How Performance Creative Generates Bold, Actionable Results for Growth Marketing

creative examples from Tuff

Performance creative challenges marketers to dig deep into what makes ads “work” better than others. Through deliberate testing and tweaking and testing again, we use data and analytics to not only understand the needs of our target audiences, but to also address them directly–in ad creative and copy.

Simple as that, right?

Key components of performance creative

Yes, there’s more to advertising than color and copy (a lot more). Ad creative is particularly unique because 75% of campaign success is driven by creative. We know that attention spans have dropped since iPhones magically appeared in all of our back pockets in 2007. That means that first impressions count more than ever, and ad creative is one of the few things that has the ability to still grab someone’s attention mid-scroll. And aside from reading someone’s mind, testing that creative is the best way to understand what made them stop scrolling in the first place (so we can get more people to do the same). We do that testing after we establish a few key elements. 

5 key elements for successful performance creative in growth marketing:

  1. A clear understanding of the target audience: This requires research into their demographics, interests, and behaviors, as well as anything you can find on their motivations for clicking, browsing, purchasing, signing up, etc.
  2. A clear and measurable goal: Set a specific data-driven goal for each marketing campaign so at the end of a test you can say: “We learned something useful here.”
  3. A strong value proposition: The ad creative and copy need to clearly communicate the benefits and value of the brand. 
  4. Engaging content: Strong ads capture the attention of the target audience.
  5. A compelling call to action: All ads should include a clear and persuasive call to action, such as “Sign up now” or “Learn more,” that encourages the target audience to take an action immediately. 

By syncing these elements, performance creative will be set up to trigger specific actions–that are measurable! The “performance” aspect comes in when we start changing ad creative to influence what actions people take (and who’s taking them). We change the ad creative methodically because clear tests mean clear results. 

The creative testing process

Remember the scientific method from middle school science class? Our process follows the same steps. (If it worked for Galileo, then it’ll work for us too.)

creative process

  • We observe how the current creative is performing. 
    • We ask: Does one stand out from the pack? Are they similar? Is there an obvious gap in format, messaging, or brand elements?
  • We make a hypothesis based on our experience working with hundreds of companies, products, and partners: “You know what, a bite-sized testimonial might do really well for this SaaS audience.” …or… “I think a video will get more people to purchase than a static quote here.”
  • We whip up the creative and run the experiment for at least two weeks to test just one variable (like an animation vs. static quote). We change one element of the ad and present it to similar audiences. Everything else has to stay constant or else we’ll run the risk of incorrect conclusions about the relationship between our variables (i.e. it gets messy). 
  • We draw conclusions based on specific performance metrics like cost per click (CPC), click-through rate (CTR), and conversion rates. If we’re able to pay less to get more people to take the desired action, that tells us that one specific aspect of your ad is more impactful than the other (and should be tested more!) 

What testing performance creative shows us

We don’t launch any campaigns without clear questions and hypotheses outlined beforehand. As a growth marketing agency, the broader goal is to understand which messages or offers (or formats or buttons, etc.) are more appealing to different segments of the population, and which channels or platforms are most effective for reaching those audiences. A/B tests provide valuable insights into the attitudes, preferences, and behaviors of our target audience, which helps us continually put out stronger creative and campaigns.

To learn about our audiences, we typically ask questions such as: 

What ad formats work best across my acquisition channels and their respective audiences?

We load up our campaigns with a mix of ad creative formats so we can continually test their performance and efficiency against each other. It’s been particularly interesting to see the popularity of video ads skyrocket over the past 7 years, only to begin leveling out with stills this year (according to our data). In the past few months, we’ve seen carousels pick up in popularity across Facebook and Instagram, even more so than video. 

What messaging (and copy placement) resonates with our audience best?

We use value props to create the base from which all marketing messaging for a particular brand is derived. Using a tried-and-true value props template, we outline the specific elements of a brand that set it apart from the competition, the very specific problems it solves, and how this solution benefits the user. Then–you guessed it–we test ‘em to see which resonates most. 

We also test the placement of messaging in our ads. In Facebook ads, for example, there is copy above, overlaying, and underneath all visual ads. It’s important to test where a CTA like, “Get 20% Off Now” works best. A possible test would be to include that CTA directly on the ad creative vs. in the caption underneath. Run the test for two weeks and see which gets more clicks/higher CTR and how many of those clicks lead to purchases. There’s your answer.

Which creative works best with which audience (and drives the best results per objective?)

The creative that works best with a particular audience and drives the best results per objective will depend on the campaign’s (or just the test’s) goals. Here are a few factors that can influence the effectiveness of your creative:

Relevance: Creative and copy that is relevant to the target audience’s pain points are more likely to inspire action.

Clarity: Ads that are easy to understand are more likely to resonate. 

Emotional appeal: Imagery and messaging that elicits an emotional response (through storytelling, colors, keywords, etc.) from the audience is often more effective. 

Brand consistency: Creative that is consistent with the overall brand identity (including colors, fonts, messaging, and even CTAs) is more likely to be effective.

Ultimately, the best creative for a particular audience and objective will depend on the specific context and needs of the campaign. It’ll almost always be necessary to test different types of creative to see which one performs best with the target audience.

Example

Say we spent $2,000 on a 2-week creative test on Meta: $1,000 on an animated ad and $1,000 on a static ad with the same messaging, same CTA, and same audience.

Each ad received 9,000 impressions. Out of 9,000 impressions, the animation got 200 clicks that led to 4 purchases. Out of 9,000 impressions, the static ad got 100 clicks that led to 5 purchases. That leaves us with these metrics: 

Animated Ad Static Ad
Spend $1,000.00 $1,000.00
Impressions 9,000 9,000
Clicks 200 100
CPC $5.00 $10.00
CTR 2.22% 1.11%
Purchases 4 5
Cost Per Purchase $250.00 $200.00
Conversion Rate 2.00% 5.00%

There are a few key areas to consider when deciding which creative asset was more successful. The KPI will differ depending on the business’s goals, but let’s stick with purchases as the main measurement for success. 

The quick answer: The static ad saw a lower cost per purchase, so we can draw an initial conclusion that the people interacting with it are further down in the funnel and more likely to buy. This means that it’s more cost-effective to serve a static ad to that audience rather than a video ad, and that’s where we should put our budget. HOWEVER—we’re seeing more engagement with the animated ad (double the clicks from the same number of impressions = higher click-through rate). 

From those numbers, we might form a new hypothesis that those people are higher in the funnel and not quite ready to enter their credit card info. They’re interested in learning more (because they clicked the ad to go to the website), but they’re ever-so-slightly less likely to buy (4 purchases vs. 5). 

By now you know that testing performance creative isn’t a one-and-done type of deal. These early results aren’t strong enough to hang our hats on just yet. In this scenario, we’d want to create another test to poke holes in our static ad and build them up stronger, or maybe rethink the audience we’re putting the animation in front of. There are so many elements to A/B test, and it’s the marketer’s job to decide which to focus on first. 

Need a push? Here are some ideas…

Try these A/B tests!

Our advice: Start small. You won’t find the answers to all your advertising questions in the first month of testing. And if you take anything from this article, take this list of creative testing ideas you can put into action immediately. 

  • Headline + CTR: Test two different Facebook ad headlines with the same creative to see which one gets a higher click-through rate. Then use the winning headline on two different creatives. The result? An optimized ad with a proven headline and creative. 
  • Call-to-Action + CTR: Test two different CTAs to see which one gets a higher click-through rate. Then power up your optimized ad from above with the most effective CTA. Triple threat!
  • Audience targeting + purchases: Test different target audiences using the same exact ad to see which group completes more purchases. Those are your people. (Then show the less active audience a different ad to see if that works better!) 
  • Audience targeting + time on site: A lesser-used test, you can compare which audiences spend a longer time on site to gauge their engagement level. We want to know what happens after someone sees our ad and before they complete a purchase for a fuller picture of what they need and where they are in the user journey.
  • Ad format + cost per purchase: Test two different ad formats (text-based vs. image-based) with the same ad copy and same audience to see which results in more cost-effective acquisitions. The lower your cost per purchase, the more efficient and effective your ad format is. When you can double down on the most effective ads over and over again–then you’ve cracked the growth marketing code. Nice!

