Agile Creative Is a Brand Imperative — And the Key to Better ROI

By Justin Hayashi


Performance marketing is misunderstood. In the marketing family, it is often regarded as the transactional, cold, and bottom-line focused cousin to the beautiful and inspiring storytelling of brand marketing. But that mental model is out of date. The truth is that done right, agile data-driven creative and inspiring brand creative are two versions of the same thing, and when they work together, they can be a brand's superpower.

That's because agile creative is a natural evolution of a brand's playbook.

A brand-forward company has a brand design system, a brand strategy, and maybe even high-impact brand TV commercials. It's all very thoughtful. It's informed by consumer insights, studies and surveys, and often takes months or years to build. That foundation is essential. You need it before even thinking about an agile creative framework.

But success in today's hyper-competitive digital marketing ecosystem requires a different level of creative agility — a fast twitch muscle that responds in real time to shifts in the marketplace, and is supported by data. What gets someone to convert on a mobile screen and in 0.2 seconds is vastly different than what pulls the heartstrings of a consumer when they're watching TV or interacting with longform content. The style and the aesthetic and the best practices are completely different.

And that's where agile creative comes in.

Lots of marketing organizations have the same team working on brand content and digital content. But they're vastly different challenges, and they require different skill sets. They need to be fed by the same brand book and rules, but that is where the similarities end. Digital content requires much faster iteration, sometimes multiple new versions of the creative every week. And that rapid iteration cycle is not a strength that a lot of the brand creators have.

The bridge happens when you build a brand sandbox.

You adhere to brand guidelines, you have an aesthetic, you limit your font types. You agree on the look and feel and who the core customers are. This becomes your brand sandbox, and without it you can't be agile. But once those parameters are in place, your digital creative needs the freedom to explore all corners of the sandbox. It's going to be fast-moving and iterative and you're going to stay within certain pillars. Is everyone comfortable with that? Yes, then you move.

Building that brand sandbox is a multi-hour conversation that's necessary upfront. But once you have it, you can get to work and bring agile creative to bear.

And the benefits are priceless:

Agile creative is measurable. Brand leaders that are also marketing leaders typically hate performance marketing. They worry it's a bad experience for the customer or tells a story that's misaligned with the brand. But with an agile creative process, you measure the ads in real-time. Purchases, revenue, the profitability of content — those are signals that tell you the creative does resonate with customers and moves them to action. It validates the entire process.

Agile creative unlocks scale and combats ad fatigue. In digital, you need fresh creative every five to seven days to be competitive. Even if you have a great performing ad, you need to refresh it regularly, pushing in new creative and content to drive customer acquisition goals. The only way to do that is to be agile.

Agile creative lets you adapt to new formats. Today's marketing leaders need to deliver content across TikTok, Snap, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, OTT and online video, and dozens of new platforms on the way (Metaverse, anyone?). Each of those platforms has a different way of speaking to the customer and different types of creative that work — and those formats are evolving all the time. An agile approach is the only way to keep up.

Agile creative lets you target new audiences. If you run the same ad creative over and over, you're limiting yourself to the same audience each time, especially on social. With the loss of identifiers, platforms now rely on aesthetics and other clues to target audiences. By testing outside of familiar boundaries and trying new concepts, you can target different types of potential customers. In that sense, creative is the new audience targeting and you can find new customers with your ad content velocity.

So yes, brand awareness matters. So does getting consumers to act. And in a fragmented new media landscape, an agile creative approach is the fastest way to bring these new two marketing forces together.

Justin Hayashi is co-founder and CEO of New Engen, a growth-obsessed, digital marketing agency helping brands find breakthroughs to unlock and accelerate growth.

The views and opinions expressed in Industry Insights are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.