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Five ad testing strategies that deliver impactful creative intelligence

What creative assets should you test? And which audience should you test with? The answers to those questions can only come from a well-built testing strategy. Here are five you can use for your brand.
Jess Cook

After automating millions of dollars in creative testing, we’ve honed in on how to get meaningful creative data out of your ad tests. And we know it all starts with a solid testing strategy.

This is especially true with multivariate testing because your strategy informs your hypotheses which inform the creative variables you choose to test. Without a strategic foundation, you’ll be flying blind.

The first step is to answer this question:
What area (or areas) of the brand or business do we most need to affect with better ad creative?

The answer depends greatly on your business’s maturity, overall growth goals, and GTM strategy.

In our latest episode of Resting Ad Face, our VP of Performance Marketing, Susan Wenograd, and I cover five different ad testing strategies that get our stamp of approval.

Here’s a quick summary:

Prospecting: What works best with current customers isn’t always what works best with new ones. Multivariate testing can help you find the best possible combination of creative elements to bring new people to your brand.

Launching new products and product lines: Set your new products and product lines up for success. Find winning ads and creative elements that drive people to purchase your latest offerings.

Testing seasonal designs and messages: Find out which creative elements work best to draw people into your biggest deals and holiday sales of the year.

Refining your brand’s overall look and feel: You’re not married to your brand’s design system or you’re a relatively new brand still building your look and feel. Why not let your customers decide what they like best?

Building a database of historical creative intelligence for your brand:Every test adds another layer of depth to your brand’s pool of creative intelligence. Over time, you can build insights that hold true not just for ads but for your brand as an entity.

Once your team has landed on an area of focus, you can build goals and a testing plan around it.

Check out the full, 20-minute chat from episode 2 of Resting Ad Face below. And subscribe to our YouTube channel to get the latest episode drop every other Wednesday.

TRANSCRIPT

[00:00:05] Susan: Hey everybody. Welcome to Resting Ad Face. I am Susan Wenograd. I am the VP of Performance Marketing at Marpipe. So I am the nerd that runs ads all day long. I've done it for about 20 years now. So obviously I love this topic. And with me is Jess Cook. 

[00:00:22] Jess: Hey, I'm Jess Cook. I'm the Head of Content at Marpipe. And I am the nerd that writes all of the things that you see in our social channels and on our website about testing and ad creative and building modularly, designing modularly, things like that.

[00:00:40] So, we are here today to talk a bit about strategies around testing and the best ways to put a plan in place for who you're gonna talk to in terms of your testing, your ads and, and what exactly you wanna test. 

[00:00:58] Susan: I feel like that's one of [00:01:00] the most neglected steps. I hate to say that, but so often it's kind of like, hey, here's a whole bunch of new creative let's test it.

[00:01:08] And I think people mistake just running creative versus actually testing something. So it's like when you're testing something, there's something specific you're looking to learn. And I mean, maybe that is just which creative performs best, but like that doesn't really do anything for you long term.

[00:01:24] Right. It's kind of like, okay, this one ad works great. What happens when it stops working? 

[00:01:28] Jess: Absolutely. So I think we have five different strategies we wanna talk about today. There are more, this is not a comprehensive list. These are just some we have seen that have had great success. And again, like you said, Susan, it's like these, this is what is going to help you one, build a hypothesis around what you wanna test and then two choose the right assets.

[00:01:51] Susan: Yeah. And I think not run out of tests. But if you learn how to iterate on some of the angles that we're gonna talk about today, I think that'll, that'll create at least a good probably [00:02:00] six month window for a lot of places.

[00:02:01] Jess: All right. So the first one that we wanna talk about is prospecting.

[00:02:04] So bringing in new customers, using testing assets specifically to find the right, you know, combination of messaging and images to bring in new customers, to the fold. 

[00:02:16] Susan: I feel like this is the thing that has actually gotten the hardest for advertisers, because targeting is just not at all what it used to be.