There are hundreds of ad elements and metric combinations you can use to evaluate your performance creative. With so much data at our fingertips, it’s the growth marketer’s job to ask the right questions and demand more of our creative and campaigns. 

What performance creative can tell us about people

Creative that’s backed by data is one of the superpowers of growth marketing. It tells us more about our audience, how much they know about our brand, how much they want to know about our brand, and just how close they are to making a purchase (or similar action). By measuring their actions like clicking an ad, scrolling a website, starting the check-out process, or even ignoring us altogether, we can learn first-hand what makes an ad effective–down to the color of a CTA button–and where we need to shape up.

The key is to keep testing and iterating and testing and iterating. Campaigns should flex and flow and change with the market, the audience, the product, the platforms, and the inexplicable tides of people using the internet. Pay attention to the numbers and your performance creative will be better than ever. We promise. 🚀

Psst 👋 want help? We got you.

creative testing

Which Product Features Matter Most? How to Use Creative Testing to Find Out

creative testing

As a CMO or Head of Growth, you are most likely keenly aware of what makes your product powerful. The question is, do you know which features matter the most to your potential customers, or better yet, their pain points? If you have a very technical or complex offering, it can certainly be a challenge knowing which of your features or benefits will resonate the most with your prospects. That’s where creative testing comes in. 

At Tuff, as a growth marketing agency, we’ve learned to leverage creative testing to provide some quantitative measurement of this riddle. If you have a lot of features you’re eager to showcase and don’t know which ones to include in your assets, this is a good problem to have and solving it will clarify your creative strategy moving forward. 

Let’s take a look at how Tuff handles creative testing for different (and very technical/complex) product features. 

Methodology

Say you have a SaaS platform that is simply outstanding from your competitors. You’ve got a platform that covers it all: better pricing, more robust tech, easier integration, overall user-friendliness – you’ve simply thought of everything. What do you do with all those valuable features? Give each one a tiny bullet point in an over-crowded asset? Create a rambling two minute video outlining each benefit in detail?

Quite the opposite. With an abundance of product features, you need to have an abundance of creative assets that cover each one thoroughly. Look at all four of your key features or benefits as your four “hooks” for your different ad concepts. That allows you and your team to really get after what’s driving growth and sticking with your prospects. 

Here’s our recipe for success: Isolate one per ad concept and run all these concepts concurrently. Make sure to give all your concepts a fair shot at serving to your audiences fairly equally (remember we’re talking about creative testing, not audience testing here!). Take a look at your KPIs (CTR, CPA, CVR) for each concept and compare them against each other. Since you’ve done the hard part of whittling down a clear and concise value proposition for each concept, whichever ad performs the best will give you the answer to your question of which feature matters most to your core audience. 

At Tuff, we start out by casting a wide net with our creative assets, addressing an equally wide array of features and benefits. Once we’ve given them all a proper test, we double down on the features that performed the strongest, and save the others for later (they might perform better with a different audience, or maybe they’re better utilized in another channel!). 

By doing your due diligence of testing different product features, you can eliminate future guessing and have an informed, data-driven creative strategy that strikes at the heart of your prospects’ pain points of your respective industry. 

Tuff Creative Testing In Action

There are many, many, many different ways to approach A/B testing, and we’ll spill the beans now: they’re not all effective. Understanding which button color generates a stronger CTR is handy to know…but is the juice really worth that squeeze?

Instead of A/B testing our faces off, our approach is to—before we think deeply and thoughtfully about how developing a hypothesis—we heavily diversify the look and feel of our ad creative. That way, before we put pen to paper designing our test, we have high confidence that we’re doing so within an ad creative format that resonates with our target audience. Meaningful testing shouldn’t come at the expense of performance. 

IronVest

To put it simply, we’re enthralled by IronVest’s simple, comprehensive approach to online security. Especially because the app that their team has developed is far ahead of the curve of traditional password protectors or online security systems. The app is absolutely packed with rich, powerful features but a burning questions we wanted to answer out the gate was “which one(s) really capture our target audiences’ attention? Which mean the most?”

Both the IronVest and Tuff team alike were hungry for answers. But before we dove into developing a test to unlock it, we first wanted to take a beat to understand two critical questions:

  • How do we quickly and clearly communicate to our audience what IronVest is?
  • What is the ideal ad creative format that resonates with our audience?

To set the stage for an effective feature test, we flighted a round of ad creative characterized by heavy diversification of look, feel, and messaging. Two assets emerged victorious when it came to performance (primarily honing in on click-through rate (CTR)/cost per click (CPC) as well as conversion rate (CVR)). 

Concept 5 and Concept 6 reigned supreme.

Here’s what we observed:

  • “Security” and “password manager” were two common threads between our top performers. As well as language around “we’re different/uncommon.”
  • Playful/branded shapes and bold colors were common between the two assets. 
  • Both assets have a highly “futuristic” or modern vibe about them.

So, armed with this knowledge, we developed an asset that we have high confidence would perform as a standalone ad and versioned it to highlight three different top features and one value prop. 

We made a strategic choice to include one value prop (as opposed to sticking to all features) is because on rare occasions, we find that there’s no simple answer to “which feature performs best” and instead discover that uplifting features secondary to benefits or brand statements can outperform. You’ll see the value prop we chose is directly tied to our findings above. 

Here’s what we built:

A Variant: Selfie-biometrics password protection (feature)

B Variant: Masked emails (feature)

C Variant: Password protector that doesn’t store your data (value prop)

D Variant: Virtual phone numbers

In order to get optimal and cleanest results, we’ll isolate each of these assets in its own separate campaign (leaning on Facebook’s A/B test tool works well here too) and flight them together, waiting until each asset has amassed statistically significant spend to pull results.

The best part: once we pull our findings, the work doesn’t stop there. It will be crucial for us to update, retweak, and modify creative, weave in additional features and value props, and generally a/b test our winner from this round to come out the other side with a strong, definitive statement about which feature drives best results. 

Stay tuned!

Our Advice: Baby Steps

Platforms with technical and complex elements can be tricky to properly showcase. You won’t have enough time or ad real estate to tell the full story. Instead, isolate a few of your strongest talking points and go deeper and more into detail with those benefits and features. Your ad performance will tell the story, and you’ll have clarity on where to go in the future!

How to Set Up an A/B Test so You Get REAL Results

When analyzing ad creative, it can be hard to tell which element really makes a piece resonate with the viewer. Is it the bold color? The little bit of sass? The scroll stopping typography? Or is it how you articulate the value you’re offering? The audience you’re addressing? 

There are so many variables that it can feel overwhelming. That’s when it’s time to start A/B testing!

At Tuff, methodical A/B testing has allowed us to both make small yet powerful tweaks to well-performing ads and also generate powerful business-level insights. Most importantly, it helps us drive up click-through rate, and drive down costs. This article will take you through our process from the initial creative development all the way to the implementation and analysis of A/B tests so you can supercharge your ad creative too.

A/B Testing 101

An A/B test is when you run 2 versions of the same ad, but with one variable that’s different. You can then look at the ad performance to see which version more effectively resonated with your audience in order to gain insights that will help your overall campaign.

Below is an example where we were A/B testing different hero images to see if people would be more likely to engage with language about “virtual photoshoots” or language that targets a more sophisticated creative demographic that might be looking for “photo assets.”

Here are the results: 

  • A Variant (photoshoot company)
    • CTR = 0.36%
    • Purchases = 20 
  • B Variant (photo assets) 
    • CTR = 0.24%
    • Purchases = 1 

ad creative a b test

Notice that every variable is the same from the logo color and placement to the lay-down imagery to the highlight color. While it would have been possible to truly isolate one variable here in this ad (like JUST changing one word) there’s strategic decision making that went into our approach so, before you put pen to paper, it’s important to ask yourself…

Where to Start?

