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The media hot topic: creative optimisation



Technology enabled creative optimisation in media (DCO in short) is one of the hottest topics in advertising right now. With more and more media agencies under pressure from brands to plan and deliver performance campaigns to specific targets and KPIs, both brands and agencies are looking to new & alternative means to drive campaign performance. To quote McKinsey partner Ed See, a leader in the consultancy’s marketing practice: “In the past few years, the power of targeting has mostly run its course”. Overall advertisers and agencies that are championing a performance model are having to look elsewhere (away from targeting) to drive campaign ROI. Enter creative optimisation.


The creative optimisation game however is not a simple one. Currently there is an abundance of creative technology in the market all pitching for a slice of the action. With the market becoming quickly more saturated, vendors are looking for ways to stand out in the crowd (whether this be with quirky pricing models, or ‘unique’ features) which can make cost & capability comparison difficult. Without fully understanding all of the tools available and their capabilities, being able to match this to business needs can be difficult in selecting the right partner.


In continuation of this, the lack of both technical and strategic DCO specialists in the industry is a real issue, in some cases leading to under usage of onboarded tools and wastage. With some creative optimisation products setting you back >£100,000 for a yearly licence fee plus a media spend CPM fee - without the correct specialists in place to use these products, your dream cash cow can quickly turn to a financial liability.


In many cases however, the responsibilities between agencies when it comes to running DCO are not clear; media teams certainly aren’t set up to run DCO as it’s a creative output, however creative agencies aren’t always set up to run such a technical output, and their understanding of measurement can’t rival that of a media team. In addition, in-housing DCO can be difficult as specialists are rare to come by and typically see more opportunity in working for the tech providers and agencies. For DCO to work properly, media and creative have to be working in tandem which is rarely a reality. The new age of digital focused creative specialists, who understand media and optimisation strategy, are needed to drive DCO to its full potential and bridge the worlds of media and creative technology.


Overall advertisers need to ensure they are investing in the right technology and right people to run that technology (whether they are in house on within an agency) to ensure success and a good ROI.


Tackling creative optimisation head on:


In our experience there are five essential areas to focus on when looking to invest in a creative optimisation tool as an advertiser:


  1. Onboarding the right tech:

All creative optimisation technology providers have dedicated sales teams who may be more interested in selling you tech than figuring out whether it’s a right fit. When shopping the market it is essential you look at the following aspects:

    1. Cost/benefit
      1. What is the yearly running cost (even when you are serving 0 impressions from the tool?) What is the cost when running full activity? Does the performance uplift justify the cost?
    2. Trial first
      1. Most tools allow for a one-month trial which will allow you to see the impact of the tool and justify using it longer term. Some tools also allow you access to a sandbox account before signing up which will allow you to trial building in the tool & check that its capabilities align with yours.
    3. Can you use it globally?
      1. Can you use the tool cross language/market? Spreading the cost over several markets can greatly justify a large price tag
    4. Can you use it cross channel?
      1. Can you use the tool across channels? Most tools just work for display; however, others can work across social, out of home and even email. Spreading the cost across channels can lead to a more effective spend.
    5. How new is it
      1. With so many tools coming to the market, it is important you check you aren’t going to be the guinea pig for a new tool (no matter low the price is!) You don’t want to be wasting time feeding back on a tool’s capabilities when you want to hit the ground running.
    6. Going through an agency
      1. Instead of onboarding a technology directly, going through an agency is a great way of accessing DCO technology (and talent) without committing to yearly licence fees. Ensuring experts are managing and refining your DCO set up without the need to hire is a fantastic situation for many advertisers.
  1. Integration with media

For us this is a huge one. Without understanding the audiences being targeted or the budget being used in campaigns can you run DCO effectively. If you are onboarding the tech direct and have DCO specialist in house – ensure they are engrained with your media team to achieve this. Alternatively use a creative partner to run DCO make sure you bridge the gap between them and your media agency. Driving their integration is key.


  1. Roles and responsibilities

Another important one - defining responsibilities between media & DCO is key but also between the DCO ‘operator’ and any creative agency. It is good early on to define who owns the ‘creative’ and ultimately signs off on the finished variants, and who own the DCO strategy & set up. Typically we see traditional agencies owning the ‘creative’ and digital creative specialists owning the DCO.


  1. Scalable templates

A key approach to DCO is to ensure your creative templates are fit for purpose and longevity. They need to work for as many variants as possible to ensure proper scalability. When running DCO you should always ensure you are working to a fixed standardised template (so assets & copy can easily be swapped in and out), however if you do need to create flexible templates to accommodate tweaks in layout for certain variants, make sure you plan this at the beginning. Amending templates down the line can be difficult! For Global clients ensuring templates can work across multiple languages is also important.


  1. Standardised testing methodology

One of the greatest benefits of running DCO is the ability to easily execute creative tests at scale. However, making sure you are prioritising tests, defining clear hypothesises, and ensuring there is no cross over test groups is essential for fair and truly insightful testing. It is also important that you are testing to a decent level of statistical significance to ensure rigour. Bringing in CRO or media science specialists can be great move to ensure your testing methodology is up to scratch to generate the best insight.


Final thoughts:


With many providers now playing in the creative personalisation and optimisation space, it is extremely important to fully understand all of the pillars that will influence your success; simply onboarding a new piece of technology will not be enough.

As with all new approaches and disciplines, having the right talent in place to operate and drive creative optimisation will be key to ensuring a strong return on investment and utilisation. These individuals should also focus on driving a culture of creative testing within the brand to ensure all key stakeholders from creative through to marketing are onboard with the approach.


If you are keen to find out what creative technologies would be best suited to your business, or are keen to find out more about our approach to creative optimisation get in touch!

Contact us