Creative development is a recurring thorn in the side of brands.
Good creative can anchor a brand for decades. The VW Lemon ad, Apple’s Think Different campaign, Dove Real Beauty, Wassup (wassssaaaupppp?) — these creative executions not only delivered for the brand but have also emerged as cultural icons.
For instance, Mad Men talks about the Lemon ad in an episode… that aired almost half a century after the ad ran.
The problem is, for every example of brilliant creative, there are a dozen examples of creative that is expensive to produce and does little to move the needle. It’s hard to answer the question:
Is this creative going to work?
So we put together a guide to help franchisees get the most from their creative development. Your creative content will work hardest for when you build an ecosystem that maximizes the chance of success, reduces creative cost with content recycling and leverages the basics of creative strategy and your brand assets.
In this nifty creative guide we’ll cover:
- Creative strategy basics
- How to identify successful creative assets and what KPIs you need to track
- How to fix creative that isn’t ticking those boxes
- Leveraging national brand standards and spend for franchise-level use
- Brand asset management
- Creative best practices for CTAs, written and video content
We’ve got a lot to get through, so let’s get started!
Part 1: Creative strategy 101
Creative strategy is the strategic rationale behind the development of assets and how that development translates into business objectives. To develop an effective creative strategy, businesses need to go through a few basic steps.
1. Clarify objectives
In order for a creative strategy to be successful, franchises must clarify what goal they want to achieve at the end. We usually use a SMART goal framework. That is, the objective should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or Actionable), Realistic and Timely.
For example, say you were a fast casual franchise and you have $10,000 to spend on an ad campaign. Your SMART goal might be:
This ad campaign will drive 30% more sales (specific) over the 6-month duration (timely) of the campaign with a 10% residual increase over the following two months. Sales will be based on net profit in that period compared YoY to the same time last year (measurable). 30% is based on previous campaign successes of 22-27% increases (achievable and realistic).
Clear objectives establish an unbiased protocol to make it clear if the campaign succeeds or fails.
2. Identify Audiences
You need to define your audience. Applying a SMART goal-esque framework is an easy way to ensure clarity for business and creative stakeholders. Your audience should be specific enough that you can define messages and calls-to-action (CTAs) that resonate, but not so specific that your whole campaign is only going to appeal to a tiny subset of the customer base.
3. Identify real benefits and CTAs
Next, determine your CTAs and benefits for the campaign. These are going to anchor your creative direction and drive your target audience to action. First, you need to identify key benefits that will achieve your business objective by:
- Identifying what feature you’re going to highlight
- Explaining why your audience wants that feature
- Linking that “why” to how it connects to your target audience’s desires
- Finding the emotional core of those desires
This process (courtesy of Copy Blogger) will uncover the real benefits of your product that you can use to inform your creative execution.
Next, CTAs. This is where you identify what you need your audience to do to achieve your business objective. Do you want them to buy online or in-store? Download an app, visit a website or reach out to your sales team? Establish the outcome you need and create action-oriented CTAs that they will see.
4. Outline budget and media options
Finally, budget and media. This is when the creative execution can really start to take shape. You need to identify what media your target audience consumes. Then analyze what media options are best for your business objectives and how your benefits will be incorporated.
By the end of this process, you should be ready to start creative production. Now you have:
- A specific goal that your creative is trying to achieve
- A specific audience you’re targeting
- Specific benefits and CTAs pertaining to that audience
- A firm budget and media spend that suits the specific benefits, audience and budget to give you the best opportunity to achieve your business objective.
Now, you’re ready to start producing creative assets, which brings us to part two: how you’re going to measure success.
Part 2: KP-what? How to measure success
As we mentioned, it can be difficult to measure the success of creative assets. For instance, if a blog post is shared 10,000 times, is that success? If a tweet is retweeted or a Facebook post is liked, is that success?
The short answer is “probably not.”
The reason it’s so important to identify a clear business objective in the creative strategy phase is that it makes it far, far easier to judge whether or not your creative assets are working.
For instance, imagine that you were an e-commerce website, and your goal was to raise your average transaction value from $40 to $50. You might run a Facebook ad campaign and track how much the customers that clicked eventually purchased. If you found that those who clicked were spending $40, then that’s probably not an effective tool for meeting this specific goal.
By linking each channel to the end objective of the campaign in this way, you:
- Create a single metric to use across channels
- Ensure each channel is contributing to the bottom line of the campaign
How each channel is linked to the end objective will depend on the channel.
First, what can you measure? For instance, a billboard has fewer measuring options than, say, an email campaign.
Second, the link between creative and business objectives might not necessarily go in a straight line.
For instance, let’s go back to our e-commerce store. You might find that those who get an email AND see a Facebook ad end up spending $75 on average. So the email campaign objective might be ‘Drive users to connect via Facebook’ with a success metric set accordingly. With digital channels, in particular, companies can start to track the entire customer journey across channels and attribute value correctly with metrics that matter.