A/B testing for A/B testing’s sake is just about as useless as hanging your clothes out to dry in a rainstorm. Without some forethought and a strategic outline, you’ll be left with results and also a resounding, “so what?”

So, at the outset of creative production, we’ll get our full team together. This usually consists of a growth marketer, or big-picture strategist, a campaign manager, or the person deep in the day-to-day on-platform optimizations, and the creative strategist, or the person on the hook for developing creative that’s on-trend, on-brand, and platform-specific. We’ll ask ourselves three major questions:

1. Why do we want to run this test?

An A/B test that originates in an actual impactful question makes a significant difference in its effectiveness. This can be as simple as: “is our creative more compelling when it features people or just products?” It can be as complex as: “should we position ourselves as a disruptor in the market or a powerful alternative to other stale options?”

2. How do we measure success?

It’s important to outline your KPIs for an A/B test before you develop your ad creative. 

If click-through rate (CTR) is your primary metric that determines success, then you’ll want to seriously consider your hook, the headline, and potentially the CTA as elements that move the needle. 

If you’re more focused on a metric like cost per action (CPA), then you’ll want to consider your holistic message and how well the information, look, and feel of the ad matches the landing page experience in order to determine success. 

Finally, if you’re considering a metric that tells you more about general awareness like cost per 1,000 views (CPM) or watch rate, then you’ll need to talk about what elements of creative will be responsible for driving those metrics and honing in there. 

3. What do we expect to learn from it?

Remember 8th grade science class? Then you’ll remember how important a hypothesis is. It’s critical to have a clear understanding of what you hope to learn, or what you expect to discover by running your A/B test so that when it concludes, you’re one step closer to driving optimal performance with your ad creative. This is closely related to point #1 above, but takes it one step further. Here’s what that looks like using the two examples.

“is our creative more compelling when it features people or just products?”

  • Hypothesis: the presence of people demonstrating our product in use is a crucial part of generating interest and sales of it. So, we expect to learn that more education about HOW our product works is an important step in the user journey.

“should we position ourselves as a disruptor in the market or a powerful alternative to other stale options?”

  • Hypothesis: people are curious about us as disruptors, but are more efficiently compelled to sign up/request a demo when they understand how to compare us to one of our competitors or a “poor alternative.”

4. How are we going to go about it?

This is where the real cross-team fun begins! Before you begin your brief and define how to build your creative to get the findings you’re after, it’s critical to collaborate with your campaign managers to understand their approach to creating an appropriate environment within the right channel. Is this a test for Meta, LinkedIn, or YouTube? What’s the right audience? How about budget and duration? Aligning on these points will set you up for success. 

Developing Creative for Your A/B Test

One of the most popular elements to start A/B testing is the hook of a video.  A hook refers to the first 2 seconds of a social video ad because this is the time it takes most viewers to either get engaged or keep scrolling. It’s basically the 2022 equivalent of the age-old newspaper term “above the fold.” 

A/B testing can be done on a fresh ad idea (like the still images example in the previous section), but we’ve also found success through using A/B testing to revamp a struggling ad that we believe still has potential. This is useful when we know a video ad has elements and messaging that has worked in other iterations, but for some reason, it is failing to draw an audience. This is a great opportunity for developing an A/B Test around a new hook. If we can get a successful hook, viewers will stick around for the valuable meat of the message. 

An example of this was for our product photography partner, soona. On our first round of creative, we were optimistic about a testimonial concept that ended up underperforming. The ad had a lot going for it, the testimonial was sincere, the edit was fun and the messaging was similar to ads we’ve seen succeed in the past. So instead of scrapping the idea, we created an A/B test where we produced a B variant with a new hook. 

We hypothesized that the ad struggled because the viewer didn’t know what soona was quickly enough, so for the B variant, we added a 2 second frame with copy explaining it (a virtual product photography company) with photo examples before jumping into the testimonial. 

Then, we isolated these two videos in a fresh campaign with a modest defined test budget to ensure that the performance of the original wasn’t impacted by an audience that had already seen it.

Here’s our original (on the right) and our B variant (on the left). The two videos were exactly the same except for the fresh 2 second hook in variant B. Headline and text copy remained exactly the same between the two:

testing ad creative

Ultimately, the results were surprising:

  • The original video (with Rob’s face as the hook) showed a significantly stronger click-through rate:
    • CTR = 0.25%
  • The B variant:
    • CTR = 0.11%

So, we proved our hypothesis wrong! And in the spirit of science, we didn’t ball our test up and throw it out, we dug in deeper to try to uncover what it is about this asset that lagged behind. Ultimately, we ran several more additional tests and discovered that short, quippy, brightly-colored stills tend to generate our strongest click-through rates, reaching upwards of 0.8%. 

Top Tips for Structuring Your Test Campaign

Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of how to set up your campaign structure in order to walk away with definitive findings like the ones we generated above.  

The first thing you’ll want to do when planning how to execute your A/B test is put together a strategic plan that outlines the following:

  1. How you’ll test the two variables against each other 
  2. Where the test will take place
  3. How long you’ll be running the test
  4. KPIs for success

There are two ways to implement a A/B test on paid social –– using Facebook’s A/B tool or isolating the variables and measuring the data manually. 

To use the A/B testing tool on Facebook, you’ll want to create two new ad sets using the same audience (one ad set with variable A and one ad set with variable B). From there, you’ll click the A/B test button in the main navigation which will take you to a page that looks like this to set up your test. 

testing creative on facebook

For the A/B test above with the two different text graphics, we wanted to make sure that we were isolating the two different assets and testing them in the same audience on Facebook so that way we could have concrete data on which graphic performed better. Since we know that the KPIs vary for different audiences based on where they fall in the user funnel, we typically like to execute the A/B test in one prospecting audience and one retargeting audience. 

From there, we decided that we’d run the test for 10 days or until each audience reached $500, which would give us enough significant data to analyze and determine which variable was the winner. 

Our main KPI for this A/B test was CTR. We also layered on number of purchases and cost per purchase as secondary KPIs. 

Think Like a (Creative) Scientist

Ultimately, to get REAL results from your A/B test you’ve gotta keep an open and unbiased mind and lean in with curiosity. If your test doesn’t generate the results you were hoping for, change up the creative and test again! When you’re after insights greater than “which color button performs better,” you’re reckoning with a number of different variables. So, creating a new hypothesis, and diving back into another test is the best way to keep you inching closer to creative assets that unlock amazing performance. 

Ready to dive into an impactful A/B test with us? Let’s talk. 

Ad Creative Types That Constantly Drive Performance (Regardless of Industry)

Testing, testing, testing! As a creative team tucked inside a growth agency, we throw around that word a LOT. Especially because we partner with scaleups looking for quick, efficient (and sustainable) paths to growth. Making sure we’re clear about what we’re testing—and executing it within rock-solid social ad campaigns—ensures that on the other side of a few thousands of dollars worth of ad spend (and oftentimes even less), we can take a step back and confidently say, “here’s what worked; here’s what underperformed.” You can read all about that and get our tried-and-true templates in this blog!

How we set up an ad creative test at Tuff:

  • Most often when we begin to outline our tests for a new partner, we’re talking value props. Our question: “Which of your core messages is most likely to stop a scroll and win a click?” During this testing phase, we’re keeping the creative formatting relatively simple and getting very particular about the creative messaging. This way, we can isolate that variable and come to a cleaner, more definitive conclusion after our test period has ended. For one of our partners, Betterleap, this is what this looked like!

Betterleap Creative Example

  • After we’ve run a few tests and feel confident that we’ve honed in on our strongest message, we’ll begin to experiment with look and feel of ad creative. In this phase we’ll diversify creative type and formatting, launching a suite of creative that includes user generated content, UX animation, simple/bold copy statements, offers, and more.
  • Our goal in these subsequent phases is to hone in on what elements of creative assets drive those clicks. And THAT is what this blog is all about. Although the companies we partner with span across a wide range of industries, after publishing hundreds of creative assets and running dozens of tests, there are three main types of ad creative types that reign supreme. 

Note: while we run campaigns on a multitude of different platforms, this blog centers primarily on what we’ve found to drive the best performance on Facebook/Instagram.

