What is performance creative?

What is performance creative? This blog post will go through the basics of performance creative and what you need to get started.
Susan Wenograd

In the past few years, you may have heard the term “performance creative” used. This is a newer term to the digital marketing landscape, and usually begs the question: what is it, and how is it different from what ads have done all along?

Since Marpipe is a tool specifically dedicated to helping you win with performance creative, we know a thing or two about it. We’re going to give you a rundown of what it is, the types that exist, and how to do it well. 

What is performance creative?

Performance creative has a singular focus: to drive a desired outcome or behavior from the user. Most people immediately think of ads you see online, but it really refers to any type of marketing with that goal, such as email/SMS marketing.

It’s usually highly trackable, produces rich data that can be analyzed by marketers, and is switched out frequently to determine what most often gives the desired outcome.

Performance creative vs ‘regular’ creative

Traditional advertising relies a lot on delivering brand feel, and product information in creative and clever ways. Media buys were centered around reaching your target demographic and delivering your message a certain number of times (a metric called “reach and frequency”), and then relying on overall sales to know if the messaging was working.

The digital landscape changed that fundamentally, with the ability to quickly understand what users did and didn’t respond to. But, when digital advertising started, it was pretty easy to succeed. You can put up a few ads, and they were so cheap it was easy to be profitable — even if the ads weren’t great.

Now, digital advertising relies heavily on creative to inspire action by users. This is a key differentiator between traditional creative, which relied more on entertaining and informing. Performance creative focuses on driving measurable actions from the ad’s viewers.

For example, everyone knows the Nike aesthetic, their logo and their famous “Just Do It” tagline. It’s timeless and well-known messaging shown for years throughout their traditional advertising.

But Nike also runs ads online that drive purchase behavior. You see their ads on social platforms, in Google Shopping, etc., and their call to action there would be to drive users to the site to purchase. 

Both of these ad types play a role, but their outcomes are measured differently, and their success benchmarks are also very different.

Types of “performance”

Performance creative usually brings purchases to mind immediately, but performance goals vary a lot based on the medium and the message. While purchases are the most straightforward goal in ecommerce, performance marketing and its creative can take many other forms.

For example, email marketers will create a split test, showing two different email subject lines. The goal is get the best email open rate possible, so open rate is the performance metric they are trying to deliver an outcome for.

Maybe you have a webinar coming up, and you want to get attendees registered. You run ads with different hooks, promised outcomes and visuals, all of which are competing to get you the most registrations for the lowest possible cost.

As you can see, performance creative can exist in many different ways, and help marketers reach quite a few different goals.

What does performance creative require?

Performance creative is usually most successful when it’s a team effort between data-driven marketers and creatives/designers with original ideas. 

On their own, data-driven marketers focus heavily on the metrics they get from their ads. While this isn’t a bad thing, it can also mean creative and out-of-the-box thinking isn’t their strong suit. Coming up with scroll-stopping ideas for paid social ads is a talent and also an art form, but the data can help guide it in the right direction.

Opposite of this are the designers, who can come up with stunning and interesting visuals to tell a brand’s story. The hard part is they sometimes will have no data to guide those ideas, so they can feel like they’re on a treadmill of creating ideas to find one that sticks.

Performance creative is the perfect partnership for these two departments or teams. The creative side gets feedback in the form of user data from marketers so they understand what works and what doesn’t. This in turn makes their time and ad output more efficient, and the marketers on the performance media side enjoy better results from their ads, faster.

Setting goals

When first starting with performance creative, you may not have anything in the way of benchmarks to compare to. Similarly, your goals when you start may look nothing like your goals once you have more data.

Knowing your numbers is the crucial part of running performance creative tests. What does it cost to make and sell your product? What is your magin? How much of that margin makes sense to go towards marketing and acquiring new customers?

These financials will help you quickly determine if a creative result is or isn’t sustainable. For example, let’s say you do the math and know a $35 CPA is really the limit at which you can pay to get a sale. If you’re running ads that are tracking at an $80 CPA, that won’t work and it would be a pretty steep goal to drop the CPA that much.

But let’s say you are getting a $40 CPA — you’re close! This may mean $35 is an attainable goal, so making testing iterations on your current performance creative may get you there relatively quickly.

Knowing your numbers and your goals will help you make decisions faster, and waste less time and money.

Tools to track performance

Tracking performance creative has become a tougher thing to tackle since Apple’s iOS14 update. This update introduced front-and-center privacy settings for users with apps. Namely, it allows users to opt out of having their information and actions online tracked by apps they use. This fundamentally disrupted how Facebook Ads work, because they relied heavily on that information for targeting.

You can still track performance in Facebook Ads Manager, though many higher spenders are starting to look for tools that can better account for where sales come from if they spend on multiple platforms. Facebook’s data is incomplete and “modeled” (their term) so its accuracy has been hotly debated by many a media manager.

In traditional ad testing, you launch a few versions of an ad, testing different versions of visuals, ad copy, and targeting. You then watch the results to see which one delivers the best performance. With performance-focused creative, you’re generally looking at what version did the best to generate sales or book leads.

Why is performance creative important?

Back in the early days of paid social, it was pretty easy to toss some creative out there and make sales. The platforms were in their infancy, most marketers didn’t have the skills that would eventually become requirements, and the media was very cheap. 

As with any platform, social media has evolved over the years. Demand grew, media prices crept up, and the bar for good creative inched up every year.

With the increase in prices, the need for creative to convert as efficiently as possible became paramount. The stakes were much higher every time a test was run, and eventually, creative started to be judged on its ability to make the sale pretty quickly.

In essence, it began to blur the line between marketing and selling, with the expectation that it can accomplish both.

Beyond the sale, performance creative also teaches us a lot about what customers respond to and like to hear about what we’re selling. Understanding things about how sales are framed, product benefits, and the visuals that resonate with customers all help a brand in ways outside of only ads. They can apply those learning to things like their website and emails to increase their lift, as well.

The challenge with traditional A/B testing is you’ll know which overall creative is performing well, but not necessarily what those elements are making it so successful. Is it the visual? Is it the copy? 

That’s where Marpipe comes in.

The Marpipe approach to performance creative

Marpipe takes the guesswork out of performance creative. Instead of the A/B testing scenario where you only learn the overall ad winner, Marpipe helps you see the data at an asset level.

When you build an ad in Marpipe, every thing you use to create your ad has performance data tracked at that asset level.

At the end of the test, you won’t be looking at which ad won, you’ll know exactly what things you ran that were the winner. Marpipe aggregates all the data for each of those assets, so no matter what they’re paired with, you will know how they performed overall. 

By knowing that data, you can continually create ads you feel confident have the things consumers care about. You can keep what works, and continue testing the parts that don’t, eventually leading you to the best performance creative you can make.

Powering multivariate creative testing is next to impossible without a platform like Marpipe — for serious paid social spenders, it’s the best way to handle creative testing. 

A demo can help answer your questions and show you how it works.

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