Raider of the Lost Art: Aimclear’s Merry Morud Revives Great Creative

Posted in Creative, Social Media

Great marketing should appear effortless when it’s done right. Marketers today manage more channels than ever and compete with an insane barrage of information, images, messages and sales pitches. The frenetic pace keeps accelerating while audience attention spans evaporate. Great creative is a marketer’s lifeline to success.

Madison Ave. madmen years ago authored the notion of amazing creative. They could sell anything to anyone through unforgettable words, images and film. They crafted memorable experiences for people in the emerging multimedia channels of the day.

As electronic media morphed into digital, precious few marketers have figured out how to apply classic creative acumen to our new universe of nonstop connectivity and audience interaction. Aimclear’s leading creative pro Merry Morud is among the mad(wo)men of the digital age. Established among digital marketing’s visionary experts, Merry routinely shares her thought leadership with audiences around the world.

We sat down with Merry to get back to creative basics in the midst of her Fall speaking engagement road trip, taking her from Sydney to SMX East. 

Aimclear (AC):  Marketing has changed so much in the last decade – going from long (30-second) TV ads and full page magazine spreads to today’s social-driven micro moments with audiences. What do you see as some of the universal challenges of marketing in 2017?

Merry Morud (MM): The barrier to entry for marketing has never been lower. Seemingly anyone can place ads in the channels. Let’s face it, the mechanics of marketing are pretty simple. It’s easy to slap stuff together that looks passable, check off a few targeting categories, and drive some measurable results.

The downside of such a low barrier to entry is a lot of mediocre marketing in what are truly exciting, dynamic channels. It’s super easy to create Facebook ads, at least in terms of their structure. It’s really hard, though, to craft a truly engaging, relevant, funny or fun ad.

Creating a true thumbstopper, however, is particularly challenging. I’m talking about the Facebook ad that forces the user to actually pause their scrolling, feel the tug on their heartstrings and decide to take some action.

AC: Let’s talk about that “thumbstopper.” Marketers often have an image and a few precious words to play with. How can marketers get the message to click in an instant?

MM: Crisp messaging is more essential than ever, as are unusual, funny, beautiful images. We’re talking about the same concepts from the heyday of TV and print advertising, but on steroids and at a frenetic pace. Many marketers discount the deep benefit of making someone smile with what they write, how they write and which images they use.

Give your audience a bit of joy without interrupting their day too much. It’s not always about knocking down the immediate sale. When they actually need a product or service, they quite likely will think of your brand because of the positive memory or affinity they gained from an ad they enjoyed.

Here’s an example: Personally, I’m not big on fast food. I typically don’t run to a fast food joint like Wendy’s, but would go if in a pinch. Why? Because Wendy’s is more like a person than a brand – something McDonalds, Burger King, and other fast food brands haven’t figured out. (Because it’s really hard!) Wendy’s has used social to develop a brand personality that is a bit snarky and doesn’t take any crap.

They brilliantly tread the daring line of being snarky and have been richly rewarded for it.

Search screen cap

I mean, geez, Cosmopolitan even wrote about Wendy’s clap back.

Brand marketing of old didn’t have the room for Wendy’s approach. Today we have more flexibility in social channels and Wendy’s has differentiated its brand to claim a place in consumer’s minds, including reluctant consumers.

AC: Let’s talk about Facebook ads vs search vs display. Each has a purpose, but what are some fundamental upside or downside of each?

MM: Selling via social channels totally works, but it can be even more powerful for branding, staying top of mind, and contributing to the customer’s journey. For pretty minimal investment, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other channels allow you to always push your brand to customers and prospects in channels where people go almost every day, in many cases multiple times a day, and spend GOBS of time just hanging out and catching up.

Contrast that notion with search where there’s high intent, but people don’t hang out there. Google is the place they go for a specific reason such as getting information about X, Y or Z. Social channels like Facebook and others are where people like to hang out, be seen and passively receive content. A typical user’s time in social channels is often less structured.

Display is another powerful channel, but injects big challenges for brands due to user frustration. Similar to search engines, users are there for a specific reason: to acquire knowledge or be entertained. The purpose is focused. However, display ad placement on publisher sites range from annoying to disruptive of the user’s goal. Recently, I grabbed a screenshot from my mobile, because of a BS Game of Thrones article. The piece was short, but LITTERED with ads. On mobile, the ads devoured half the screen and made it downright arduous to read. I nearly abandoned the piece of content without payoff.

Mobile creative clutter

(BTW – the headline payoff is the orange box. Teeny tiny compared to how loaded the piece of content was with images and ads – which of course impacted the page load time.)