The three types of ad creative that constantly drive performance:

1. Split-Screen Creative

Believe it or not, REGARDLESS of industry or company type, split-screen creative is consistently among our top performers. We’ve even pitted it against bold, colorful branded videos, 3D animations, custom illustrations…you name it. And split-screen creative still drives better performance. When we first spotted this trend (with our partner, AKKO) we scratched our heads and thought, “okay let’s create a fresh version in our next round and see if the trend holds up.” Spoiler alert: it maintained it spot at the top of our performance pyramid and hasn’t wavered since. 

If you’re over there thinking, “no way, jose! Video ALWAYS wins!” Well…that’s what we thought too before we saw the numbers!  

2. Made-On-TikTok Creative

TikTok is unequivocally the fastest-growing social platform. It’s a hotbed for sprouting new trends that permeate every other. It’s also the channel we get asked about the most by organizations looking to partner with a growth agency like Tuff. “Can you run ads on TikTok for me?” is arguably the question that we see most often in our “Let’s Talk” form fill

So, we started building a network of creators and making high-impact ad creative for TikTok! We also spotted an easy opportunity to test this creative outside of the TikTok ad platform. Our results: regardless of channel—but most clearly on Facebook/Instagram—our made-on-TikTok ad creative type drives incredibly strong performance (even when resized in 1080×1080 for in-feed placements). (Note: click the image to see the full video!)

TikTok Creative for Teachable

3. UX Animation

The third type of creative that consistently puts up strong click-through rate numbers is UX animation. This doesn’t just apply to SaaS businesses, though, when we can show what the user experience of any platform is like (even if it’s just a checkout flow or onboarding process—something the user might only experience once) we see performance inching higher.

Our hypothesis: when we can demystify the “how it works” part of the equation right out the gate at the top of the funnel, we subliminally communicate to our audience that we really care about their experience. So much so, we want to show them ALL the inner workings before they even click! Especially because the most-used sites on the internet are user obsessed, your potential customer has a low tolerance for clunky interfaces or ugly design. Positioning yourself as a winner in UX from the get-go is consistently a win! (Note: Click the image to view the full video!)

 

There you have it! While we’re always generating new ideas and hypotheses, these three ad creative types are ones you’ll consistently see within our ad creative suites. Because they work!

Have you been experimenting with creative formatting? We’d love to hear about it! Or, if you’re curious about what we could uncover about your organization and target audience through creative testing, let’s chat!

watching tiktok ads on mobile

The 5 Main Components of Effective TikTok Ad Creative

watching tiktok ads on mobile

TikTok…it’s a tough nut to crack. Not only because it’s notoriously the most ephemeral channel (who, who, WHO is responsible for all of these amazing trends?!) but also because TikTok users are extremely adept at sniffing out BS. It takes a smart, authentic, real story to capture the attention of a TikTok scroller. And we’ve spent a LOT of time this past year and change developing the perfect TikTok ad recipe. 

And, as your trusty TikTok Ads Agency, we’re here to spill the beans. 

1. Get Vulnerable – Tell a Real Story

Okay, I’m admittedly a serial TikTok scroller here, but one of the things that I (and MANY others) love about the platform is the way it amplifies real people’s stories. And when I say “stories,” I’m not talking about the airbrushed, Face-Tuned stories we see on Instagram, or even the HD, studio-lit stories of YouTube. The great thing about storytelling on TikTok is that it gives you access to someone who picked up a phone in the spur of a moment and shared something personal! No joke, the third video that popped up for me when I opened the app just now was this vulnerable, real, and in this case, heart wrenching story. The courage! (The makeup!). Another example is this video in which a woman captured a funny-not-so-funny email she received from Facebook support.

Did you click on those links? Even if you did, swing back by to check out the view/like count. DANG. Proof that people are drawn to stories that feel human! For marketers and creators looking for our audiences out there in the app, this is a crystal clear nudge to get vulnerable ourselves. Here are a few examples of our approach:

What are the pain points your audience experiences that drives you to create a better product/solution every day? Start there and then get real.

2. Don’t Overthink It – Keep it Lo-Fi

As mentioned above, false peeks into curated lives and expensive camera equipment really have no place on TikTok. If you find yourself reading from a script, directing a scene, or breaking out the Red camera…STOP. 

Take a moment to scroll through the app yourself. Almost every single video looks like it was shot on an iPhone. And even the ones that were shot with nice equipment get some sort of filter or treatment that *suggests* it was casual or off-the-cuff.

Our approach: sketch out a general idea or main ideas you’d like to cover then jump into the app! Creating a video is so quick and easy that it’s fun to work through a few iterations in the app, scratch them, workshop them, and refine in real time. 

3. Uplift Diverse Voices – Find Great Creators

Part of building trust and resonating with your audience is dependent on finding real, personable creators. This one is without a doubt the trickiest. There’s no easy way to track down, hire, brief, manage, and get great creative from creators, but we’ve learned first hand that when you put in the effort, it pays off in spades. 

The really effective piece to this puzzle, for us, has been CLLCTVE. For a reasonable monthly subscription price, we’re able to submit a form that includes information about what the organization is about, the type of creator we’re looking for, and other relevant information to the job. Then, CLLCTVE’s team of creator recruiters will compile a list of people that fit our criteria. From there, we’re free to reach out directly to each creator and roll with the project however we please! Here are a few fun examples of videos we’ve made with creators:

4. Shake Your Booty – Create with Music in Mind

TikTok is a supremely sound-focused app. Unlike Facebook—which most seasoned ad creative makers are used to—”88% of TikTok users said that sound is essential to the TikTok experience.” (source). Oftentimes, when we begin to make ad creative, we’ll find the sound we want to use even before we begin to concept out the rest of the aspects of the ad. 

Disclaimer! It’s super important to ensure that when you create a video to use as an ad that you select from TikTok’s library of commercially-licensed sounds. There’s admittedly a notably lesser selection, but TikTok’s AI is quick to ding your account if you’re caught using unlicensed tunes. 

How to use commercially-licensed sound:

  1. Open the video creator, and tap “Sounds”
  2. In the dropdown, tap “Commercial Sounds”
  3. Choose the one that best fits!

settings in tiktok for adding music to tiktok ad

5. Cover Your Ass – Drop the Watermark!

It’s a small detail but one of the most important—never publish an ad on TikTok without first removing the watermark. Trust us on this one, we learned the heard way that TikTok AI is swift in its abilities to find ad creative with that pesky watermark and ding your account. They also aren’t super into second chances. So if you aren’t trying to get your account suspended until you can reach a TikTok rep, make sure you’re dropping that watermark!

Thankfully, it’s simple to do:

  1. Cruise to a site like SnapTik or SSSTikTok
  2. Drop in a link to your published/public TikTok video
  3. Voila!

So, are you feeling inspired? If so, drop us a line, we’d love to see what you create! If you’re feeling a bit intimidated and not quite sure where to start, let’s chat!

ad creative for startup

Low-Cost Ways to Source Video Assets For Your Startup

ad creative for startup

If you’re running a startup, you need quality assets without breaking the bank. On average, video content tends to lead a higher conversion than static ad creative, however, it can also become the most expensive. 

As a startup marketing agency, we’re always on the hunt for scrappy ways to make awesome assets. Here are some effective workarounds we’ve found that help us (and growing businesses) make great, effective video assets without hiring an expensive agency or souring a costly freelancer.

UGC Content

Do you already have client testimonials? People who are willing to speak about their experience with your service, product or brand? Creating UGC style content is simpler than you think. Reach out to people that have a powerful testament to your brand and coordinate a Zoom call to ask them a few questions. This doesn’t have to take more than 15 to 20 minutes, and ask their permission to record the call. Pull the recording and splice up the clips to a 0:30 – 2 minute video for YouTube, or edit together the most impactful clips to create grabbier clips for social channels (just don’t forget the captions!). One of our strongest performing ads using this technique showcases a genuine and powerful story of Sebastian and how Multiverse truly changed his life. We have also found success in incorporating branding elements into video ads like our All Together Compilation for Multiverse. 

