With the advent of programmatic and digital advertising, data used to be the most important thing in performance marketing. Advertisers looked at what channels were performing best, what segments converted most – it was a numbers game. While data is still critical to performance, modern advertisers can’t solely focus on it anymore.

As technology continues to automate more and more ad operations, every marketer can optimise their placements and budgets, so there’s not as much of a competitive edge in only caring about that aspect of a campaign. Today, creative is the biggest differentiator any performance marketer can hope to have in the increasingly crowded digital ad market. The higher quality and more personalised the creative, the more impact.

Multiply this need across a rolling tide of new formats and platforms to explore and master and elevate expectations around personalisation and it’s no easy feat – but the  to driving performance.

Adding variety to creative strategies

The biggest mistake you can make is to assume that if creative works for one platform or format, it works for all platforms and formats. That doesn’t hold true. Marketers need to adapt their approach for each and every format, platform and audience segment to truly resonate.

Consider the Stories format on Facebook and Instagram, which has been taking social advertising by storm. It’s naturally more engaging for audiences with its vertical, full-screen content and users are flocking to it, away from their more static feed content. It’s in this type of format where creative quality is most important: it adds a new layer of storytelling, interactivity and user-generated content. Performance marketers can’t rely on the creatives they use in link ads or carousels to match what they need on Stories to stand out. Marketers need to leverage a new language to formats like Stories – which offer far greater creative flexibility – and work to break the boundaries of their typical go-to assets to get more play with their desired audiences.

Outside of the new formats, the shift to more video (digital video ad spend is projected to take up 50% of total video ad spend this year), is critical to successful creative. And digital video ads are not just reserved for brands with a lot of money to spend. The definition of video has changed. GIFs, timed slideshows, lightweight animations, moving text all count. Flat images don’t catch the attention of consumers anymore when they are bombarded with so much video across all social channels.

Variety and placement distribution is also key. It could be something as simple as a major beer company offering discounts to audiences in markets that have winning sports teams for an annual event, like the Super Bowl. Variation can tackle anything the world throws you as a modern marketer.

Future-proofing the creative process

However, all of this is easier said than done. Creating personalised, beautiful ads with enough variation to stand out across different formats and audience segments – and to keep providing existing customers with new content – is not feasible manually. No organisation has the time and resources to allow for that consistently. But the pressures are still there, especially when the trend to centralise online advertising keeps growing and creative quality sometimes suffers in attempting to keep up with these expectations.

That’s why it’s important to add a little science to the art mix. There is tremendous value in using tech to scale creative. Automated creative processes allow creative teams to explore a greater number of possibilities and achieve more while creating thousands of beautiful variations of an ad in real time across different platforms, audience segments, all while adhering to many different format sizes and requirements.

For example, Uber Freight, has seen how cost-per action consistently improves whenever they refresh their creatives. Constantly varying the types of creatives and pushing those out, based on results, scales performance.

There’s backend work involved, like building a product or image catalog but many e-commerce brands already do that to fuel their websites and a lot of catalog management tools can make the work effortless. Once the creative automation back end is set up and mindset is adopted, suddenly the hard to get audience is within reach, as modern technologies automatically pull imagery, products, discounts and more that are relevant to that audience segment (even down to a zip code, weather conditions or any data input you could imagine) and present them that information in a neatly packaged ad. With automation, marketers don’t need to worry or waste time on tedious ad operations but can rather focus on what matters most: fresh and varied creative that meets their branding vision and fuels high-performing campaigns with compelling ideas that drive conversions.