What creative automation is and why it isn't optional anymore (in advertising)

Aug 30, 2021

Table of contents:

  •  Your options for scaling content production
  • What is creative automation?
  • Common creative automation misperceptions
  • Who uses creative automation?
  • The benefits of creative automation

Originally published on the Storyteq Blog

If you are a CMO, creative lead, or brand manager, you already know what scaling your content production can do for your business in a time of rapid digital growth. You’ve probably even told your organization to get you there already. 

So why is your move to creative automation coming along so slowly, even though you may have been talking about the need to scale production for years? It might be because you and your creative and marketing management team have yet to take a sufficiently active role and make the benefits known from the top down.

But for modern advertisers, the narrative towards both producing quality content and achieving personalization at scale is becoming a reality. In fact, we are already seeing leading brands and agencies making the move towards creative automation and reducing costs while producing premium content.

Your customers want better content and your marketing team needs an efficient way to provide this. A modern platform can help time-strapped teams manage high content volumes by empowering them to automate repetitive tasks. With consumers’ ever-decreasing attention, the creative concepting and production space will be key to drive performance.

These challenges – together with the demise of the cookie are pushing advertisers worldwide to rethink their approach to personalization and how to be relevant with fewer signals from their audience. So how can you prioritize scaling up your creative production?

It’s important to remember that despite the demise of the cookie, tailor digital advertising is not going away – but the key lies in an intelligent combination of approaches rather than throwing money at the problem or letting your content’s standards slide.

"In our marketing team, we are creating a lot of daily ads. Sometimes, we spot some trends and ideas that work in all of our games. With creative automation, we can use these ideas and put them into the Storyteq platform to save time, be more efficient, and deploy a large number of videos in less than an hour." – Sebastian Noiret, Marketing Artist at Voodoo

Curious to learn more? Here’s a look at how creative automation comes into play, what leading brands have to say about it, and how you can start leveraging it.


Your options for scaling content production

More and more companies need to mobilize dozens of teams across design, marketing, and production to scale their content production practice is no easy feat. 
On top of it, more and more brands are swimming in a sea of sameness, crafting ad experiences that lack context, connection, and brand relevance which, in turn, trigger ad fatigue.

Today, your audience’s expectations for personalized content are higher than ever – making creative automation essential for resolving repetitive tasks at scale. But there’s more to it than just creating a number of assets in a record time. Creative workflows are becoming much more complex. Attention spans are shorter. Content overload is becoming the new normal.

In our research, we found that when a brand faces the prospect of supporting multiple campaigns in multiple countries, they are faced with three fundamental choices:

1. Increase headcount to support content volume

When trying to understand how cities work and how they develop over time, urbanists often analyze their infrastructure. Looking closely at the roads, railways, and rivers that run through a city can often reveal some important truths. For example, how can we think about Amsterdam without thinking about reclaimed land? It seems obvious, but only when you actively think about it. Most of the time, infrastructure is invisible.

We can think of creatives in design and production in a similar way. Creatives are a fundamental part of our marketing toolkit but the way we produce them is something we don’t always document, assess, or talk about.

We know that the need for creative automation primarily comes from the challenges of having high editing costs, a slow time-to-market when it comes to launching ad campaigns, or lacking control over the creative output which is generated by your creative teams or agencies.

These challenges become more visible when either the marketing or media department starts demanding more content because they develop more advanced ad strategies or when ad channels require different types of output in terms of size, formats, types of creatives, etc.

This option brings the benefit of maintaining a premium level of service, but it also comes at a hefty financial and operational cost.

2. Slow down the content production

Research shows that in 2020, we created and collected more than 44 zettabytes of digital data. That is 44,000,000,000,000 (44 trillion) gigabytes; and that, by 2025, the amount of data created in a single day will go beyond 460 exabytes (which amounts to around 168 trillion gigabytes a year).

For marketers, that’s an astonishing amount of digital noise that they’re struggling to break through to be noticed. On the consumer side, the content volume is also growing every day with the average person being exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day.

But out of those ads, how many will stick in our minds?