[00:02:24] So used to be able to set it up and say, you know, moms that watch HGTV and have high school kids. You, you kind of knew the messaging that they would might prefer versus the dad, for example, or, you know, someone that was younger or whatever those things might be. Now, those still exist, but they just don't perform as well.

[00:02:46] So you know, a lot of accounts are trending more towards broad targeting, which now you're talking to a lot of people that aren't alike. So I think the prospecting part, I feel like has become way more challenging because [00:03:00] you're having to service so many more different people than you had control over before.

[00:03:05] And it's not necessarily the demographic is different, but used to be able to splice your messaging a little bit more. And now you're a little more forced to just put one thing out there. So I think in in the realm of prospecting that feels like it's where it's gotten harder, because then also keep in mind, it's taking longer to get data because more people have opted out.

[00:03:25] So now it's like you need twice as many people to get the data you used to get. So you're having to spend a lot more too to get those learnings. So it's a little bit of the worst of both worlds in that way, where it's like it's broader targeting and it costs more. So trying to get those learnings. It's really hard now for businesses that are small, because if they're only spending.

[00:03:46] A hundred bucks a day. They're they're not gonna get there in 30 days. I mean, they're, they're not gonna get those learnings for a while. So the, the prospecting thing I feel like is what's really drawn the line between brands that are big spenders and those that aren't. 

[00:03:58] Jess: Yeah, absolutely. [00:04:00] I think too, we've seen with some of our, our customers things that resonate with their current customers are not resonating with their prospects.

[00:04:07] Right? The thing that like are keeping is keeping people around is not the thing. Bringing someone new in. A great example of this is Taylor Stitch, which is you know, DTC kind of rugged men's apparel brand. They're really, really hot right now. And they did some testing around for, for new customers, some of their best performing stuff from their current customers and what they thought was going to happen, their hypothesis was like, oh, if they're gonna try something new, they're, they're gonna want a discount code, for sure. Like, just take the risk a little bit out of trying something new mm-hmm and they found that that wasn't true at all.

[00:04:42] The, the thing that really performed for prospecting for them, for their new customers was messaging about their sustainability. And so that was like a huge, like, it would be so unsexy right, exactly. Like the sustainability of their materials and things like that. And so that was just [00:05:00] like a huge light bulb for them.

[00:05:01] That was like, oh, okay. So we don't have to be, you know, throwing discount codes out there. We just need to really talk about the things they care about. One of which now we know is sustainability. So that's like a really, really interesting thing.

[00:05:13] Don't don't assume that what's gonna bring a new customer into the fold is the same thing that keeps people coming back. 

[00:05:20] Susan: It's funny you say that too, cuz something else that happens a lot and anybody that's, that's been in e-commerce a while has seen this thing happen. There's always this push by brands to feature their best sellers in their ads.

[00:05:34] And a lot of times it's not, what's gonna get the person to click. So yeah, there's so many times where it's like, you'll put in a hot pink version of something which might not sell at all, but it gets their attention. So it's like, if you look at what's in the ads and what sells, there's usually like a lot of times you'll find there's no correlation between the two.

[00:05:51] So like the thing that's driving, all the traffic is not what they actually buy. So that's the other thing. I, I feel like it's good from a prospecting area where you can prove out [00:06:00] that it's not always about showing your best sellers. Like it's, I mean, it's kind of like, if you look at something, the best selling thing is always gonna be, you know, a men's white undershirt, but that's not gonna be interesting in an ad.

[00:06:11] Right. So it's kind of the same thing where it's like, people will always buy the reliable stuff once they get there, but it's not gonna be the thing that makes them feel like you're a different brand than what they see everywhere else. 

[00:06:19] Jess: Totally. Yeah. The hot pink thing is like the aspirational, right.

[00:06:23] It's like, Ooh, that's cool. And I'm cool. And then I get there. 

[00:06:26] Susan: No, I'm still a mom, I'm just gonna get Navy blue. 

