organic posts to win the most engagement with audiences.

Creative Testing Best Practices

Once you’ve decided how you’ll approach testing, there are some best practices to keep in mind. Document concepts, variants, hypotheses, success indicators, test runtime and develop a clear success definition and path to get there.

Organize and Label Your Ads

When available, label your ads and keep everything as organized as possible. It’s also helpful to use thoughtful naming conventions to pull that data and information in the future quickly.

Stay Proactive About the User Experience 

Some ad platforms offer tools to ensure online bullying and trolling are non-existent or kept to a minimum. When those tools aren’t available, your team should exercise care and caution to minimize the negative noise and maintain a positive user experience intact.

Run Controlled Ad Tests

Are your ads all over the place? You need a clear, defined test framework to get precise results about what’s working — and what’s not. Whenever possible, it’s best to focus on testing a single variable at a time as too many differences between ads lead to muddy results.

Focus on Intentional and Informed Testing

Creative tests should be intentional and informed to get the best results and help shape the future of your ads. Set a dedicated purpose for each test to allow for foundational results and let them build on each other over time.

Remember, creative testing is an ongoing process, so don’t be afraid to continually refine and improve your strategy. With a comprehensive testing plan, you’ll gain more insights and knowledge to maximize the success of your campaigns.

Need Help with Your Digital Creative Marketing Services?

Silverback offers digital creative marketing services for a dedicated in-house creative strategy team with experts in analytics, paid media, design, and audience research to unlock new levels of synergy that can’t be achieved when one or more of these departments are segregated or missing.

We make the user experience relevant and tangible with audience research customized for every business that fuels data-driven creative assets that power a unique and relevant paid media strategy, with high visibility reports and creative measurement to inform later testing.

All of the above is grounded in our Media & Creative Sprint Process, which is based on the principles and benefits of ongoing testing and innovation over time to deliver tangible results and growth. Get in touch with us today to learn more

Haley Nininger

Haley is a curious, passionate digital marketing professional with an ever-evolving growth mindset. Her work as an analyst helps “connect the dots” for clients more efficiently, more creatively, and more tangibly. Haley is powered by homemade espresso and the burning desire to see that conversion rate rise!

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