How We Approach Creative Strategy at Thesis

At Thesis, our creative offerings span across three verticals: post-production, studio, and user-generated content. But how do these teams collaborate to develop the initial creative strategy? How do we conduct client and competitor research?

How We Approach Creative Strategy at Thesis

At Thesis, our creative offerings span across three verticals: post-production, studio, and user-generated content. In a nutshell, we have a team of video editors and designers to create finalized assets, a production team to create high-end studio and on-site images and video, and we partner with creators to develop platform-ready assets that convert. 

But how do these teams collaborate to develop the initial creative strategy? How do we conduct client and competitor research? Where else do we draw our creative inspiration from? How do we decide which types of ad creatives to test first? 

How does all of that… turn into a creative strategy? 

This article will take you through our 5 Step creative strategy process from initial research to mapping out the actual creatives that we test on our clients to the ongoing process that keeps our creative strategy moving forward. 

Step 1: Establish the Creative Foundation. AKA What Has the Client Done So Far?

Before we can understand which creative direction the client should take, we first need to understand the branding guidelines, what’s already been tested, and gather robust knowledge about top/worst performers. 

During the sales process, this often begins in the Ads Library where we will gather a high-level understanding of what types of ads are currently being run in the account. We’ll aim to gather a rough estimate of information like: 

  • Is there a variety of creative strategies being tested? What is missing? Do they tend to use more branded or UGC-type content?
  • What type of UGC ads is being tested? Do they have assets that seem more geared towards TikTok or Reels?
  • Are they currently running any whitelisting campaigns with influencers?
  • Are there any messaging themes that are present in the assets or in the copy? 

Once access is given, we’ll also analyze the data directly in the ads accounts. The metrics we’re analyzing are unique to each client, but for the most part, we are looking at which assets drove the most amount of purchases for the cheapest costs. More specifically, we’ll document the following important metrics: 

  1. What were the top performers over the last 6 months? What are the top performers over the last 30 days? What have been the worst-performing creative tests over the last 6 months? This is going to help establish, in broad strokes, the types of ad creatives that we’ll potentially want to iterate on or be sure to steer clear from. As a gut-check, we’ll also quickly do an analysis of the highest conversion rates for ad creatives account-wise.  (Be sure to also speak with the client about “creative fails” from their perspective!)
  2. If they have video creative: which videos have the highest hook rates? This will help tell us which imagery and messaging has done the best job of “hooking” users. 
  3. Next, we’ll cross-analyze “hold rates” and unique outbound CTRs. When using these metrics in tandem, we’ll be able to see which subsequent imagery and messaging does the best job at holding users’ attention (hold rate) and encouraging them to make a low-risk action (CTR). 

Additionally, we are also going to look at overall breakdown data across the account and across the top performing creative tests. Specifically we’ll look at: 

  • Age 
  • Gender
  • Placements

When looking at age and gender, we are trying to get a sense of how accurate the targeting has been to date, aka how closely it is matching up with the clients’ perceived customer avatar. We’ll also cross-analyze how well the people that we are representing in the ads (like UGC) are within the actual demographics that the spend is being concentrated on. Specifically for placements, we’ll be looking at where Facebook has been concentrating the spend, looking for trends across Feed, Stories, and other placements. 

If there are big swings in performance for creatives at each part of the funnel, we’ll also analyze top performers in prospecting versus retargeting. 

Note: to track hook and hold rates, you’ll need to create a custom metric inside of Ads Manager. Here is how you can create those metrics: 

  • Hook Rate: 3 second video plays / impressions
  • Hold Rate: ThruPlays / impressions
  • Conversion Rate: Purchases / link clicks

Once our initial deep-dive on the ad account is completed, then we’ll go through our client’s branding guidelines. We’ll work with the client to understand strict “Do’s and Don’t’s” and other types of qualitative information about the brand. 

And then it’s on to “external” research. 

Summary: 

  1. Look at the brands’ Ads Library. 
  2. Once account access is given, look at top and worst performers based on the main KPI over the last 6 months and 30 days. 
  3. Look at hook rates, hold rates, CTRs, and CRs to see what imagery and messaging are driving the most value on individual creatives. 

^ Depending on the team, at Thesis we document these findings in a simple word document or in slide deck form. 