But what happens when assets aren’t hitting their objectives?
Part 3: Fixing under-performing creative assets
Even in the brilliant creative we talked about earlier, there are bound to be pieces that underperform.
The question then becomes: how do you fix them?
Print, above-the-line collateral and out-of-home (OOH) creative are the most difficult to change. It’s often a matter of trying something different the next time around.
So let’s focus on digital assets, where the iteration cycle can happen rapidly. Here’s how you can assess and fix the creative “failures” efficiently.
The first step is to identify the problem. Why is the creative not hitting its objectives? Some likely culprits are:
- It’s the wrong message for the moment
- It’s the wrong medium for the message (e.g. posting about a sale in a forum)
- It’s the wrong medium for the audience
- The ask (e.g. the CTA) is too large. Maybe the audience is not ready to do what you’re asking
The best way to identify issues is to do A/B testing. By testing different variations, you can hone in on exactly what component of a particular asset isn’t working.
Next, you need to solve the problem you’ve found. For instance, you might find that by lowering what you’re asking consumers for with a particular asset, you can drive a much better engagement rate.
Of course, this is going to impact the overall success of the channel. One option is to realign the channel success metrics if a channel isn’t working. For instance, instead of using a channel to drive sales, you might use it to drive traffic to your content, and measure success on the quality of traffic it drives. By adapting your sales funnel as you uncover each channel’s strengths and weaknesses, you can refine it in real time to optimize your campaign delivery.
The key here is to continually tweak and tailor your messaging and channel mix to maximize marketing efficiency. Under-performance isn’t a failure — it’s just another data point as you discover what works and what doesn’t.
Part 4: Turning national brands into franchise success
So far, most of what we’ve covered is applicable to anyone undertaking a creative strategy.
But franchises are unique in that they have parent brands pumping out regional and national brand creative. Here’s how you can leverage those assets effectively.
1. Follow brand guidelines
The best thing you can do is be a stickler for the brand guidelines. The whole point of brand guidelines and style guides is that they create consistency across disparate locations and tie franchises to parent collateral. So if you can mimic brand guidelines by following them in every possible way, you’ll be more effective in leveraging brand power and turning national campaigns into local dollars.
2. Align your marketing with national strategy
Your marketing should be an extension of national and regional objectives. You want to provide a consistent customer experience from what they see on TV to what they see in your store.
This goes beyond simply offering the same products or services. It’s about keeping your marketing assets in line with national objectives and campaigns so there is cross-channel cohesion.
For instance, let’s say you are a restaurant franchise. If the national brand is running ads about your new healthy menu options, you shouldn’t be promoting your double deluxe fried chicken and gravy special. It creates a cognitive gap, and in that gap, customers will wander away. The more tightly you’re tied to your brand, the better you’ll do.
Which brings us to creation: how do you manage collateral that’s effective, engaging and on-brand?
Part 5: Brand asset management best practices
Brand asset management (BAM) is a subset of digital asset management and covers many of the same things. Broadly speaking, BAM is the system that organizations use to keep their digital brand assets current and consistent to build brand value.
First, organizations need to centralize their brand assets. Ideally, every image, blog post, animated asset or video will be managed from a central place. Whether the storage system is cloud-based or on-location, this creates a central source of truth and lets brands:
- Identify opportunities to reuse existing assets to maximize return on investment
- Retire expired content easily from a central repository
- Find opportunity to connect relevant content and assets and combine them for new asset creation
Second, organizations should focus on automating BAM systems and processes. Not only will this make asset management faster, but it will help reduce the problem of forgetting a specific asset and keeping it live long after it should come down.
Third, brand asset management needs to have tiered control. If anyone can change anything, keeping on the side of brand guidelines is challenging, to say the least.
Finally, BAM needs to be flexible enough to allow integrations into other business processes. Content creation, of course, but also things like multi-variant testing and regulatory compliance and review are a lot easier with a strong, centralized brand asset management.
Keeping your assets in line and up to date is essential. But how do you actually create those assets? Next, we look at best practices for developing CTAs written content and video assets.
Part 6: CTA, written and video content best practices
Content creation is the heart of any creative development plan.
So how can brands do it effectively? Here are a few best practices that you can use to inform your approach to content.
1. Calls to action (CTAs)
A great call to action can give your creative a huge boost. It’s the only copy you can almost guarantee your customers will read. To make the most of yours, there are a few rules of thumb you should follow:
- Make your CTA relevant to the channel. Even if you’re asking for the same thing across multiple outlets, tailor it to make it more relevant to the context.
- Keep it focused on benefits. Focus on what the user is going to get out of the engagement rather than what you get out of it. For instance, are you more likely to click on a button that says “Give us $100 instead of $120!” or one that says “Save $20 right now!” The second of course!
- Keep your CTAs short: we really like the action-verb + context noun format. That is, you choose an action verb and pair it with a noun relevant to the context. For instance, if you’re trying to get users to download an eBook about lead generation, instead of “get your free eBook” your CTA might be “Drive Sales with a Free eBook”
- Make your CTAs big, bright and easy to see.
