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How Founders and Marketers Decide What Their Ads Look Like

14 Ad Creative Decision-Making Processes
Brett Friedman

I’ve spoken to well over a thousand marketers covering just about all industries, verticals, and business models. One thing I noticed: they all have different systems to decide what they’re going to make their ads look like. 

While this has been my experience, I wondered if there was a way to solidify this belief. So I asked HARO (Help a Reporter Out), a service that lets you ask a community of nearly a million bloggers and journalists any question you want. I asked for Founders and Marketers to answer, “What’s your advertising creative design process?”

From this basic (albeit sample-biased) survey, my beliefs have been (relatively) confirmed:

Everybody makes their ads differently.

There are plenty of implications here, but I'll focus on just one big one:

There's no standard model of effective, repeatable marketing

Successful businesses rely on consistency. Consistent product, consistent experience, consistent growth. Stable environments are successful environments. The basic company has 5 functional parts:

  • Production
  • Accounting & Finance
  • Human Resources
  • Research & Development
  • Marketing & Sales

Each one of these is governed by a well-organized, rule-based system of repeatable steps. Production involves manufacturing or programming within well-defined specifications. Accounting & finance involves budget tracking and allocation systems. Human resources has interview processes, behavior regulations, and payroll controls. Even research & development, the function that intentionally deviates from the norm, has specific steps taken to innovate from what already exists.

But what about marketing & sales?

The objective is clear: to attract buyers. But these functions are uniquely reliant on people outside your organization. With so little certainty as to how these mysterious people behave, it's much harder to nail down a process that works time and again.

People change, so your attempts to woo them must change too. But there are ways to add consistency into marketing & sales. Our surveyed friends each had a system of their own and as listed earlier, a few things stood out:

  • Customer Research
  • Competitor Research
  • Testing

Find out who you're selling to, find out what they want, find out how others sell to them, test your assumptions. That's the current 'process.' Cobbled together from 15 contributors (who I assume are representative of the market). But their strategies are best used when combined.

Combined, the process goes something like this:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Do customer, competitor research
  3. Hypothesize an experiment
  4. Test
  5. Analyze results
  6. Draw conclusions
  7. Scale results
  8. Ask a new question

That's the only process that works in any field ever. It's what brought us all the greatest achievements of humanity, from agriculture to the skyscraper.

It's the scientific method.

To be fair, the question might always be 'how do I make creative that works?' But that's fine as long as you do your research and predict something more specific and testable like: 'Blue logos will get more purchases than red logos' or 'smiling models will get more clicks than neutral models' or 'emotional copy will get more leads than logical copy'.

The specifics are less important than the method. Every ad you run should be a test, a wealth of data points, and a step closer to your ultimate goal of making consistent revenue for your company.

Now I said there were 13 answers to my question, but the article is titled "14 Ad Creative Decision-Making Processes". That's because of this last process. The process outlined above.

Test and learn and test and learn and test and learn and repeat.

Marketing and sales have always been all over the place. Many people have made their livings outperforming others, and to a large extent, it's because they've implemented better systems than their peers. But I think we'll soon see an aggregation of methods into a single, consistent, effective marketing procedure based heavily on the scientific method. I look forward to that day.

As for the now, below you can find all 13 responses printed with only a few minor grammatical edits.

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If you can sell your product face to face, you can sell it using the same words in advertisements online through Facebook or Google. Use the words you would use to sell it face to face.

Nate Rodriguez, Web Analyst, LIFTOFF Digital

We use spy tools to see what kind of ads are already working, especially on Facebook. Tools like AdSpy or Adspresso allow us to see the kind of copywriting that works, the images that work, what the ads are pointing to and how offers are structured. We look around different niches to get different ideas related to whatever we’re promoting and we go from there. Of course we try to come up with their own spin on images but we keep them similar to the images we already like.” 

Jack Choros, CMO, Little Dragon Media

At Summit Digital Marketing, we take many different approaches to publishing Ad Creative.

If the client has already run ads, depending on the success or failure of those ads, we will either enhance or completely change course.

If the client has not previously run ads, we will usually create brand-consistent ad creative that is first intriguing, but also very clear about the product/service the client offers.

After the initial setup, we test one thing at a time whether that is Ad Copy, Creative, or Audiences. Usually, creative is the first thing we test because it is one of the easiest things to change.

Bailey Hahn, SEM Strategist, Summit Digital Marketing

The first step to developing any ad is to identify your target demographic; or if you already have a model buyer persona in place, revisiting it for accuracy and relevance, even if you literally only just did this for an ad or campaign a month or two ago.

Next, identify where to reach your target audience and what form of ad media they are most likely to respond to, and via what platform.

Start testing the water with in-demographic research, first of all to identify if they actually want (or can be made to want) what you offer, and what resonates with them, what they hope to get out of it if they purchase it, and what their barriers or pain points would be.

When you have a grounding like this, you can then begin to shape your ad copy and format around these basics, with the aim of generating an emotion and a response in the audience that makes it memorable and shareable.

Developing two ad outlines (even if they are very similar) and A/B testing or launching them to a limited and known audience in an early roll-out can help you to measure the potential effectiveness of a full campaign, and enable you to fine-tune things before you fund it, potentially avoiding an expensive mis-fire that won't ultimately convert.

Polly Kay, Senior Marketing Manager, English Blinds

A lot of factors go into deciding which kind of ads to create and what copy/imagery to use, but the primary one is first determining what the objective of the ad campaign will be and who is the audience we’re trying to reach.
If the audience is existing customers who we’re looking to sell to again, we’ll review what has worked in the past, what is most relevant in the now, and aim to create ads that are both familiar, but enticing.