TikTok Creative

TikTok specific creative is among some of the most top performing creative not only across TikTok, but also Facebook and Instagram. But, hiring influencers to create content can be expensive. If someone on your team is up for the task, creating your own TikTok video can be a great way to test to see if this channel/creative format will drive results for your company without expending the time and budget to track down an influencer – and, it can be a great exercise in learning the platform (proof here!)

However, if you’re a bit camera shy, there are also simple ways to mimic the feel of the TikTok platform without using the app. There are a ton of royalty free stock video resources that require no attribution. Sourcing videos that feel commonplace and overlaying copy similar to the native TikTok platform leaves a high impact at a low-cost investment. This TikTok style compilation video highlighting the benefits of Nova Credit, was developed using only stock video and a quick voiceover for audio. Here are our favorite go-to sites to source free stock videos:

  • Unsplash – A site for the creator, Unsplash offers free images touching a variety of categories. Unique in style, there’s bound to be something that fits your brand identity. We love using this site to find less curated professional photos that appear more raw and real.
  • Pexels – This site offers high-quality stock photos and videos. 100% free, no attribution required.
  • Pixabay – An excellent resource of copyright free images, videos, and music, this site also requires no attribution.
  • Coverr – Hello, high-quality free stock video. No sign up or attribution required.
  • Envato Elements – A paid membership service, this site offers a wide collection of resources from stock photo and video, fonts, music, to web templates and more. There’s so much on this platform to take advantage of. It’s definitely worth the investment, and it’s the site we find ourselves using the most. 

And, ultimately, if your TikTok ads end up driving great performance and you’re looking to produce more videos with a more diverse set of creators, consider making a small investment into a creator sourcing platform like CLLCTVE. For a small monthly fee, CLLCTVE allows us to input our requirements/requests for the type of creator and their team will put in the legwork to match us with 5-10 creators that match our specifications. Then, we’re free to reach out on our own time, negotiate our own budgets and terms, and provide our own creative briefs to produce fresh made-on-TikTok ads like this one

Simple GIF-Style Motion

Perhaps the simplest way to incorporate motion into your ad is to take static content you already have and compile it into a simple animated ad by importing them to Premiere, After Effects, or any other video editing software—and, if you’re new to the game you can even do this in Photoshop!. Take your top three to five static assets and create a simple .mp4 allowing one to two seconds on each image before switching to the next (this may sound tricky, but here’s a simple YouTube tutorial that breaks this down in four minutes). To elevate this content further, add some headline copy along with your brand logo for awareness and you have an inexpensive animated ad ready to launch! If you don’t have existing content, utilize stock photos in the same manner. We have found success with super simple assets like this

Another approach that has worked well is taking written testimonials and utilizing stock video to elevate movement within the ad. We love grabbing testimonials from partners’ direct websites or TrustPilot and making the text front and center with stock video blurred for the background like this Betterleap Testimonial. We have also used this same concept and spliced up longer testimonial copy using multiple stock footage clips so the content is easier to consume. Sometimes it’s great to showcase where the testimonial came from, like our testimonial ad for Nova Credit recreating the feel of the TrustPilot platform to build trust with the viewer.

Lastly, let’s not forget audio! Even though most users on mobile view content with no sound, it’s important to keep this audio component in mind when designing an ad. Sometimes if a user is scrolling though with sound on, the audio can catch a viewer’s attention. It’s worth the investment in subscribing to a royalty-free music site to source thousands of audio tracks. Here are our recommended sites for music:

  • Envato Elements – Our favorite investment for all creative resources, Envato provides thousands of licensed audio tracks for royalty-free commercial use of every genre. 
  • AudioJungle – This is a service through Envato Elements offering more than 1.8 million royalty-free audio tracks. Individual tracks start as low as $1. Personal subscriptions via Envato Elements are $16.50/month, team subscriptions start at $14.50/month per member.
  • Storyblocks – Library of over a million royalty-free music, footage, photos, and templates with unlimited downloads. Subscription includes an easy-to-use video editor. Individual subscriptions range from $10-$30/month.
  • Epidemic Sound – High quality background tracks with a library of 35,000+ tracks updated weekly.

Feeling inspired to create? Great! Feeling a little overwhelmed by the options and not quite where to start? Let’s chat.

designing video ad creative for Facebook

Bow Down to Data: How We Use Metrics to Dictate Creative (+ Creative Analysis Templates)

designing ad creative on a computer

“Do you make creative?” This is the question (that we got over and over again) that planted the seed that eventually bloomed into the creative department here at Tuff. 

But, it was a question that we considered carefully before taking the plunge. There are a handful of other growth marketing agencies out there making “performance creative” but we knew that if we were to treat creative as an extension of our growth marketing services, we needed to make sure that everything we made answered to one queen: data!

So, that’s just what we did. And over time, we’ve built, refined, and perfected our creative analysis template and we’re excited to share it with you. It’s designed to hold our creative accountable—a way for us to make sure we axe the assets that aren’t contributing to driving clicks or revenue for our partners. And, ultimately, build out a suite of creative for our partners that centers on the stickiest messaging and drives the best possible traffic towards conversion.

Here are the two templates we reference in this article: 

The Alternative: Slow-Moving & Expensive

Branding and creative-first agencies serve a definitively important purpose in the marketing world: a solid and cohesive brand has the power to instill trust and lay a great foundation. It’s also a powerful tool for building your employer brand. But, check out the H1 of our Creative page, and it’ll tell you everything you need to know about why our creative team is different: “Creative doesn’t have to be a production.” 

We decided to take creative into our own hands after we, quite simply, realized that most branding agencies don’t have the tools or the in-house expertise to measure the actual effectiveness of their creative. It’s worth saying that almost every creative agency we’ve worked with (or at!) has incredibly insightful and talented people on their teams. But oftentimes, our growth team would submit a request for effective ad creative and, weeks (and sometimes thousands of dollars later) we’d get a file full of creative that, once we deployed it, had variable performance. 

Additionally, with the rise of emerging platforms like TikTok, user generated content is consistently showing the results we’re looking for (case in point, one of our all-time favorite posts: ​​Got a Crappy iPhone Video? You’ve Got the Perfect Facebook Ad). And, simply, UGC is a creative format that most traditional creative agencies aren’t set up to produce. 

The Short List of Questions to Vett an Agency’s Ability to Produce Effective Ad Creative

  • Do they measure the effectiveness of creative as a part of their process?
  • Are they able to use data to justify their creative decisions?
  • Are they invested in their creative actually driving measurable results for your business?
  • Can they produce assets in a variety of formats?

Why We Do a Creative Analysis

Beyond simply knowing what kind of ads to make next, we perform a creative analysis once every four to six weeks and apply our learning to all other areas of our growth marketing strategy. When we can take a step back and identify patterns among our best-performing assets (like messaging, colors, imagery and even format type), we can extend our learnings to improve landing pages, email, and more.

One of our favorite tools we lean heavily on whenever we’re strategizing new messages to test or new creative to make is the Value Props worksheet. At the outset of every partnership, we’ll fill out this worksheet and, originally, use it as a level set to make sure that the ways we’re planning to articulate points of differentiation and value aligns with the expectations and insights of our partners’ teams. But, creative analysis exercises help us treat this as a living document; consistently tweaking and refining it to reflect the messaging that’s driven the absolute best results. 

Beyond making the creative objectively better, the creative analysis exercise is a tool we use to also keep us laser focused on our main goal: drive results for our partners. And, when we center data in all of our creative work, it keeps the full creative team ego-less and unified.

How We Do a Creative Analysis

This is where left brains and right brains unite! Here’s how we conduct a creative analysis step by step.

1. Pull the data

When analyzing results, there are a lot of variables to take into account. Depending on the objective of the campaign, we will pull different data points to check out performance. We look at Facebook for metrics like cost per link click, click-through rate and amount spent and then look deeper into user behavior in Google Analytics for metrics like time on site, bounce rate and pages/session. This is where organized naming conventions come in handy! When working in Google Analytics, we add a secondary dimension of the ad content and then use the advanced filter to look at the data by creative asset and audience. Not only is it crucial to look at creative performance but it is also crucial to understand audience performance and why certain messages resonated with certain people. 

creative analysis template

If we are analyzing video content, we also take a peek at how much of the video users watched, when they dropped off and what the messaging was before. 