It’s no surprise that advertisers and creatives in today’s digital era need to battle it out to win the attention of consumers, which is made harder due to diminishing attention spans and a growing reliance on devices.

This, combined with stricter privacy laws and high content costs makes for challenging times for a brand that is looking to make a statement. But no matter the challenges marketers are exposed to, the truth is creating less content is not the option.

3. Implement intelligent and cost-effective solutions that complement your production team

Clearly, the first two options have serious pitfalls. Fortunately, there is a third option. It includes using creative automation alongside sustainably paced hiring. This approach to scaling your content production requires an excellent set of platforms, experimentation, and shifting your mindset to a new way of working.

Storyteq has aimed for the third option in scaling up their own creative production – a combination of approaches rather than throwing money at the problem or letting our standards slide. They concluded that to take customers’ content to the next level, it’s crucial to make content more captivating, more personable, and more creative than ever.

What is creative automation?

Creative automation
is the process of leveraging technology to scale your asset production by automatically adapting and changing certain aspects of your banner or video content such as size, format, CTAs, and graphic elements to enable high-volume content creation for high-volume demand.

Creative automation helps remove bottlenecks in the creative production process by shortening, personalizing, and making this process easier for your entire organization to create and adapt visual assets with ease.

With creative automation, you can automatically create content variations to save time and resources by relying on the use of dynamic creatives. Without creative automation, you would need to manually create each asset to ensure high-quality and brand consistency.

Creative automation in practice:

  • Create a strong asset that serves as your base creative or template
  • Tailor your creative into custom, reusable templates with dynamic elements
  • Select dynamic elements, such as text, images, complete scene, etc and link your data (product feed, spreadsheets, or manually) to each variable element
  • Generate all the versions you need in just a couple of minutes
  • Share them with your customer, add them to your ad channels, or use them for split-testing

What are dynamic creatives?

Dynamic creatives consist of a base creative (video or image) in which elements are swappable. A dynamic element is something in a creative that can be changed from a data trigger. This can be the aspect ratio of the video, a text element, an image element, a video element, and others.

On the one hand, creative automation can help global brands to safeguard creative excellence by centralizing their global ad production, driving down costs while enabling a faster go-to-market strategy. In addition to this model, it also allows local markets to re-use content and adapt it to their needs within certain boundaries.

On the other hand, it provides marketers with a new methodology to build new ad strategies and adopt a more iterative approach on how creatives are used within those campaigns.

“When I think about post-production efficiency, I definitely think about Storyteq. It helps us deliver more value to our clients by keeping them away from the studio and offering multiple relevant content for all their requirements upfront.” – Tom Specht, Digital Producer at Boomerang.

Creatives don’t fall into the one-size-fits-it-all bucket anymore. They can – and need to – adjust themselves to channels, markets, audiences, etc. This gives a whole new perspective on how you can build and execute ad strategies.

And while we know that this work is often performed by people, it can easily be done by automating the process. Designers and creatives can then spend time on the creative process and find ways to improve it, instead of doing tedious, repetitive work.

Common creative automation misperceptions

Myth #1 “It’s the same as automating creativity”

Automation is an irrelevant term to your average creative team member because it’s ambiguous. For many creatives, automation translates into the need for more creative assets so marketers can deliver more asset variations.

Something to note is that the use of the term creative in creative automation is often misunderstood, with confusions such as the idea that it automates the creative process and, therefore, replaces creative teams.

Creativity is not one of the automatable aspects of this process and therefore, is not under any threat. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s all about freeing the designer and empowering the marketer – and giving creativity the mindspace it deserves.

To avoid misclassifying creative automation as part of the creative process, we suggest that the term should be tweaked to showcase exactly what it can automate: the production process.

Takeaway: Define and clarify creative automation for your organization, and activate your leadership teams to disseminate its importance from the top down.

Myth #2 “It’s not for my industry”

Producing content is flourishing in every industry. In a recent survey of content strategists, the most common industries were technology (27%), education (19%), agencies (16%), and government (7%).