They should still match your style guide of course, but don’t be afraid to experiment with color, size and placement to determine what works best. Most importantly, make sure you’re testing. It’s impossible to know what’s going to resonate, so make sure you’re testing design, copy and placement variations to maximize returns.
2. Written content best practices
Written content is and will likely remain the foundation of marketing. Even with so many other avenues, written content remains incredibly important. Here’s how you can get the most out of yours:
- Repurpose all the time. Generating great content and sales copy is difficult, expensive and time-consuming. Repurposing brings those costs down, at least a little. Adapting blog posts into newsletters, eBooks into benchmarking reports, case study teasers into blog posts and so on will help you produce the content you need quickly and effectively.
- Write 26 headlines. Like CTAs, your headlines and subject lines are a LOT more likely to be read. So they need to be good. Write 26 variations for every single headline before you publish it and your click-through rates are bound to go up.
- Test, test, test. Try different headlines, subject lines, CTA copy, ad copy, etc. You’re never going to know exactly what will drive conversions, so by testing again and again, you build up a better picture of what works and what doesn’t.
- Vary length. Don’t feel like every blog post needs to be a 2,000-word masterpiece or a 200-summary. Vary your length to suit the topic and what the user wants.
- Focus on being helpful. Your content shouldn’t always be focused on the sale. Instead, it should be focused (in part) on being helpful. Focus on understanding and solving user problems first, and making a sale second. Believe us — being helpful always pays dividends.
- Be skim-able. Short paragraphs and lots of headings, images and bullet points make your content easy to skim quickly. Since that’s what most people are going to do anyway, why not make it easy for them?
- Don’t forget the golden rule: the purpose of any one sentence is to get the reader to read another sentence. If you’re reviewing your work and a sentence doesn’t make you want to keep reading, odds are you can cut it.
3. Video content best practices
Finally, let’s discuss video. Video has been the darling of marketing for the last few years now. More and more platforms are moving toward video, particularly Facebook and Instagram. And it’s filling an increasing role in other channels as well, with how-to videos, product videos and informational videos now being the norm rather than the exception. To keep your video top-notch and delivering the results you want to see, there are a few best practices to follow:
- If you’re going expensive, go expensive. If you’re going cheap, go cheap. Customers will be surprisingly forgiving of low-budget video. What they won’t be is tolerant of low-budget video trying to be high-end.
- Invest in a decent camera and mic. You’d be surprised at the difference it can make just having the right tools for the job (especially audio).
- Keep them short. For social media videos, aim for under 90 seconds. If you’re building something longer, make sure it’s worth the time (will people watch in its entirety?).
- Don’t put video behind a paywall. Despite its high production cost, for whatever reason, users are unwilling to give up an email or personal info for a video the way they are for a white paper or eBook. Keep video open and free.
- Tier your content. For most businesses, video is an expensive form of content to produce. Try and qualify interest before you invest heavily in video content production by throwing ideas out there in a lower-cost media first. For instance, try 10 tweets on 10 topics and see what bucket your audience gravitates toward. Then, turn the most popular three into blog posts, and maybe the most popular into a video. It’s an easy way to decrease risk and increase the chances of a good video ROI.
Creating content isn’t easy, and specializing in any one type usually requires more resources than franchises have to throw at the project. But just like you can build the right ecosystem to foster successful creative assets, so too can you build a system with content that puts your best foot forward. And since video content is increasingly relevant to brands but still something that’s difficult to produce, hopefully these best practices will help lower the cost and increase returns of your video work!
Your creative doesn’t have to come in the form of a crazy, million-dollar stunt or a Superbowl ad straight from the mind of Don Draper.
Honing in on the basics is much more likely to drive results.
First, get your messaging right so you’re talking about topics people care about. Focus on real benefits for the people you want to target, not the features you want to talk about. An easy way to do this is to measure obsessively. Work out exactly what you want your collateral to do, then try and optimize over time to improve that single metric.
You can fix underperforming creative in the same way — identify what you want it to do, then identify if it’s actually doing it. If not, you need to adjust, re-deploy and re-measure until it starts to work.
Next, align your creative to pair seamlessly with your national brand. The closer you can align yourself with them, the better off you (and they) will be. If needed, ask for additional resources and support! There’s always collateral to go around for the hungry franchisee.
Third, make sure you have an efficient system for creating, deploying and tracking your creative and brand assets. A simple system will save you oodles of time and help you spot opportunities to reuse creative, vastly reducing your creation costs and improving ROI.
And finally, when it comes to creative, the world is your oyster. Written content, viral videos, social media, billboards — the options are endless. Which is why it’s best to really define the channel and content type that works best for your audience, message and for you, rather than trying to be everywhere at once.
Good creative isn’t about how much you spend. It’s about getting the right message, in the right channel, with the right content, at the right time. If you can do that, you can safely say your creative is working.