Step 2: Conduct Reputation and Competitive Research

Subjectively, my favorite part of the creative strategy research process is when I get to look at things located outside of the ad account. AKA reputation and competitive research! 

First, we take a look at how the brand is representing itself organically.  We’ll do a deep dive on organic social media channels, sift through the website, and sign-up for the email list. The big things we are looking for: 

  • What content and messaging can we borrow from these areas? What benefits seem to be the most commonly represented?
  • How does the brand respond to comments on organic channels vs on ads?
  • What kinds of content seem to drive the most engagement? 

Once you’ve sifted through the brands’ organic channels, it’s time to start diving into customer testimonials and experiences. In this part of the research process, we like to think like a customer who is about ready to convert, so we’ll conduct Google searches on common keywords and phrases like “*brand name*” and “*brand name review*”. We’ll separate bonafide press hits (earned and paid) from review sites to form a picture of how the public sees the reputation of the brand. We’ll also pull out key phrases around benefits that we can begin testing in ads. 

And then it’s on to competitor research. 

Unfortunately, we don’t have ad account access to our brands’ competitors. But we can still take a look at the Facebook Ad Library and make draw informed conclusions about which ads have the best performance. 

And we do this by looking at how long the ad has been running. The idea is this: the longer the ad has been running in the account, the better the performance it has. 

We’ll also take a look at the TikTok Top Ads Library to see which competitor brands are getting the best performance on the platform. Typically, we are looking at conversion-based campaigns and segmenting to the clients’ specific industries. 

While looking through both ad libraries we’ll ask ourselves the following questions: 

  • What trends are they using? What treatments are they using? Is there anything that is being repeated that we should test? How can we execute it better?
  • What hooks are they using? How can we build from that? 
  • Which platforms are they primarily developing content for? Are there any obvious gaps in their creative strategies? What opportunities are there for us to capatlize on?

To close out our external research, we’ll also check out keywords associated with our client on Google Trends

Summary: 

  1. Do a deep dive into all of your client’s organic social media channels. Take note of the content you’d like to repurpose for ads. 
  2. Conduct competitive research: check out Facebook and TikTok Ad Libraries, websites, and landing pages associated with paid media. 
  3. Look at Google Trends. 
  4. Document your findings for easy access. 

Step 3: Compile a list of features, benefits, and testimonials that can be used in messaging. 

There are two major parts to this step: 

  1. Compile the best testimonials across all social media and websites. Keep an eye out for which features/benefits are mentioned the most. 
  2. Digest the client’s brand guidelines and any other documents they have pertaining to the brand. 

Together, we’ll use this to develop a list of features, benefits, and the best testimonials. We’ll use this information to help develop the right messaging and scripts for the content. The actual format of this list is left up to the individual team, but often times is as simple as a Google Sheet to track what has been tested and in what format. 

This portion of the creative strategy process also involves asking the client a lot of questions about their brand and their customer to make sure that we’re headed in the right direction. While the actual sales process (before a client is onboarded) is mostly used to make sure the client is the right fit for Thesis’s creative services, this research portion ruthlessly dives in on the customer avatars and how we can create content that speaks to them. 

Some of the questions we ask clients to gain more clarity about their customer and value props: 

  • Who is your customer? What sets your product or service apart from competitors? Why should customer buy your product over the competitors? 
  • What are some of the problems that your customers face before they find your product/service? What are the other big stressors in their lives?
  • What other brands do your customers love? 
  • What do your customers enjoy doing in their free time? What do they prioritize above all else? 

Once we’ve compiled a list of the best testimonials and we have an idea of the best features and benefits to feature in ad content, we’ll then start prioritizing the production methods we will want to use to develop the content. Essentially: will we be hiring creators? Will we need to engage with the studio crew? What can be done with current content using the post production team?

Summary: 

  1. Compile a list of the best testimonials from all organic social, websites, and surveys. 
  2. Read through all the client’s brand guidelines and any other documentation they have. 
  3. Create a list of features and benefits. Note which ones were mentioned the most in testimonials and should be used in ad content. 
  4. Determine which production methods should be used: UGC/creators, studio team, post production-only, etc. 

