Most Ads Suck. Improve Your Ad Performance with Data-Driven Creative

Yachna Singh

Yachna Singh

With over eight years of experience in the Digital Marketing industry, Yachna has worked as a Copywriter, Strategist, Project Manager and Head of Digital over the years. She has worked with various brands in the financial, travel, automotive, retail and telecommunications industries in South Africa and Canada.

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Ever wish that you could just read your customer’s mind? You’d know what they think, what their preferences are, what they love/hate, and relate to. For business owners this is one part of a sophisticated engine that they need to understand. 

The good news? We have the technology.

What is data-driven creative?

“Creative” in marketing-speak is the process of using creative ideas or assets to convey a brand message. These include writing (copy), art (art direction and graphics), design (user experience), and more. Obviously, the amount of “creative” required for a campaign is dependent on the medium (Google display ad, YouTube video ad, print ad, etc.) and other factors, such as industry and cost. 

Data-driven creative uses data and insights about customers to inform the creative. An insight is that “huzzah” moment when a pattern emerges in a set of data. Let’s use “Health-Food Brand X” as an example. Based on their website analytics, they determine a large segment of customers who are spending time on their online store are also Googling “outdoor sports.” This data leads to an insight: Health-Food Brand X’s most engaged customers are interested in outdoor spots. Based on this insight, we know the most effective creative will be based on an outdoorsy, athletic lifestyle. Building this lifestyle into your branding or ad messaging can help convert window shoppers into loyal customers.

In recent years, data collection tools can show brands exactly how consumers are interacting with their content. Did they click through to the website and purchase a product? Did they recommend that product to others via a review? Did they “bounce” and decide to buy your competitor’s product instead? Ouch.

Data goes well beyond just bounce rates and traffic volumes 

Consumers share so much online. Their aspirations, challenges, and unmet needs are injected into search engines, forums, and social media channels. So what do businesses do with this valuable information?

To be honest…not much. 

According to Tom Noyes, CEO and Founder of Commerce Signals, “Some marketers think at least 26% of their budgets [are] wasted.” One reason for wastage of budget is the inability to attain accurate insights from data. Without insights, it’s difficult to measure and adjust the impact of your advertising.

How have consumers changed the buying market?


The consumer landscape has changed drastically over the last decade. According to Google, “consumers have raised expectations for relevance and immediacy.” This makes it increasingly difficult for business owners and entrepreneurs to satisfy their customers in real-time. Marketing used to be about, “who your target market is.” Now it’s all about, “what does your ideal consumer want right now?”

Behavioral change can be challenging, but it’s also an opportunity for brands to remain relevant and stay ahead of their competition. 

How to use data to your advantage 

Staying relevant can be as simple as catering to consumers’ needs based on the weather or special events. For example, on a hot and sunny day, food and beverage brands like McDonald’s or Wendy’s offer 99c ice cream. Another example is when brands plan campaigns around special occasions like the 4th of July, Eid, Christmas or even Super Bowl.

But how can businesses stay relevant on a daily basis? How can you speak to people and engage with them to the point where they pick your brand over others? 

The proof is in the planning 

Creative carries significant value in a campaign. Effective creative is how people perceive your brand, and it is often the main driver behind online sales. The creative is the difference between a flat brand experience (one that just wastes the consumer’s time) and a purposeful one. 

I’ve put together some practical ways to ignite data-driven creative for your business. Let’s look at them, along with a few success stories. It’s important to note that although some of these examples are from big brands with big budgets, that doesn’t mean research and insights require  big resources. We’re looking at theory and execution, not the ad spend. For the rundown of research and insights that scale to any business size, click here.

Take your time with that brief

We’re not mind readers, so it helps to create a specific design brief that gleans insights from a current or previous campaign. The more information your designer has, the better. Avoid telling them to “make it better than the competitor’s” or “make it pop.” These requests are vague and don’t consider your insights at all. Instead, include elements like audience behavior, audience segments, tone, voice, and mood. This should all come from your audience research and insights. Your brief should link directly to the strategy and insights-based tactics you have created. Here’s an example of how various insights informed Playstation’s digital ads:

playstations digital ads
Image courtesy of JIVOX, via Forbes

Tick, tock…watch that clock  

Relevance is all in the timing. Sometimes, otherwise excellent creative doesn’t perform very well because it’s executed at the wrong time. People consume a considerable amount of content online, but they also see things away from a screen. They will feel and react to external forces, too. 

During the 2016 United States election, GrubHub, a food-ordering app, launched a great campaign based on political insights. They examined ordering patterns across almost 200 congressional districts. Users were prompted to take a quiz to share what foods they prefer. GrubHub then connected those food preferences to districts and found specific patterns in Republican-majority districts versus Democrat-majority ones. The brand was then free to market the right products to the right audience at the same time. Talk about taking data-driven insights about relevance to the next level! 

Image courtesy of Time Magazine

Use testing to your advantage 

A/B testing (or split testing) is when you try two different creatives to see which one performs best. Smaller businesses often feel that A/B testing takes too much time, creating double the work for no reason. But there’s an advantage to testing what we call “generic creative” against “insights-based creative.” For example, if you’re a beauty brand, you may want “we want to celebrate your beauty,” as a generic message. But if your data tells you your customers are concerned about how long a product lasts, then your creative messaging could be something along the lines of, “one less thing to worry about – smudge-resistant lipstick that lasts up to 12 hours.” These messages still sell the same product but in two completely different ways. It’s useful to run both ads to the same audience and compare the results. This way, you‘ll know if your message is resonating. 

Listen to your consumers 

Sometimes when we dive so deep into the nitty-gritty of data, we forget to look at the bigger picture. Take a step back and listen to your customers. What are consumers saying about your brand, industry, and competitors? How do they feel, and what creative can you make that speaks directly to them?

In 2017, Activia, a probiotic yogurt company, launched a campaign called “It Starts Inside.” The campaign was based on a research study in partnership with GlobalWebIndex. It revealed that “80% of women in the US between the ages of 25 and 55 view themselves as their own worst critic.” The brand then drilled down the data and compared the research to various sections of its audience. Activia decided to use the concept of self-doubt and flip it on its head, encouraging women to reach their full potential and rise above such belittling thoughts. As you can imagine, the campaign was a success. Activia spoke about real problems that the women in Activia’s crosshair were facing as opposed to advertising the usual features and benefits of a product. 

Image courtesy of AdStasher

Looking to the future 

Data-driven creative can be incredibly effective. Personalized messages that speak to a customer’s real and relevant experiences perform well. As a brand, you need to commit to using your consumers’ behavior as the most significant learnings for your business. It all boils down to building value for your customers, encouraging engagement and deepening that relationship with them. Remember that relevance is the name of the game, and strategies aren’t always static. Test and modify your campaigns to match relevance to your consumers every day. Your rewards could be significant.

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