Creatives play an increasingly important role in campaign optimization and are used as the ultimate lever to directly impact business profitability.
In this post I'll cover how to develop a creative strategy and provide a few practical dos and don’ts for making profitable creatives.
Principle 1: Pinpoint the Core Value Your Creatives Need to Add
Executing a creative shouldn’t be the challenge. In the mobile gaming industry today the barrier to entry for making creatives is relatively low, whether it’s through in-house creative teams or third-party creative vendors. The true exercise is understanding what value-add your creative production needs to achieve and delivering on that — partner with your user acquisition and/or growth marketing teams to pinpoint and understand the core business KPI they need to hit. Then, you can translate that into a creative KPI for your creative team to drive forward.
For example, a business side core value could be achieving a certain daily volume level, CTR range, IR range, percent CPM or IPM lift, or even down-funnel user quality target. If the business KPI is percent IR lift then the core value for creative production are creatives that captivate users to convert. Translating this into “creative-land” this means the foundational motivation for designers producing should be oriented around relevant marketing. This means the team should be leveraging relevant assets, showcasing core true gameplay, and tailoring copy to appeal to the authentic gamer motivations.
Bottom line is, first and foremost you need to have a clear goal for creative production as that sets the tone for your creative strategy and directly impacts the mindset of creative production.
Principle 2: Know What You’re Up Against
The creative marketing landscape is competitive. There are many creative vendors in the industry and likely many games just like the one you’re trying to market. To create an ad that sends your game to the top of the charts it’s crucial to know what you’re up against so you can develop a creative that stands out.
Research what ads are running and trending in the market and on social and aim to play games loaded with ads to really immerse yourself in the experience. Exposing yourself to as many ads as possible and then synthesizing macro-level trends will help you start developing your creative process and strategy. For example, if you found a top-performing ad for a match-3 game, take the time to understand what elements in that ad may have contributed to that win. Some criteria to consider:
Was there an interesting user experience?
How many moves did the user have?
Was there a character or a tutorial prompt?
Were there in-game boosters showcased?
Did the video end with a success or fail ending?
Principle 3: Design A Testing Plan, Even If It’s Not Perfect
One potential pitfall I see is when creative teams produce a high volume and a high velocity without clear direction, intentionality, or organization. It is easy to fall into “high quantity” mode when your first few creatives don’t win and pressure is high. While this approach has its merits (i.e. the more darts you throw at the dartboard the higher probability one is going to hit the bullseye) one danger is you risk running your creative team into aimless production for production sake, which has a long term cost. You do not want to be relying heavily on luck to find your win versus truly analyzing and seeking to understand what drove an ad to win. This allows you to further develop intelligent hypotheses and iterations that then have higher chances of being top performers.
Our suggestion: Design a testing plan from the get-go. For example, bucket your team’s ideas into “genres” of hypotheses you’re testing, that way you can be methodical when you get ad performance results. This will allow you to be more efficient with your resources by pivoting quickly when a strategy no longer makes sense. For example, let’s say you have a bucket called “storytelling trailer gameplay videos” with 20 video concepts in the works in the bucket. If your user acquisition team quickly informs you that five concepts in the bucket have significantly under-performed against the control, you can quickly pause the outstanding video concepts in that bucket and pivot your creative team toward another genre of concepts to test.
Without a testing plan you run the risk of not having organized learnings, which has a down-funnel impact of inefficient resource allocation. This can also make your team slow to move to market on valuable learnings, and ultimately could result in delayed discovery of high-performing creatives.
Principle 4 - Develop Quickly, Test Constantly, Consume and Track Your Results
With a creative plan in place, it’s critical to move fast. Share the strategy with your creative team to empower them and invite input to strengthen the plan. A team that understands where you’re going and why will move stronger together, and will be faster to understand and move on unexpected pivots along the way.
It is also important to help your creative team be comfortable with “imperfect” creatives as there is a trade-off between quality and quantity. Sometimes the extra touches are meaningful and impact performance, and sometimes they don’t. With experience, your team should get increasingly better at making those calls and being okay with “letting go” in favor of testing new concepts and doing deeper dives after results are in. Having a creative team that can work smart and efficiently is critical toward executing a successful creative strategy.
Principle 5 - Know When Not To Have An Opinion
Last piece of advice - have a radically open mind and be aware of your biases. When you’re unsure of a concept it can be easy to fall into existing biases and make a poor judgement call. A good rule of thumb is: let the data support the decision making. If the concept is unique from anything else produced it means there is no data to aid in the decision, you should lean toward favoring production and testing.
By making sure your team is mapping to business goals, aware of the landscape, and not afraid to test and pivot based on where the data is leading you — your creative team and its strategy will be poised to thrive.