It depends on the type of content you’re creating but first, understand that the value of creative automation comes from simplifying your work. For instance, if you want to create a video banner, you can quickly edit and create variants for testing whether you need colors, logos, copy, layout, scene sequencing, or other elements. So the value is in doing this fast and without asking your designer for a change every time. After all, in any business, there’s a need to keep up with the speed at which the industry moves.

Takeaway: Understand your goals and how your growth impacts your industry.

Transforming workflows future-proofs your company especially when you’re delivering hundreds and thousands of variations of the same asset for the same campaign – this is when efficiency is key.

Myth #3 “It’s difficult to implement”

Switching from one tool to another or adopting a new one altogether is not always easy, so don’t instantly make the change – allow for a transition period instead. Use that time and learnings to collect feedback, understand the platform’s value and functionality, and stay objective.

It’s also important to consider the entire value chain as one integrated flow – from ideation all the way up to ad optimization – everything is fully connected. That doesn’t mean you need to completely re-organize the way you’re doing things, but you must stimulate different teams (or external agencies) to work together. It can be as easy as setting up one template that you can repurpose based on your campaign requirements.

Step 1: Create the master template to create a banner or video that is tailored to your campaign by changing the dynamic fields that you need.

Step 2: Before pushing the video ad to your channels, download one example to check if everything is on point.

Step 3: Create different ad variations and push them to the ad channels

One cannot perform without the other. In addition to that, don’t immediately dismiss your current way of working and take an agile approach.

Takeaway: Implementing creative automation can yield some great results and will help you stay ahead of the curve as more and more businesses ride the dynamic creative wave. As marketers, it all comes down to personalizing your messaging and the way your target audience likes to consume content.

Chances are, your competition is already making great use of it in their marketing strategy, so get in that meeting room and start convincing your stakeholders before you’re left behind.

Who uses creative automation?

Any team with a need to produce assets for various campaigns can use creative automation.

  • Digital marketing team: They will have more opportunities to create advanced ad strategies and increase the performance of their current ads – and have a more data-driven approach to their target market.
  • In-house design teams: They will regain time spent on doing nitty-gritty work like versioning, re-sizing assets, and creating hundreds of variations of the same creative template. Just think about all the time they could be spending on the creative process instead.
  • Tech enthusiasts and early adopters: Empower yourself to be both highly efficient in your workflows but also hyper-personal to meet and exceed the demands of modern customers.  

The benefits of creative automation

With creative automation, you can create thousands of assets in a short period of time. You can use an existing video or banner as a template or make a brand new one in minutes, which you can use to individualize based on your audience. But there’s more to it than removing or automating non-essential steps from our daily workflows. In this section, we’ll share what it means for your team in practice.

Modernizing your workflows

It takes more than a marketing department to build a brand. You need to involve everyone in your company and get them engaged. The reality is, everyone is busy reaching their own goals but with proper processes in place, this is easy. Seamless and user-friendly creative workflows enable everyone to easily adapt their brand guidelines to any brand asset quickly and effortlessly.

As every brand has a limited number of employee hours available, workflow automation takes redundant tasks off your team members’ to-do lists, they can fill those hours with higher-level work. The result is better productivity for your team. When knowledge workers answered a survey after their teams automated workflows, 86% reported that this change made them more productive.

Keep your branding and compliance on point

A key ingredient in building a successful brand is the ability to be consistent. A consistent brand can generate a 33% higher increase in overall growth, – an evident reason for making sure you have the platforms you need to succeed with your process.

For many creative teams, branding compliance is just an extra bottleneck in the constant battle to get campaigns launched on time. But in today’s digital environment, branding compliance has moved beyond just trademark attribution and copyright designations.

In fact,
78% of surveyed marketing teams said their work was subject to at least one type of compliance requirement. Properly managing brand integrity across channels is also a growing competitive differentiator; today’s consumers cite brand transparency as a major purchase motivator across industries, from FMCG to retail.

So why is creating compliant creative production processes still a blindspot for creative teams? Marketing departments are producing more content for more channels at a faster rate than ever before.

Also, given the breadth and reach of today’s omni-channel campaigns, the number of stakeholders involved in the sign-off can increase exponentially.