If the audience is brand new and one that we’re looking to sell to for the first time, we’ll generally do more research using competitor, demographic and other data sources to find the right mix of content, messaging and offers.

If the audience and objective are some other mix, we take all of those elements into consideration and customize every part of the process.

Whether or not we test first depends on the timeline for the campaign.. When we have some buffer, we’ll both conduct internal polling on ad messaging and creative, then use organic social media posts to prove/disprove our theory. From there, we’ll roll that intelligence into our overall strategy and adjust as necessary.

Once a campaign has launched, we are always testing audiences, behaviors, engagement, copy, effectiveness, etc. We constantly make adjustments and optimizations throughout the entire duration of the campaign in order to improve performance and to gather intelligence that can be used later.

Data is a huge part of the equation and influences nearly every phase of ad design, copywriting, landing page synchronization and audience development. That being said, there is definitely a certain amount of instinct that goes into creating and managing social media ads and experience influences success.

Michael Ray, Social Media Director, STIR Advertising & Integrated Marketing

Founders of Agencies:

The most important part of any ad is what the product or service will give to the person reading the ad, what their deep pain point is, and how the product or service solves their deep pain point. 

The first thing I do when writing an ad is research what the pain point is and how the product or service can solve it, so I can write copy that speaks to the product or service's ideal customer. 

One way I do pain point research is looking at customer reviews of the exact product or service of a competitor's product or service, I also look at niche Facebook groups and forums, and read the niche's popular blogs and comments online.

Stacy Caprio, Founder, Accelerated Growth Marketing

Google Ads
1. Depends on targeting, for example If you are going after frequent travelers, then your creative should speak to their interest.
2. If you're going after people who already know your brand but haven't purchased, your creative should reflect a strong value-proposition like a limited item or a promotion.

Facebook Ads
1. Review your competitors' ads or other ads that you feel made an impact on you.
2. Outline your strongest value propositions (5-star reviews, small business, free shipping, etc.) and then create a video that pinpoints all those values. Remember to always answer the question: Why would anyone want to buy your product? What problem do you solve? Facebook is a medium where you are pushing an ad onto customers, so it's important to create a strong story and value-proposition for cold audiences to trust your brand.

Alisha Chocha, Founder, Your Marketing People

We create our ads for a variety of brands and our own called Regenerage.
How do we decide on the creative?
There are different ways to go about this, but for us, these are the main three factors in the creative process:

1. We do competitive analysis and see what works for others in terms of their ad creatives.
2. We look at our data insights to see which previous posts or ads have been performing well in the same trend.

3. We split test a variety of ad creatives with mini budgets optimized for engagement. Through the data, we see which ones have the potential to perform well and bring in conversions. Once we see potential in some of the tested ad creatives, we start pushing the ads with a bigger budget and optimize for conversion.

Kaspar Noevan Dijk, Founder, Advertik Media

I use customer surveys to identify ideal client pain points and to call out
> their main frustrations. Then, I use ad libraries to see what's working
> more broadly, then I combine the two to create a targeted, contemporary ad.

Marcus Clarke, Founder, Searchant

Founders of a Company:

Over the years I’ve run ads mostly on Facebook, Google, and Bing. Although I change how I might target ads from one platform to another the general message remains the same.

My main focus and goal when writing an ad is to be relatable to my target

Secondly, I want the audience to know that I understand their
problem. For example, if my target audience thinks inventing a product is
hard then I might start out by saying “Inventing a product doesn’t have to
be difficult...”

Believe it or not, a lot of my research is done on Amazon. The reason is
people talk about all of their difficulties about any topic. I’d search for
what reviewers had to say about a topic, and if I found a lot of reviewers
have the same difficulties then I would base my ad around the difficulty.

Again, using the invention example commenters tend to think it’s too difficult, too, expensive, or they don’t know where to start.

I do test different ad styles because you never truly know what the market truly wants until you test it. Some ads I thought would do great, and others I thought wouldn’t do great did awesome. In the end, this allows you to average out and reach a better conversion rate.

Kevin Zimmermann, Founder, Calming Journey

AIDA for Facebook Ads. 

I use AIDA, but differently, by manually setting up ads for a specific KPI, let's say add to cart. For people who add to cart but do not purchase, we have dynamic ads that run 24/7; these ads are more personalized and target audiences based on the product they've added to cart. 

So most of the work goes into the initial process that is setting up video ads for Attention and Interest, then retargeting them with carousel and link ads to convert, finally relying on dynamic ads to do the job.

Ronald D'Souza, CEO, Angel Jackets

We market with our gut and common sense. We do a lot of video ads, but I personally don't have the volume up on my own phone when I'm online, so why would I think others would on theirs. 

So, our ads don't start with two people talking at a cafe. They start with interesting action to get someone to turn their volume on. Like a crocodile tugging on one of my briefcases or me stepping out of a coffin. Market the way you would like to be marketed to. You've only got 3 to 5 seconds.

Dave Munson, CEO, Saddleback Leather Co.

Every PPC ad we run is highly data-driven. From the people we are advertising to, all the way down to the ad copy, there is a data-backed reason as to why we do the things we do. Through analytics, we can decide which customers are good leads, and what they would like to see in an ad. There is a small amount of guesswork involved in creating an ad, but it always provides better results if it is an educated guess.

Konstantinos Tsilkos, CEO, PharMed

For our online campaigns, our ads are made almost entirely from the intuition and experience of our campaign experts. These individuals have been running ads online for years, and have a firm grasp of what works and what does not. In a niche like ours, it takes a special knowledge of the landscape to appeal to our customers. This is knowledge that can only be gained through experience, which is why we trust our experts to deliver the best advertising experience possible to our customers.

Ryan Anderson, Founder, Bead the Change

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