2. Analyze the findings

Sitting among a suite of growth marketing tactics and strategies, creative is its own unique beast. So, analyzing the data and coming away with insights that can incrementally improve results can be a bit of an imperfect science. Sometimes the results are obvious: like motion outperformed stills. But other times, the takeaways aren’t as clear.

This is where it helps to enlist a creative brain (or two) to take a step back, and check out the spread. Here, it’s all about finding distinct patterns/similarities among the top performers. While it’s not always comprehensive (and sometimes necessitates a deeper look) check out our quick list of questions we ask to help us compare the top performers with the underperformers:

Among the top performers…

  • Which messages are featured? (Revisit the value props sheet here)
  • What creative format do we see? (Carousels, videos, GIFs, etc)
  • What kind of imagery do we see? (Lifestyle, illustrated, portraits, etc)
  • Is there a color pattern? Is one brand color featured more prominently?
  • Are there any other noticeable shared elements? (humor, testimonials, offers, etc)

creative analysis worksheet

3. Create a game plan for a fresh round

Here’s where it all comes together! Once you’ve got your list of findings and your full team (including your partners) are in general agreement about the patterns among the top and bottom performers, it’s time to outline a game plan for the next round.

Again, this is where it’s handy to have a creative brain on your team to synthesize all of these findings and create a fresh brief that lays the groundwork for new concepts and ideas that uplift what’s working, ditches what’s not, and introduces a few new ideas to layer on. Over time, and after a handful of these exercises, you’ll have a growing list of messaging, creative formats, imagery, colors, and other shared elements that you know are going to generate the results you want to see.  

Creative: It Can and SHOULD Bow to Data

If there’s one major takeaway from this article: there’s no room for creative egos when it comes to making ad creative that uplift growth marketing strategies. Even the most amazing, high-quality, expensive video can simply flop. And that stings. But instead of allocating more spend, trying new audiences, and trying to coerce some performance, sometimes (most often) the right course of action is to just scrap it and try something else! 

Ready to get ruthless with your creative and see real results? Let’s chat!

team uploading brand assets

Revving the Creative Engine: A Checklist for Setting a New Creative Team Up for Success

team uploading brand assets

Working with a new designer? Onboarding a new team member onto your creative team? OR maybe you’ve just called in a growth marketing agency like Tuff to make amazing ad creative and boost your growth marketing strategy. No matter the particularities, there are a handful of things you can hand over to your new team to set them up for success and make sure your brand stays consistent in the process. 

As a startup or scaleup, though, we realize that sometimes as you’re building your company brick by brick, a brand is something that can come about in a more organic way, and not necessarily in a neatly-packaged brand book or style guide. That’s okay! 

We built our creative department at Tuff because we believe that great, hardworking creative doesn’t have to be a production, nor does it need to follow all the rules that a more traditional creative agency might insist on. So, consider the following list aspirational. And, if you need to look to our team (or whoever you’re pulling into the scrum) to help elevate your brand throughout UX design or ad creative projects, that is 100% doable.

Ultimately, maintaining a level of brand consistency isn’t just an exercise in vanity. Overtime, recognizability and memorability of your brand will help potential clients or customers recognize you across platform or as they move from awareness to consideration stages, and ultimately, increase their chances of conversion!

Logo File

First and foremost, your logo will be used across all marketing campaigns. It’s important to include all variations and color combinations of your logo. Color variations of all main logo types typically have a light, dark, and full color variation and can allow your creative team to take a number of different creative approaches, like light text on a dark background, dark text on a light background, and everything in between. The more variation we have here, the more we’re able to test, and the more we’re able to hone in on the type of creative that produces the best results. 

Example of logos

When you’re compiling logos, consider all of the following (we’d love to keep as many of these as possible on hand):

  • Symbol or icon
  • Word mark
  • Letter
  • Combination – combines word mark with symbol or letter
  • Emblem – company name is placed in an emblem, usually a circle or shield 
  • Emblem + slogan 

The file type of these matters to designers as well as developers working across design software. Vector files or SVG (scalable vector graphic) files ensure your logo will appear clear and crisp across different scales and not pixelated. It is best practice to avoid PNG or JPG file types when working within a design software as these often appear blurry and pixelated when scaling across marketing projects. PNG versions are beneficial when correctly sized when handing off to developers for a web project. They should be less than 200KB to ensure fast load times. PNGs are lossless compressed files. This allows them to maintain quality at a small file size. Besides an SVG, here are some other common vector file types:

  • .ai (adobe illustrator) this is Adobe’s own source vector file – only editable in Adobe. 
  • .eps (encapsulated postscript for adobe illustrator) another Adobe-specific file. Best used for printed materials such as business cards, posters, brochures, stickers, clothing, and more. 
  • .pdf (portable document file can be vector or raster depending on how saved) can be opened and edited in most major design software. Best used for printed materials such as business cards, stationary, letterheads, etc.
  • .svg (Scalable Vector Graphic) standard vector file format and can be opened and edited in most major design software. This is the best source file to provide your designer. Can be used across web and print.

Color Palette

Branding elements like the color palette are crucial for designers. Color palettes often include primary colors and secondary colors. Honing in on a consistent color palette does wonders for brand awareness. When establishing a color palette within your style guide, it’s imperative to include HEX codes, RGB (red, green, blue) and CMYK (cyan, yellow, magenta, black) codes. Here’s why (get nerdy with us 🤓): 

  • HEX codes are most commonly used for designers across digital design. Developers also use HEX codes when implementing website designs. These are displayed as a six-digit combination of numbers defined by a mix of RGB.
  • RGB is for electronic digital screens (computers, TVs, cameras, smartphones, etc) where combinations of red, green and blue light are compiled within pixels. RGB is an additive process using colored light. Values range from 0 to 255. 
  • CMYK is for printed media (magazines, flyers, photographs, product packaging, brochures, etc) and are measured in percentages. CMYK is a subtractive process using the pigment of inks, dyes, or paint.

Tuff color palette

While our creative team here at Tuff steers clear of printing (so CMYK are less important to us) it’s helpful to note that if you are working within a file intended to be used to print, be sure to check your software settings to confirm it is set to the correct color mode.

Typography Files

Typography matters. Typography connects your voice with visual recognition to your audience. The style of typography helps subliminally convey both personality and emotion. And, there are tons of fun design tricks we can use when we’re trying to say something in particular. For example, we can totally change the emphasis on, or noticeability of a sentence when we use different font weights like bold, semi-bold, regular, and thin. Establishing a consistent typeface paired with your color palette is the best way to make your brand stand out from the crowd.

The best file types for fonts to provide a designer is OTF or TTF. These are easily downloadable to install across Figma and Adobe software (our personal faves). These files are also extremely useful for developers as these are easily able to upload and code into a typography system on websites. 

Tuff Typography Hierarchy

When you’re able to provide your typography hierarchy for Headings (H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6) and body text, it sets us up for success for creating landing pages and other web related content so everything is consistent. As a designer, establishing a hierarchy ensures font types and sizes are categorizing information in the right structure to create harmony. 

Again, like we mentioned above, if you’re in the relatively early stages of establishing your brand, this is something you might not have and something we’d be happy to help you out with!

Graphic Elements

Do you use graphic elements to communicate concepts at a glance? Brands often establish a particular icon style for clear representation throughout their identity. Icons are powerful tools when used correctly. They provide universal understanding without the use of language. People have short attention spans and often skim information, only stopping to read more in depth if a website or ad is eye-catching within the first blink of an eye. Successful icon illustrations allow designers to communicate concepts quickly without a lot of text.

Providing an icon library ensures that the designers have these specific icon styles to utilize across social ads, website layout, and other marketing materials. And, if we spot a need to create a new symbol to convey a message, it’s super helpful to have a clear style direction to ensure consistency is kept across the brand platform.