[00:06:29] Jess: Yeah. I'm gonna get the safe black version. Exactly. Gonna be slimming. All of that. 
[00:06:35] Susan: So I guess that, that also kind of lends seamlessly to the next way which is launching new products and product lines.

[00:06:40] And this is always the, the great unknown for brands because. It's like, is it gonna do the same thing? Should we, should we just stick with the formula that works? Do we need to do something different? And this is where I've seen companies lose so much money. I think we talked last time about [00:07:00] this pressure to come up with how are you gonna launch it?

[00:07:03] What are all the assets gonna be? You have like this whole package. That if it doesn't work, you can't, you're just, you're screwed. You have to start over or scramble or figure it out. And you've already sunk all this money into it. So I think that's the other area where brands could really save themselves a lot of heartache if they just do a couple quick and dirty tests on concepting first.

[00:07:26] Yeah. And that's hard to sell through because you know, brands wanna look their best all of the time and they want it all to look completely put together. I think the secret that I was trying to remind them is like, the customers are not paying as much attention to that stuff as you do. Right. So like, they're not gonna notice if

[00:07:42] the vector image is a little different than what you know, it normally is. They don't notice that, but brands obsess over that stuff and that's the kind of stuff that A slows things down and then B makes it so you can't test versions. 

[00:07:54] Jess: Yeah, absolutely. I think too sometimes if those, if those new [00:08:00] product launches just didn't perform up to your, your goal, there's this question if you don't test around, well, was it the product? Was it the campaign?

[00:08:10] What was it? Right. And if you're testing the ad creative before this all happens, before you put all that money behind it, you will find out, you will know if okay, this is the ad that is gonna drive it home. This is the thing that people are resonating with, or no one is resonating with no one wants this and it's the product.

[00:08:29] Right. And so now, you know, you, you have that information before you go and you spend you know, all of your budget on this, on this new line. 
[00:08:38] Jess: Another great kind of strategy around testing is seasonally or like holiday type messaging. So a lot of our customers are focused around, you know, Black Friday, Memorial Day sales,

[00:08:53] Prime Day coming up. And so there's a lot of competition around that, or just trying to like break through the noise of all these people who are ready to [00:09:00] spend money on those couple of days. And in order to make sure you're getting kind of the most bang for your buck on those days, you have to test that messaging beforehand.

[00:09:10] Susan: This is the other area kinda like we said, with prospecting, where I feel like this has gotten very challenging for advertisers because that data lag is so long now that like when it's a three day sale, they don't really know how it did until the sale was over.

[00:09:24] you know? They don't really know what worked on it until it had passed them by. So this is another area where I think testing ahead of time, you can't obviously test the sale messaging, but to your point, if you find out something like they care about sustainability, then at least you have some direction going into what you feature or the photos you use or.

[00:09:46] How you touch it up or what background use with it or whatever it might be. At least you have some of those hints going in because you just, you don't have that kind of time. I mean, it used to be when you would launch something you know, on black Friday and Facebook, [00:10:00] you would start getting information in the first few hours.

[00:10:03] Now, you know, a lot of retailers are looking at blended return on spend when they go into their their dashboards. So you're having to decide pretty quickly overall is something working, you know, how, how close or not close are we to the target? And then if you're not close to the target, then you're trying to dig in to see is there, are there certain ads that aren't doing as well?

[00:10:23] But that stuff just isn't native in Facebook really anymore because the data lag is so long. So a lot of places are trying to do that in you know, Google Analytics or North Beam or those kinds of things. So they're having to react faster and it feels to me like you cut some of that out, if you have those learnings ahead of time.

[00:10:41] I mean, I know for sure, you know, with a few of my clients, we have things that we see consistently do well, and we're gonna lean on those going into the holiday, along with the obvious sale messaging. 

[00:10:49] But a lot of brands don't do that. They just they're like, here's our Black Friday stuff and they unveil it. And it's kind of, like we said before, it's like, they're just gonna put it out there and it's like, hope it goes well, you know? 

