Iterative marketers may not use big campaigns to reach an audience — but that doesn’t mean our marketing programs are set-and-forget. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Marketing programs run indefinitely, so strategic changes are crucial for maintaining relevance.
But without a campaign’s traditional start and end dates, we are faced with with recurring questions: How do we know when it is time to change our ad creative? Should we ever consider launching an entirely new marketing program?
Before we can answer these questions, let’s revisit our definitions of a marketing campaign and a marketing program.
Campaign: A big idea constrained within a specific time period
Program: The intersection of a defined objective, for a defined audience, with no definitive end date
Unlike campaigns, programs run for an indefinite period of time and do not have timelines for changing ad creative. Instead, creative runs in market as long as the market is responsive to it. We measure market response through our creative objectives. Creative objective is the goal or desired outcome for the creative asset we are running.
To understand the role of creative in our marketing program, let’s take the fictional example, Star Fitness. Star Fitness wants to increase the number of membership subscriptions for 25-44 year old fitness fanatics. The creative they produce is a banner ad featuring a thirty-something female working out with the headline “Sign up to receive special offers.” In this example, the creative objective is to build a database of potential future customers by encouraging the target audience to provide their contact information to get access to special offers. The creative objective supports the overall program objective of increasing membership subscriptions.
Coming back to the question we asked above: how do we know when it is time to refresh our creative? Let’s explore the signs.
When It’s Time To Change Creative
Creative performance follows a pattern in marketing programs. After launch, the creative should get a strong, positive response from the target audience and we will see an increase in engagement (graph 1). During these times engagement rates are high, and optimizations, will help trim the cost per engagement (graph 2). Optimizations might include cutting placements that are not performing well, or introducing an A/B split test.
Other metrics to monitor the performance of our creative assets include: number of impressions vs. cost per thousand impressions (CPM), number of conversions v. cost per conversion, number of clicks vs. cost per click (CPC), and number of sessions vs. cost per session (CPS).
As our target audience gets used to seeing our creative in market, they become less responsive to it. As we run out of audience to whom we can market, our cost per engagement will increase (graph 2). This means the creative is not contributing to the positive cash-flow of the brand, and is hurting our ROI.
The result looks something like this:
When we see costs climbing and engagement rates consistently dropping, it is time to refresh our creative. We need new creative in market to reignite our audience’s interest in our brand, while still supporting the program objective.
In some cases, new creative may even have new objectives assigned to them.
In the Star Fitness example, market response shows that less and less people are signing up to receive special offers from the banner ad. The gym could do one of two things.
1) Develop a new creative asset, like a Facebook lead gen form, to support the same creative objective.
2) Introduce a new creative objective, like a membership referral incentive, to support their goal of increasing gym membership.
The creative objective must always be set before developing new creative assets. This not only helps us clarify our goals, but also indicates if the creative is successful in market.
It is important to note that introducing a new creative objective is not the same as starting a new program. One program can have many creative objectives, as long as they all contribute to the overall program objective.
When It’s Time To Change Programs
While data can clearly indicate when creative assets or objectives need to be refreshed, the indicators as to whether or not we need a new program may not be as simple, and are based on the strategic direction of our organization.
A new program is only needed when the program objective and/or audience changes.
There are three scenarios where a brand may consider stopping a current program or adding a new one:
1. Monitoring creative performance: If the program has been updated with new creative but overall engagement continues to decline, we will want to evaluate the viability of this audience.
- Example: Star Fitness has defined a creative objective and tried various versions of creative assets (banner ads, videos, fliers) but had no engagements. It’s time for the gym to reevaluate the audience it is targeting.
2. Shift in business objectives: If the overall strategic direction of the business has changed in such a way that we are targeting a new audience or have introduced a new product or service that is vastly different from our current offering, then we may need to consider a new marketing program.
- Example: Star Fitness transitions to a women’s only gym. This strategic change requires a new marketing program to target this women-only audience.
- Example: At the monthly Star Fitness employee meeting, personal trainers say they’ve noticed a lot of high school athletes coming in over summer to get ready for fall sports. This feedback helps the marketing department create a new program for high school athletes.
In general, it is more common for a new program to be added to a brand’s marketing roster than it is for one to be stopped altogether. For a program to stop entirely, the existing objective or audience must no longer be relevant to the business. When we shut down a program, we are effectively saying that we are no longer marketing to that audience segment anymore. This kind of decision requires a complete shift in strategy, which is why it is less common.