The role of performance creative and the combination of performance and branding
It is neither novel nor revelatory to acknowledge that tech makes attribution more achievable today than it has ever been before, and that marketing is all the better for this facility. As the capacity to understand which investment has driven which outcome has increased over the last couple of decades, advertising has become more effective and ROAS (return on ad spend) has improved. As advertisers and as consumers, we have lived through an epochal shift in the generation, consumption and funding of media; an Anthropocene of data-driven digital messaging replacing the more traditional media.
At the same time, enhanced targeting opportunities and lengthening data shadows improve advertisers’ capacity to reach consumers at exactly the right moment in their path to purchase: understanding intent signals that may in some cases even predate and pre-empt the individual’s conscious awareness that they are about to become an active consumer for a given product, enabling the advertiser to appear with exactly the right message at precisely the perfect moment to capture the sale.
The combination of the enhanced capacity to understand what works and this ground-breaking facility to identify intent so precisely has had a profound impact on marketing. A golden age of big data, allowing us to understand which audiences are likely to respond to our messaging and then prove whether or not we were right. To corrupt Drucker, what gets measured gets marketed: we build refinement loops that drive down costs over time, narrowing our audiences and restricting channel selection to zero in on the most effective. For all its many genuine benefits, the limitations and shortcomings of this approach are well understood and, to a great extent, priced into its performance: whether that’s the messy middle which occludes our visibility of the journey between first touch and last touch, particularly in journeys that straddle on and offline media; or more simply a tendency towards smaller, more refined audiences and a commensurate rise in the base cost per thousand to reach our increasingly select cluster of would-be consumers. Inevitably there’s also competition: other advertisers work to the same model and are using similar tools to identify and target the same select pool of in-market consumers, and this too is driving up advertising costs.
Personalisation and messaging segmentation accentuate this data-driven, laser-like focus on managing consumers’ progression through the funnel; showing messages germane to that user’s situation, their location, their demography, what we know about their previous engagements with ads or owned assets. All these things improve the performance of activity and drive up ROAS: any data-driven refinement to messaging that can push a CTR up from 3.5% to 5.5% is absolutely worth pursuing.
An unintended consequence of this precision, however, is a diminished focus on the other 94.5% of people who are exposed to our message. Marketing to what gets measured means that the metrics that matter are all engagement-based: clicks, goals, sales. This is proper of course, but there are other considerations that have value: the way we are perceived by people who don’t engage also matters. Reach still has value, profile still matters, brand still has meaning.
In short, refinement, automation and the pursuit of a direct response model risk having a detrimental impact on brand value and, by limiting reach and driving up costs per thousand, on brand profile. But what if there was a way to make your bed and eat it*? To push that 5.5% response rate up to 6% but also to be mindful of how the other 94% of consumers understand our brand; to chase the lower-funnel engagement from in-market consumers but also nurture and curate the way that we are perceived by consumers in the passive stage? While we’re managing what gets measured, let us remain mindful that there is a huge amount of value in the un-measurable and the unknowable.
This dual approach speaks to the true potential of properly ideated Performance Creative; combining automation, tech and data-driven targeted with human creativity, intuition and perspicacity. The facility to iterate messaging quickly and cheaply and the automation of the targeting and personalisation process ensures that those aspects of ad creation become, to some extent, a given: freeing up the more human elements of the creative process to be… creative. The tech can worry about scalability and about right ad/right person/right time, and the human can spend more time considering the wider implications of a message: what might it mean to people who are not in market? How should the context influence the message? How might we tweak copy to better appeal to a speculative prospecting audience? We can see what it tells people about our product, but how does it make them feel about our product? What about the messy middle; if our understanding of attribution isn’t as precise as we would like to think, how will our messaging play to those consumers we’ve engaged with but about whom we still know relatively little?
To give some specific examples, a proper creative response would make use of a dynamic product catalogue on Facebook but would also run exploratory prospecting activity which introduces the consumer to a brand in a less sales-focused way. It might also offer the same message to a far broader audience programmatically, using a tool like Spaceback to repurpose social assets for wider use.
Or looking beyond the conversion of just social assets, deploying unified creative across multiple digital channels can be achieved at scale in a matter of days. Working with a partner like Shuttlerock who can take any asset, be it a single static image or a 30 second TV commercial and turn it into a suite of optimised digital assets that can be used across multiple channels in various iterations, for the benefit of prospecting or remarketing campaigns.
The unintended consequences of technological advances have helped us to dig this pitfall, but happily they have also constructed a ladder out of it. While we’re using tech to refine and leverage, to pinpoint and seek out, we can also use it to play and explore, to test and speculate. If technology can’t understand or quantify the emotive impact of a message on the people who see it but don’t click it, it can at least put us in front of more people more quickly and cheaper. At heart, this quandary returns to the core issue underlying the broader automation project: by speeding up and taking away the jobs that machines do well, technology frees up time and resources to allow humans to do more of what we do best.
*I refer, of course, to having one’s cake and lying in it too.