[00:10:59] Jess: Yeah. [00:11:00] Yeah. And I think, you know, we talked too about how we're Marpipe is actually testing the elements of your ad,

[00:11:05] right? And I think if you're doing this enough ahead of time, there's some sneaky ways you can figure out what's gonna work for big sales and for holiday. Yeah. So, you know you might find out that like percentages always do better than dollars off, right. In terms of discount codes. And so, you know that going in. You know that like this one kind of badge shape, you know, that you you've used in your creative before for whatever reason does really well.

[00:11:30] And maybe you're gonna put "Sale" on top of that little badge shape. Right? So there are some like, kind of behind the scenes ways without, you know, actually putting your sale message out before the sale begins that you can see, okay, this will probably work. I at least have a better understanding of this being a driver of performance than I did before.

[00:11:49] Susan: Right. Yeah. Yep. Totally. I think on here we also had refining your brand's overall look and feel. And I love this [00:12:00] because this like starts getting into market research. What I just, I just think is so cool where it's like, I've always loved when brands use ads, not, I mean, obviously they need to sell stuff, but the ones that approach it as, let me see what consumers like before I

[00:12:16] purchase a thousand labels or before I, before I hire someone and pay them $10,000 to redo the website or that kind of thing. It's a great way to do that research ahead of time. As far as what's getting clicks, what's getting interest, even if it's not necessarily purchases that you're going for. It's just what seems to be getting people to stop scrolling and what seems to be resonating

[00:12:38] with the audience, especially now that we have to target so broadly or we choose to target broadly, 'cause it works better. You get more of that mass of opinion to make those decisions. So, and I think we had, yeah, I think we have a customer that did something like this recently? 

[00:12:54] Jess: Yeah. So they created their brand standards and they wanted to test all [00:13:00] of those things that were in that brand standards out and kind of see like, which pieces perform better.

[00:13:04] We have a color palette, which of these colors are really like our top performers. We have three types of photography. We have a couple different layouts for social ads, like which of those all work best in which platform and in front of which audiences. And they're finding some really, really interesting things out.

[00:13:20] There's one color in particular that works best across the board. And so that's gonna be like their power color, right? They found certain things about different audiences liking their models, smiling, or not certain audiences like to see a very serious model.

[00:13:37] And so these are things obviously that you wouldn't know, a lot of brands would just be like, this is our brand standards. Yeah. Right. Yeah. And they would not put any work into figuring out which aspects of this are really hard performance drivers and which aspects of this are here because it's part of our brand and it's part of a look and feel that encompasses what we're all about.

[00:13:58] Right. And it's good to have [00:14:00] both, but it's also really good to know which of those drive conversions, which of those drive interest and engagement. 

[00:14:06] Susan: Yep. Absolutely. 

[00:14:07] Jess: And this is a place too where bias really gets in the way. I think we're gonna talk about this. 

[00:14:13] Susan: There's so much personal preference. 

[00:14:15] Jess: Yes. Yeah. We're gonna talk about this more on like an upcoming episode, but I think the idea of like, let's put these debates that are always swirling around a brand new set of brand standards. Right. 

[00:14:27] Susan: But never based in anything, data driven.

[00:14:29] Jess: Besides opinion. Right. Nothing but opinion. And so let's put some of that to bed.

[00:14:33] Let's let's end these discussions and stop wasting time because so many people who have big titles in the room have big opinions on what a color should be or what a font should be. 

[00:14:43] Susan: Yeah. That's gonna be a great topic. 

[00:14:46] Jess: It is stay tuned, everyone. 

[00:14:50] Susan: It's gonna be cathartic to talk about that. 

[00:14:53] Jess: Oh, do we have some stories?

[00:14:54] Susan: I know. And then I think we had one more testing strategy [00:15:00] which sort of relates to what we were just talking about with refining brand and that kind of thing. 