Brand Tone and Voice

What is your mission statement? What are your values? What are 5 words that sum up your brand? These all contribute to your brand tone and how you come across to your target audience. And, they’re super helpful for your new creative team when we’re getting to work on concepting—whether we’re dreaming up landing pages, email flows, or social ads.

You might be surprised to learn that your tone and voice can really positively influence a designer. Do you take a bit of a whimsical approach? Then we might choose softer colors. Do you make declarative, bold statements as part of your brand voice? Then we might lean on bolder typefaces. There are nearly endless ways to use your brand voice and tone.

Most organizations that we partner with either has an early version of brand tone and voice, or none at all! Take a peek at our value props exercise (spreadsheet number 11 in this lineup) to see how we’ll help a brand develop the start of a voice during the kickoff of every one of our partnerships.

Photography (Stock vs. Company Photography vs. UGC)

Imagery creates a high impact in design. It has the ability to evoke emotion and effects a user’s mood. When thinking about creative, it’s important to note when to use the right type of photography.

Stock photos are great for providing high-resolution visual assets on a budget to support your brand tone. The risk with free stock images is, hundreds if not thousands of businesses and independent establishments have more than likely downloaded the exact same photo. This typically hurts brand recognition, especially if competitors are using the same photos to communicate similar concepts. 

Do you have customers sharing images or reviewing your product online? This user generated content (UGC) may become valuable assets. Using random images on social accounts, such as Instagram or Facebook, for commercial purposes is a big no-no due to copyright violation reasons. It’s worth starting a list and reaching out to your customers to get permission regarding content you are approved to use. This type of content is proven to yield higher click through rates than common stock photography. Providing your designer with a pre-approved list of unique UGC assets will save so much time throughout the design process. Need a place to start with influencer creative? We share our top tips in this article.

Lastly, people LOVE to see who is behind the business. Featuring your leadership team or employees in different departments establishes more trust between your audience and your company. It’s worth investing in company-branded photography for individual headshots, team shots, and community photos during events to allow people a peek into your company culture. Showcasing your team instead of using stock photography creates a more memorable first impression and depicts your brand in a more authentic way. If you have taken the time to invest in company portrait photography, these assets will go a long way for your designer.

Raw Assets

Any raw asset files you have to offer from previous campaigns is a treasure trove to a designer. These may be existing vector files, image files, or video files that are extremely useful for a designer to analyze. Often, when raw Adobe After Effects, XD, Photoshop, or Illustrator files are provided, these can be repurposed and elevated for new content. Original files are always a lifesaver to manipulate and edit content with a quicker turnaround time. However, designers like our team, are used to getting scrappy with minimal MP4, GIF, or PNG/JPG files and are able to recreate or re-imagine elements from scratch.

Strict vs. Flexible

Are you a brand with an established style guide or a brand struggling to create a consistent recognizable identity? This is great information for a designer to know up front in order to determine what constraints they need to work within or if they are able to take more creative liberty to present something unexpected. 

Make it all the way through the list? Can you check off all the boxes? Do you have all of this information packaged up and neatly organized in your Google Drive to hand off to any new creative that might be making fun things for you? Thank you win 🥳. If you don’t, you’re still in luck! As we truly can’t say enough, we built our creative department at Tuff on the belief that creative doesn’t need to be a production. Even if you’ve just got the beginnings of a brand, we’ve got you. Let’s talk!

5 Tips for Making Great (and Cost Effective) Video Ad Creative

shooting a video ad on a phone

In two short words, we can sum up the whole point of this article: video performs. No matter if we’re talking ad performance (like we’ll dig into in this article) or organic engagement, landing page CRO, and beyond, video works. 

Here’s the thing, though, not all video is created equal. As a growth marketing agency, no matter how gorgeous, flashy, or on-brand a piece of creative is, we’ll ditch it any day in favor of creative that converts. 

Like any seasoned growth marketer will tell you: there’s no clear path to growth. An effective strategy leans on fearless testing, thoughtful hypothesizing, and an unshakeable zest for learning from failures. So, over the years we’ve accumulated a list of learnings as a direct result of successes and failures. While these are not complete (and will, frankly, never be because ad platforms are constantly changing), here are some pointers for getting your creative wheels turning:

  • Get to the point QUICKLY. Like within 15 seconds. 
  • Drop in some memorable branded elements (like a subtle logo overlay).
  • Captions are a MUST. About 80% of users watch video on Facebook without sound.
  • Don’t overthink it! Ad creative is ephemeral. It’s more important to get something out there than wait until it feels perfect. 
  • Humor is HARD. Unless you can really do it right, it’s best to steer clear.
  • Constantly search for inspo! Our favorite places to go are Facebook Ads Library, WPromote’s Ad Creative Bank, and PIVADS

Ultimately, when you’re thinking about kickstarting a campaign with video, our greatest pointer: don’t overthink it; just start.

Tip #1: Have Stills? Don’t Count Them Out

If you’re feeling extra tight on budget, short on time, or, you just have a gorgeous collection of stills, simple over-image text animation is an easy way to significantly boost performance. There are two relatively simple ways to go about this:

  1. Hire a freelance designer that can add over-image text in Adobe Illustrator (or some similar program) then migrate it into After Effects to add a little magic of movement. Looking for the perfect fit? Upwork is a great place to start to hire contractors that can jump on it quickly and most often for a super reasonable price. 
  2. Try your own hand! There are tons of drag-and-drop design tools out there to help people without much design experience create something usable in minutes. The reigning champ (in our opinion) is Canva. Pro tip: lean heavily on their templates especially if you don’t have lots of design background.

Animated text inspo roundup: Pilot | DoorDash | Blue Apron

Tip #2: Get Yourself Some UGC

User-generated content is, quite simply, golden. Think about it: how much more likely are you to buy a product like a razor when you see a real, relatable person incorporating it into their everyday life (like billie does) vs. a staged ad that showcases the product in a sterile, overly-glam staged environment (like Gillette does)?

Companies like billie that do UGC remarkably well are likely able to tap a wide range of influencers and probably have a community manager on their team (or partners with a PR firm) who spends most of their week connecting with influencers, managing the creative production, and keeping up with contracts. 

For most smaller businesses looking to get into the UGC game, it can be a challenge to know where to start. That’s why we recommend testing a service like Billo. The interface is super easy to use, the creators are friendly, fun, and super professional, the support is amazing, and it makes getting user-generated content super doable on a tight (financial and time) budget. 

We tested a UGC video from Billo for our partner AKKO — check out the results!

UGC inspo roundup: Shopify | Ritual | Ruggable 

Tip #3: Try Your Own Hand

One of the most experienced Social Ads Experts/Growth Marketers on our team wrote an article awhile back. The title tells you all you need to know about our recommendations for testing video on you ad platforms if you’re not ready to try Canva or UGC: Got a Crappy iPhone Video? You’ve Got the Perfect Facebook Ad.

The TLDR; “Typically, brands think that developing video assets = 💸💸💸. But that isn’t the case. Shoot the video on your iPhone, edit it together in TikTok, and export it to use on other social channels. Mimic the latest video editing trends on social, and you can get scrappy with creating your own video content — and see great results.”

Tip #4: Build Yourself a Rolodex of Freelancers

There are SO many different ways to infuse movement into your ad creative. And so it naturally follows that there is a seemingly infinite number of creatives to help you make it. If you’ve got a bit of a budget to spend, you’ve got the opportunity to hire creatives ready to bring your ideas to life. 

As we mentioned above, Upwork is where we’ll start if we’ve got no existing connections to leverage for a new creative idea. Here’s a quick list of things to keep in mind when you hire a freelancer to help with video ad creative:

  1. Can they help with illustration/animation? (This is one of the easiest ways to create flexible assets that don’t depend on a costly video shoot).
  2. Do they have experience working with ads? They function quite differently than brand creative.
  3. Do they charge hourly or by project? (For three unique video assets without shooting, earmark anywhere from $1200 – $2000)
  4. How quick is their turnaround?