Step 4: Develop the Initial Creative Roadmap

At this point, we’ve completed all of our initial creative and client research. Now it’s time to bring it all together and develop the creative roadmap for the next month. 

We deliver new creative assets to our clients weekly. So when beginning to work with a new creative client, we like to iron out the roadmap for the first month, so this nets out to four creative concepts we need to develop tickets for. 

At Thesis we work on a creative ticketing system: 

  1. Tickets are created by a team’s creative director or growth manager, which contain information about the concept we wish to execute on. 
  2. The ticket is sent via a project management software to be prioritized by the Growth Director, who will prioritize projects for the week. At this point, video editors are selected for each ticket. 
  3. A few days before the submission deadline, a video editor will begin the post-production work that is outlined in the ticket. 
  4. Each ticket will result in 3-6 assets that are executing on the same strategy, but each have one differing variable that is being tested; like the hook for instance. 

If UGC creators or studio production is needed, that is a completely separate process and can take 3-4 weeks to receive finalized assets. 

Typically, our creative roadmaps live inside a Google Sheets document so that we can track the creation and performance of each creative batch. 

But how do we decide on which concepts to execute on?

Once we get to this stage and have already completed our competitor research, we tend to have a pretty good idea of what kinds of creative concepts to test first. 

If the growth and creative teams need additional ideas, we also have Notion boards of our favorite creative concepts. We simply select the creative concepts and write out the tickets for the post-production team to execute on. 

And how do we zero in on the messaging that will make users convert? 

Specifically when scripting out UGC content, we lean into a simple outline that we can plug and play with all the research we had already conducted. 

This is what the typical UGC outline looks like: 

  1. Hook (What imagery and messaging can we use to stop users in the first 3 seconds?)
  2. Problem Agitator (How can we agitate or further describe a problem that the user experiences?)
  3. Product Introduction (Introduce the product as a solution to the problem.)
  4. Product How-To (If there is a quiz or some kind of detailed instruction to prep users for)
  5. Product Benefits/Testimonial (Showcase the best benefits and testimonials relating to the product.)
  6. CTA (Tell the user what to do… aka buy the product)

A sample script could look something like this: 

  • Cramps. Migraines. Mood swings. Heavy bleeding. 
  • I’ve read all of these books to try to take control of my health and control my awful period symptoms.
  • That’s why I was so glad to discover Elix recently on an Instagram ad. Elix is a custom blend filled with all natural herbs and botanicals that is tailored especially to my body. 
  • All you have to do is take a quick 10 minute quiz. And then Elix is delivered right to your door every single month. 
  • I used to get debilitating headaches and cramps that wold keep me in bed once a month. 
  • If you want to take control of your period in 2022, be sure to give Elix a try. 

Summary: 

  1. Iron out the first few creative assets that you want to develop. 
  2. If applicable, write out a script to be used to UGC. 
  3. Begin creating :) 

Step 5: Our Ongoing Process

Everything up until this point is essentially how we onboard creative clients and begin formulating their creative strategy. But their creative strategy is by no means “finished”. It still requires ongoing work and check-ins to make sure that we’re always learning from the assets we create and iterating to make improvements going forward. 

In a nutshell, our ongoing creative process looks something like this: 

  1. Creative meetings are held once monthly with the client to go over tested creative and learnings. Here we will also iron out the roadmap for another ~4 weeks. 

      2. Once per week, a batch will be delivered. 

      3. Each batch will go through a QA and approval process. That looks something like this: 

            a.   Asset is completed by a video editor > The asset is QA’d by a Growth Lead > Once approach internally, the asset is sent to the client > If necessary, changes are made > Once the asset is approved and finalized, it is launched into the account > The asset is monitored daily for performance. 

     4. Analysis is done ~weekly to scale or kill creative tests. 

      5. Ongoing research to be conducted throughout the month: 

            a.    Internal (to the brand): 

                      i.     Looking at recent email blasts

                      ii.    Checking in on social media channels for content opportunities

            b.    External (to the brand):

                      i.      Competitor research on Ad Libraries

                      ii.     Research on industry and platform trends

      6. Which brings us back to our monthly creative meetings! 

Summary:

Creative strategy research is NEVER over. You’re always analyzing and strategizing to GET better. 

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