Beat Brand Boredom: Bringing Rebranded Creative to Market Digitally
February 6th, 2023 by
Key Insights from Higher Ed Branding Project
- There are five key steps to deploy new creative within persistent digital campaigns successfully. Each step is detailed in this case study for our client at Tulane University.
- Set short and long-term goals for how you want the new creative to impact performance. These goals should serve as your guideposts for all adjustments and decision-making.
- Resist the urge to drop your old creative cold turkey, even if you believe it is fatigued. Learn how to do this tactically in your digital ad sets.
- Digital ads provide a great testbed and allow you to learn and iterate.
- “Creative doesn’t have to be beautiful work; it needs to be effective at differentiating …and you will know that by looking at the performance data.”
A branding or creative refresh is hard work. You’ve wrangled the stakeholders and the creative team and worked through the big egos that were likely at the table in the process. Now, you have to figure out marketing deployment, a step often forgotten about when planning the rebranding effort itself.
If you’re already running digital advertising campaigns, it can be daunting to roll out your new brand. You can’t afford downtime in your campaigns — stopping all marketing to update and re-launch.
And, you are concerned about measuring leading indicators of success for the new brand, ideally BEFORE seeing a negative impact on the enrollment pipeline.
In the last year, I led the digital deployment side of our client Tulane School of Professional Advancement’s rebranding effort. In our recent collaborative session at UPCEA MEMS 2022 in New Orleans, I shared a five-step process for bringing your new creative to life in persistent digital marketing campaigns.
Read on for a step-by-step guide to bringing refreshed branding or creative to life and share your feedback in the comments or on social media.
But First, Some Context…
Before the rebranding effort, we had persistent digital campaigns running on Facebook Ads, Google Paid Search, and other display networks, including OTT and CTV advertising. We had more than 250 different graphic creatives in play at the time following the old style. Our client depends on these campaigns to fuel their enrollment pipelines with new contacts and inquiries year-round. We couldn’t afford to have a major dip in performance or for campaigns to come to a halt during a rebrand.
5 Steps to Deploy New Creative in Persistent Digital Campaigns
At a high level, these are the five steps to deploy your new creative successfully. We’ll break down each of these steps in this blog below.
- START WITH THE RIGHT EXPECTATIONS
- MAKE A TRANSITION PLAN
- SET SHORT AND LONG-TERM METRICS-BASED GOALS
- CHECK AND ADJUST
- ITERATE ON YOUR NEW CREATIVE
Step 1: Start With the Right Expectations
When implementing new creative into existing campaigns, you need to go into the process with realistic expectations. And, we all know that there are sometimes stakeholders disconnected from marketing who may expect a creative overhaul to produce instant results.
Major adjustments to your campaigns will always make an impact on campaign performance as the digital platforms adjust. Whether you follow a solid plan will determine if that impact is net positive or negative in the long run.
This is because digital advertising platform campaigns have what is called the “learning phase” for new creative. During this time, the delivery system — the machine — still has a lot of data to collect to “learn” about how to best deliver your ad set. So, during that time, performance will be volatile and cost per result will be higher.
You should expect it to take up to three months for your campaign performance to normalize and your campaigns to exit the “learning” phase.
Up front, set expectations with your stakeholders so they DON’T expect instant magic.
Step 2: Make a Transition Plan
Do create a careful transition plan, especially for a major overhaul. I’ve broken this down further into three key components.
- Time it right. We intentionally timed our implementation during a slower period for recruitment. For us, this meant we started the process in January and completed it by EOM February so that the new creative could be fully in place for the Fall recruitment cycle.
- Implement new creative alongside existing ads. Rather than creating all new campaigns in our existing ad platforms, we implemented new ads while they ran alongside the older assets for some time. This allowed the ad platforms to begin serving the new ads, collect performance data, and learn how to deliver those ads to the audience best. In doing so, we were able to mitigate an immediate negative impact and continue to recruit new prospects into the pipeline.
- Pause old creative based on data. Then, we paused the old ads when we saw the new ads were converting at a comparable cost per conversion. Resist the urge to drop your old creative cold turkey, even if you do feel it is fatigued.
Step 3 – Set Short and Long-Term Metrics-Based Goals
Set short and long-term goals for how you want the new creative to impact performance.
We’ve gone over in detail why we cannot expect a huge positive impact on results immediately. These goals should always be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
You may start with an immediate goal of keeping your cost per conversion within a certain acceptable range of your historical or seasonal average.
Consider what else you have going on that may impact the campaign performance.
Step 4 – Check and Adjust
Once implemented, check your key metrics against your goals. These goals should serve as your guideposts for all adjustments and decision-making.
This chart shows our cost per inquiry (CPI) from digital advertising over time. Here are the highlights:
- The first dot on the slide is our CPI in the first month of the new creative deployment. You’ll notice that it rises from there and spikes at about three months. By this time, our old creative was fully paused, and we believed our campaign performance was beginning to normalize.
- With focused energy on optimizations from that point forward, our CPI began to trend back down, achieving one of our short-term goals.
- Now, for the long term — In June (gold dot), we felt the effects of shifting priorities and a new fiscal year budget. Our budgets actually increased for the first time in a couple of years, and, with some advertising priorities adjusted, we saw the CPI jump up.
- We continuously check and adjust. Since then, we’ve consistently optimized the CPI back down to now nearing our initial cost at the time of new creative implementation.
And, we continue to have a cost per inquiry significantly lower than client-approved benchmarks.
So, what’s the impact?
Tulane SoPA’s Fall 2022 term compared to Fall 2021 had a better yield, with significantly fewer inquiries at the top of the funnel. The creative rebrand was one of several tactics in play to intentionally improve the quality of inquiries over time — so fewer inquiries was actually a GOOD thing!
What this tells us is that, among other factors, we are reaching the right audience with the right message at the right time.
Step 5 – Iterate on Your New Creative
The story doesn’t stop there.
Digital ads provide a great testbed and give you the opportunity to learn and iterate. After your campaigns have normalized and your new creative is fully adopted, review the performance of your key messages or creatives and make adjustments.
Once we saw our results normalize and our branding effort fully implemented, we moved into the next phase. We began to iterate on our creative with bigger, bolder messages that we either wanted to test or that we believed were strong selling points for our audience.
Our tests have been running since the summer, and we’ve already taken away some big learnings!
One Iteration Success Story
Previously, we had not significantly promoted our accelerated master’s program before. At Tulane SoPA, undergraduates can earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. After running some test creative across several campaigns and placements, we found that our audience is really interested in this.
Once we had a statistically significant volume of conversions, we could see:
- High volume of conversions on this messaging compared to other message tests we tried
- Cost per result was looking great — it was lower than our typical and significantly lower than the benchmark
Now, we are taking additional steps to get this information in front of our undergraduate audience through email drip campaigns, landing pages, ad copy, and more.
This is the step that will perpetuate — until it is necessary to refresh your branding again.
When will that be?
When the data tells you that your messaging is no longer effective for your audience.
Branding evolution is never done. Use data to evaluate and iterate on your brand voice and identity. In a professional development course, Jim Fong said, “Marketing should be strategically and data-driven, not driven by the creative. Creative doesn’t have to be beautiful work, it needs to be effective at differentiating.”
I would append that by adding “…and you will know that by looking at the performance data.”
If you’ve taken the time to create new branding and need help deploying it digitally, contact my talented team at Search Influence for more information