Helm member Marcus Harding is the founder of digital marketing agency Deviceful. He has worked in digital marketing and advertising for almost a quarter of a century and, somewhat ruefully, describes himself as “an industry veteran”. He has advised brands from KPMG, to the AA and BBC on how to develop creative that drives digital marketing campaigns.
Helm is a community of scale-up founders running businesses worth over £1m. The community helps each other face challenges and grow. Harding spoke to fellow members on how to harness digital creativity to enhance customer engagement.
“Most brands and businesses are doing some form of digital marketing,” he says. “The real relevance of this is around the difference the messaging and creative you develop as part of your digital marketing and how that can increase the return on the spend across platforms like LinkedIn, YouTube or wherever you run your campaigns.”
As Harding explains, digital marketing is now a major channel for brands looking to grow. Last year the IAB reported that 77% of advertising in the UK was digital, with that proportion set to grow over the next three years to81.5%. And last year brands spent close to £25bn. Harding says search makes a large proportion of that, accounting for about half of all spend, with that proportion continuing to grow. The next big area is display, which is basically video creative such as banners.
And, regardless of platform used, 57% of all the spend across those channels is focused on mobile. This is why Harding's advice is that everything needs to be mobile centric. “You have to think mobile-first," he says. "Because a lot of stuff works differently on desktop and mobile. You've got to make sure you're thinking about all the different environments your campaigns are running across.”
But a bigger challenge than any of the decisions about which platformsto use, is the simple fact that despite spending more time and money onmarketing, brands are seeing a plateau in terms of performance and return. And withlittle consistency in terms of results.
“The cost to use a platform such as Facebook or LinkedIn is increasing, but the conversion rate for brands is falling. Because more people are going onto those platforms, more people are doing content marketing, more people are doing paid ads, that's pushing the price up. And performance is falling.”
A world of change
Founders are also faced with an accelerating pace of change. “Every year, there's a new platform coming out that people are talking about, whether that’s Snapchat or TikTok. This is a very fast-paced industry. And you've also got things like the future of the metaverse, and the role of AR and VR that people are already trying to plan for.
“Another big issue is around how to produce content and ads cost-effectively, because you've got so many platforms you're running across. In the old days, you had a TV ad and that was it. Now it's five different platforms, with 20different specs. That brings issues of brand consistency and the challenge of keeping all of your messaging and your branding consistent across all those channels.
The role of creativity
Harding cites Ross Jauncey, head of the creative team at Google, who claimed in 2020 that 70% of advertising is dependent on the creative. “If you're spending a lot of time building data profiles, buying expensive placements across different digital channels, and then you serve a terrible ad, you've undone pretty much everything you set out to do. Really it is key to consider your creative when it comes to digital. Because it's easy to develop an ad forFacebook, or to rehash a TV ad for YouTube, people miss that point. And it’s crucial.
“The creative is a powerful lever when it comes to falling CPMs, or falling performance and increasing CPMs and the crowded marketplace. If you really focus on building creative that's well thought out and that connects with audiences, that's a way of increasing or getting through the noise and getting more cut through.”
Eight tips for better digital creative
1. Make sure you adopt a digital-first approach. A lot of brands still send agencies a press ad for their digital campaign or suggest a TV ad is cut up. Don’t do that. Develop assets specifically for the platforms you're buying on. If you are a B2C business and you are using Facebook, you must come up with a creative strategy and a set of assets specifically for Facebook. If you're B2B, it might be LinkedIn, but you need to develop a strategy specifically to that platform.
2. Use templates to help make it scalable. There may be lots of different ad copy messaging you want to test and it's advisable to build templates to allow you to just change bits of information in and out, rather than rebuilding everything from scratch. Also use creative automation platforms to allow you to develop creative and to replicate it and make small changes.
3. Hire a goodcopywriter. A good copywriteris worth their weight in gold. The difference between a bad campaign and a goodcampaign is often down to what you say. Having a very good copywritingmethodology is important when you're developing copy for different audiences. Thereare also techniques around emotive language you can use. Having a goodcopywriter will make a huge difference to the success of a campaign.
4. Be strategically aligned. There's no point developing a media strategy and then just getting creative and tagging it on. You need to do them together, so they're aligned. You need to know where your creative is going to be running and whatever channel you choose, you need to make sure you plan media and develop creative together, ideally within the same team.
5. Track everything. You have to make sure you're doing tracking. The inclusion of pixels within creative allows you to test different message variations. This means you can do things like AB variant testing on different message types. This can be a massive benefit.
6. Be wary of free stuff. There are a lot of free ad builders out there within platforms, where just drop an image or some text in. They can be okay for some campaigns, but a lot of the time your brand will suffer. If you're if you're a slightly more senior brand, you really do want to make sure you're building ads that might be more expensive but you don't want to look cheap.
7. Consider the newer platforms. And there's also new platforms that on the rise at the moment. While CPMs are going up across the main platforms, platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat still have relatively low CPMs. It’s worth looking outside the mainstream platforms if you're planning campaigns.
8. Video is king. Everything should be based on moving assets. You want to make sure you're using video in everything you do. Video is important. Today, 82% of traffic to the internet is based on video, so it's a massive driver. Everyone is on video throughout the day, and it accounts for about 84 minutes per day of average consumption. And pretty much all of it is done via mobile devices. Video for mobile devices is therefore really important when you're developing a strategy. In terms of market size, it's going to reach $78bn in the US alone this year. And 96% of people turn to video to learn more about products or services.