Every day, marketing teams experience the tension between quickly producing quality creative content across channels and ensuring that content production for all of these channels complies with the internal and external brand and industry guidelines. For those focused on chasing customer engagement across channels, ensuring compliance will often be an afterthought.

What is certain is that all the neglected elements of your campaigns can still be addressed through creative automation by allowing your teams or clients all across the globe to output the versions they need using your universal guidelines, without the constant need to keep teams accountable for their deliverables.

Personalize your content with owned branded data

With more privacy laws in place, personalization and individualization will be more difficult to achieve. However, it won't be an impossible task. Now more than ever, brands are going to rely on owned data to fine-tune multi-language campaigns or geo-location targeting for better engagement. 

As Marc Poelsma, Online Marketeer at Allianz Direct recently shared: “Allianz Direct is active in several countries so we have to make sure that the copy can be adjusted for our target groups in every country. And we also want to make some elements dynamic in the templates. For example, we want the opportunity to change some elements which can be different in every country. A person in Italy does look different than someone in The Netherlands for example. So we have multiple models in our campaigns, and these models are easily adjustable with the Storyteq platform.”

Focus on premium quality for your creatives

There’s still an opportunity for most advertisers to improve their media quality.
One of the best ways to do that is with efficient workflows, you’ll get to help your team be more efficient without sacrificing the high quality content that your audience loves you for.

According to The Drum, in a post-cookie world, the enormous untapped opportunity will remain on the creative itself; but before we even talk about how much planning goes into the creative, it’s also time to retire the typical ad we see and ignore every day.

Even this small shift towards how you conceptualize and craft the ads you deliver will improve results a lot faster than trying to replace what’s lost due to cookies.

Keep optimizing your creatives to gain valuable insights

 The only way to find out is by testing. All ad strategies and underlying processes should be focused on agility, flexibility, and having the ability to adapt to changing circumstances fast.

A more personalized ad experience brings you closer to your audience. And with improved segmentation comes the ability to deliver a more personalized experience. If you know where your audience is in the funnel then you can serve them with the ad that is best suited to their stage and their preferences.

“Storyteq is ideal for us to perform A/B testing. We can change a lot of dynamic elements in the templates and try what works best in our target audiences. This can be copy, color usage, models, etc. Using Storyteq makes it very cost- efficient because we can easily create these banners ourselves.” – Marc Poelsma, Online Marketeer at Allianz Direct

Coupled with information such as season and location, you can bring all of these elements together and suggest elements that can be used in re-engagement creatives for a more personalized experience.  Knowing the optimal location, color, size, etc. of a CTA button or an image is something that we can experiment with by always testing and iterating upon it.

However, this is usually limited to one variable. With creative automation, you can
create as many variations as you require to test multiple variables at any one time and offer insights on which was the most effective. For example, a marketer may have dozens of campaigns running simultaneously, all with at least 10 different elements in each creative asset.

Understanding which combination of elements, for example, colors, location on page, text, CTA, etc will help you analyze all of the possible combinations and gain insights into what delivers the best results.

Enable distributed collaboration at scale

What does it mean to be connected in a time when teams and platforms are more distributed than ever?

Today, enterprise knowledge workers switch between an average of 10 apps 25 times per day to execute work, resulting in unconnected communication, reduced efficiency, and duplicative work. In other words, instead of effectively moving work forward, many are switching and moving work back and forth between platforms in a struggle to collaborate effectively.

It’s challenging to keep any team aligned—whether distributed, remote, or in- office—but marketing teams can face particularly unique challenges. With so many different functions, platforms, and channels available, moving quickly, efficiently, and with everyone on the same page sometimes feels like an impossible task.

That’s where creative management—centralizing and standardizing workflows to enable production at scale—comes in. Essentially, when marketing teams embrace creative automation, it means there are systems in place—from who does what by when to what platforms are used for which tasks and types of communication—to help everyone stay aligned, organized, and productive. The result? Fewer missteps, increased velocity, and, ultimately, better digital marketing.

Curious to find out the ins and outs of creative automation? Storyteq recently published
an all-encompassing resource to help you execute a winning strategy. Learn more about Lytho's Brand Management Solution to help you achieve creative automation.

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