Once you’ve found a freelancer that meets your criteria, write up a quick document outlining your three unique video ideas, the most important messaging you’d like to convey, any existing branded elements you have, and a full folder of creative assets (like illustrations, photos, video, etc) that the freelancer can use. The more information you can provide (plus examples of what you like), the smoother the process will go.

Illustrated ad inspo roundup: Bench | Hotjar | SEMRush

Tip #5: Test, Test, Test

So, we put our creative through the ringer early and often to check up on four key metrics:

  1. Cost Per Click (CPC): is the creative grabby/interesting enough that it can generate a quick click from our audience?
  2. Click-Through Rate (CTR): another way of looking at CPC and essentially answers the same question. Is it compelling enough that we can get someone to want to learn more?
  3. Time on Site (TOS): does the creative match the site experience? In other words, does your creative provide a smooth transition once your user hits the site?
  4. Leads: Can be swapped for revenue, signups, etc. based on your business. This tells us which creative kickstarted the strongest path towards conversion.

In the chart below, we ran a creative audit for a partner of ours that does bookkeeping for SMBs. We tested a wide variety of creative then pulled the top-performers and bottom-performers to compare metrics and glean insights. Based on what we see here we have a strong idea of what messaging resonates best, what creative led to the most conversions, and which creative just simply flopped. 

Creative CPC CTR TOS Leads (calls)
[Video] Let’s go Brad $0.51 4.22% 0:00:11 3
[Video] Stop bookkeeping $1.02 6.36% 0:00:18 8
[Still] Family time $0.51 1.97% 0:00:10 0
[Still] Social proof $0.27 0.22% 0:00:02 0
[Still] Working late $0.43 1.00% 0:00:03 0
[Still] Meet your bookkeeper $1.07 2.71% 0:00:05 0

Now, based on what worked and the resources we’ve gleaned along the way, we’re ready to hit the ground with a creative refresh that leans heavier on what worked and ditches what doesn’t.

Ultimately, creative doesn’t have to be a production. While it should take time and consideration, we see too many organizations that shy away from video to their own demise! Looking for help kickstarting your own ad channels or leveling up your creative game? Let’s talk.

developing ad creative on a computer

The Beginner’s Guide to High-Performance, Channel-Specific Ad Creative

developing ad creative on a computer

When balancing the main components of a growth marketing tactic (strategy + targeting + creative), there comes a time when many organizations find themselves in a chicken-and-egg scenario: which comes first? Is it the campaign strategy and targeting that should dictate creative? Or should great creative—backed by battle-tested value props and watertight messaging—lead the way into a strategy that can really bring it to life; serving it to the right people, and driving up conversion?

The short answer: it depends. (I know, I know).

In a perfect world, the world in which giants like Verison, Budweiser, Nike, and other Super-Bowl-ready players operate, there’s an endless well of data at the ready to inform all of the above. And you’d know what creative works best on which channel paired with which optimized audiences, etcetera, etcetera. But! If you’re here, you’re likely looking for a growth marketing agency that can operate with trim budgets, run efficient tests, and use scrappy creative to drive quick wins and set the stage for scaling. 

So, before we talk about creative, we’ll need to broach the topic: what kind of creative do you already have at your disposal? Your answer to this question might help you hone in on which channels are your best starting point. Here’s our quick guide:

Making the Most of Creative You Already Have

Before you jump headlong into creating a full new library of creative for the channels on which you’d like to run ads, revisit your existing assets with a fresh lens! How about that product shoot you shot last year? What’s left in the B-Roll folder? Revisit that brand video you commissioned for your sales team. Check in with your videographer to see if you might be able to snag some other shots out of his archives to repurpose instead of planning a full new shoot. 

Still Photography/Images:

  • Suitable for: Facebook/Instagram, LinkedIn, Reddit, Twitter, Gmail Ads, Display Advertising, Email Marketing
  • Make them ad-ready: Hire a freelance designer (we love UpWork) or get your own hands dirty with a drag-and-drop tool like Canva. Add simple on-image copy and your logo in an unobtrusive way so it’s super easy for a user to understand who you are and what you do in a flash. 

Owned assets (meaning images, illustrations, or other graphics that have been created specifically for your brand) are typically much more impactful and drive better results than stock photography. But, that doesn’t mean you should rule out stock! 

GIFs or Simple Motion

  • Suitable for: Facebook/Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Gmail Ads, Display Advertising, Email Marketing
  • Make them ad-ready: Ensure your freelance designer from UpWork has the ability to accomplish simple animations in After Effects or a similar program. Canva also has some simple, easy-to-use motion templates as well. The same advice goes for GIFs or simple motion in your video — make sure it’s super easy for your audience to get the message. If possible, even keep the copy to 5 words or less. 

Super simple motion, like animated text flashing over a still image or a 3 second looping video almost always performs better than still imagery across all the above channels.

Video

  • Suitable for: TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook/Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Gmail Ads (as longer as they’re under 30 seconds long)
  • Make them ad-ready: Swing back by Upwork and find yourself a scrappy video editor that can help you recreate ad-ready assets. Ensure product placement (or super strong branded elements) appear within the first 3 seconds and that your video does not run longer than 30 seconds in length.

No matter if you’ve got a branded video, YouTube reviews, or a scrappy library of shot-on-iPhone video, it’s definitely worth splicing, dicing, resizing, and testing video against your still assets.  

🚨 Important! Before you start drawing up your strategy, investigating your targeting options, and setting aside budget, be sure to check out this Creative Ad Specs cheat sheet to make sure your files are large enough and are either in the right aspect ratio or can easily be reconfigured.

Pro tip: you’ll (likely) see better results quicker if—instead of creating brand-new creative—you instead focus on resizing your existing assets to fit each placement. 

How to Create High-Performance, Channel-Specific Ad Creative

If you only take ONE thing away from this whole article: don’t bust your budget on creative. Our approach (and, truly, the only way we can get behind creative production): test, test, test. Then, only then, consider investing in more high-value/bigger-production creative after you’ve gotten an opportunity to really hone in on the messaging and visuals that drive down cost per click (CPC) and drive up conversion rate (CVR).

Here at Tuff, when we take on creative production on behalf of—or alongside—one of our partners, here’s the approach we take:

The Tuff Timeline: Creating, Deploying, and Learning From Creative

When you hire a revenue and conversion-first growth marketing agency like Tuff, before we dig into pre-production, we’ll ensure the first weeks of our engagement are centered on rapid, actionable testing so that we can confidently make new creative that really resonates (and is worth the cost).

Days 1-3

Before we spend a dollar, we’ll start by digging into your target audience and validating/battle testing your value props. Based on the site experience, your sales materials, and what we can learn from you, are we confident that we can make creative that can hit the right people with the right message at the right time? 

Days 3-5

From there, we’ll get into concepting. If “fair, modern and inexpensive insurance” are the strongest high-level value props (for example), we’ll build creative ideas around them and workshop them with you to make sure we’re aligned.

We’ll create three very distinct concepts to test against each other so we’ll be able to understand—from a high level—which works and which don’t work as well.

Days 5-15 (depending on complexity of the creative)

Then, we’ll get into production. We’ve got a Rolodex of photographers, videographers, and designers to quickly and efficiently produce great creative.

We’ll produce 1-2 different pieces of creative underneath each of the three distinct concepts (for a total of 3-6 pieces of creative) every 6 weeks until we hone in on winners and double down there.

Days 30-60

Finally, and most importantly, we’ll put that creative through the wringer by conducting a full creative analysis that measures its effectiveness using two major data points:

  • CPC (is it grabby/compelling enough to get a quick click?)
  • CPL (is the ad-to-site experience seamless enough that the creative helps smooth their path towards conversion?)

From there, we’ll emerge with insights about what’s performing, what’s not, and a game plan for a fresh round of production (the timing on this cycle is totally dependent on ad spend and audience size).

Ready to Get Started?

Whether you’re ready to break out and start testing what kind of creative drives the best results for your growth or you need to enlist the help of a team that can take that burden off your hands, we’d love to hear about it!