[00:15:06] Building a database of historical creative intelligence for your brand. So that it's not every time someone starts or takes over the media or it's a new agency, you're not starting from the beginning. Which I've been through so many times where it's like brands that have run for years. They, they they're like, oh, this is our best performing ad, but they have no idea what to continue creating, you know? So it's like, and it's, it's a weird role for media buyers, particularly, I'd say more

[00:15:34] so if they're a consultancy. There's usually an expectation that the media buyer is going to come up with a lot of the creative. So when that's not documented, you're sitting there as a media buyer, looking at a folder full of images going, "I have no idea" and you'll go through Facebook and try and look historically, which is just, it's so bad.

[00:15:56] I mean, it's just nothing, nothing is ever named the same way. You know, if they've [00:16:00] had like four different media buyers, all the creatives are named something different. There's zero consistency to it. And facebook itself doesn't really tell you a lot about the ad. There's like this itty bitty thumbnail, but you don't know what the copy is.

[00:16:11] You don't know what the, you have to open every individual version. So I've taken over accounts where it's like, I'll, I'll just sort by best performing. And I have to open them up and look and see like, okay, what actually ran. What, you know, did this, I have to look at the ad set and be like, did this run in all the placements?

[00:16:27] What did it look like when it did? There's just no historical application. That's, that's helpful, you know, unless they're very regimented in how they name things, you know, it's like they have a, a prescribed way that everything should be named, then that alleviates some of that. But most places don't, it's like they just leave it up to whoever's running the media.

[00:16:45] And so they, they do it in a way that makes sense to them, but the next person's gonna have their own way, cuz there's just no standard for how it's done. 

[00:16:52] Jess: Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is how you start to build a brand that is driven by the customer and [00:17:00] not by internal opinions, right? This is how you create this legacy of this database that can stand long after people leave the company,

[00:17:10] campaigns are over, you have forgotten what you learned in that last creative test, right? Like you could always come back to it and be like, this color really works. These types of messaging points really work. You know, and not to say that you have to use those over and over and over, but you can learn from those to iterate and say, okay, when this new product launches you're looking back at that and saying, we already have learnings

[00:17:32] we can use to like, build from. Let's just continue to go back to that pool of knowledge and pull from it. And as a creative, that's really exciting because, you know, you usually get the brief and like, there's like this much there you can use.

[00:17:47] Right. And so this really elevates that. 

[00:17:51] Susan: Well, and then you also get in the room with the big titles that are. I wanna do it this way. And you're like, no, no, we, we already know, we already have these things work. We know this, like, yes, [00:18:00] these are things that we know work. 

[00:18:00] Companies are infamous for having CMOs that stay about two years. So every time a new CMO comes in, it's the running joke. They fire, whatever agency they have, they bring in the one they know it's like this whole new regime.

[00:18:12] And like, they usually get a hankering to redo the website. They wanna dive into all the ad creative and they wanna make their, they wanna make it theirs. They wanna put their mark on it. And it winds up being such a labor intensive process. And sometimes it works great. Other times, it doesn't, it's like sometimes the changes are don't do anything for the brand and it moves it backwards.

[00:18:31] So yeah. You know, I, I feel like the data piece of that helps with some of that where it's like, it's not a personal thing. It's just kind of like, hey, here's what we've done. This is what we've learned. And it takes hopefully some of that ego out of it.

[00:18:43] Jess: Yeah, for sure. And I think it's how you build like a longstanding experience with a, with customers, right? Usually like going back and looking into what has worked is how, how you grow, right? Yeah. Yep. 

[00:18:57] So there you have it. That's five [00:19:00] different testing strategies for you that you can start using right now. Which I think is, is really cool or maybe one that you're already using and it just kind of validates for you like, oh yeah, this is, this is the right path. And I can build hypotheses around this.

[00:19:15] Susan: Awesome. Well, thank you everybody for tuning in and we will see you next time. 

[00:19:20] Jess: Bye. Resting Ad Face. 

[00:19:22] Susan: Bye. Bye.

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