Another example: I recently looked up the weekly Menards sales flier and found the whole page above the fold was full of display ads.

Example ad creative

Ads within ads… super meta, right?

And of course the flier content is paginated. 🙄

On those paginated pages I battled through more display ads, above the fold.

Example ad creative

This illustration isn’t meant to bash display (though, it is getting ridiculous), but rather highlight how benign Facebook ads can be compared to display. Most users aren’t on Facebook for a goal, so they’re likely more receptive in that environment. Psychologically, consumers are there to pass time and graze on content.

Think of it like this: display ads can be like trying to read a textbook in the middle of grand central station, where Facebook is like agate hunting on Lake Superior – laid back, killing time, looking for something cool. Interruptions here aren’t nearly as annoying because your purpose is casual and meandering.

When crafted beautifully, people can actually be more receptive to ads in those environments because they let content wash over them and THEY pick things of interest, be it posts from family or friends and ads that hit the mark.  

Tying this all back to creative, as users hunt for next cool thing, it’s our job as creative marketers to craft not just passable, but exceptional creative to make users choose our content, product, or brand. Creative needs to be engaging and something people WANT to consume in their social channels. It cannot be forced.

AC: Standing out in social ads sounds a bit like the old concept of “interrupt” in traditional marketing. Is it the same or different?

MM: We always need to interrupt in channels, but the art is really in HOW we interrupt people. For example, I loathe autoplay videos with sound or autoplay display ads on publisher sites. I’m not even sure I know of anyone who has a neutral reaction to these, let alone positive. Why are we still doing this to ourselves? I digress. Depending on where I am physically, these ads may negatively interrupt what I’m doing or thinking, along with those around me. Unwelcome interruptions only force me to exit or hit “mute” quickly.

Interruption today is much more art compared the interrupt of old. We need to disrupt in an elegant, human way and mesh into the channel’s tone and style. The tone should be personal, human, approachable and friendly. Going in hot for the sale can often backfire.

Stunning images and approachable language that incite action are key. Flip side, a totally safe, standard ad will be missed. Stand out. Don’t grab user attention. Win it.

AC: Many marketers face big challenges crafting great creative in constrictive corporate environments. How should corporate marketers reshape thinking around social?  

MM: First, when it comes to creative and social ads, remember you can’t and shouldn’t try to say everything in the ad. You just need users to take the next step, such as clicking to a landing page, viewing a video, click-to-call or another action. You don’t need to earn the sale. That’s the landing page or website’s job. Facebook ads and social are where you get users to take the next step and build your audience pool.

Earning the next step from a social ad can be like pulling teeth in corporate settings. Too many cooks in the corporate kitchen or long standing beliefs that a brand shouldn’t even be in social at all. “Our customers don’t buy our stuff on Facebook” is a pretty common reaction from those not in marketing. It can be excruciating in B2B to convince internal stakeholders that audiences 1) actually do hang out in Facebook, and 2) are open and receptive to interacting with brands in this discovery channel. Remember, it’s not about getting the sale from a single Facebook ad, it’s about building qualified audience cookie pools for retargeting via psychographic targeting and branding.

Guess what, though. Job titles showed up in Facebook interests way back in 2007. Turns out a big driver of an individual’s self-identity is their job title, the type of work they do or even the company where they work. People are not interested in “data technician” – they ARE a data technician at their core.

We have great opportunity to target by job title AND income AND what kind of company AND where they work AND how big the company is AND what kind of home they have AND what kind of car they drive AND the publications they read like Inc. or TechCrunch. In Twitter, we can target by sales revenue or whether a business is woman owned and countless other attributes. The level and depth of targeting and layers that allow us to find specific corporate customers in Facebook is stunning.

We’ve long advocated branding to B2B prospects in social. Maybe they don’t spend time at work on Facebook, but they are still an electronic engineer or VP of finance after 5 pm when browsing FB on the couch. Our occupations define much of who we are and are core to our psychographics. People don’t shut off their occupational persona when they punch the proverbial clock. 

AC: The various creative options in a marketer’s toolbox each have strengths and weaknesses. Let’s start with images. We see so many images each day, what should marketers consider when selecting or creating imagery for social?

MM: So many challenges to discuss and so little time. First, marketers and clients often believe the image must be literal with the copy. Sometimes the two working together is great. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter.

No one will read the copy if the visual element fails to induce a pause. Of course, some people like my mom scroll through every post and they read them one-by-one. I’ve watched her do it and it drives me nuts. Not the behavior of a typical Facebook user, though.

The visual element is the thumbstopper that gets users to pause for a moment to read the context around it. Stunningly beautiful almost always works. Weird also works – often really well. It’s the old display trick that uses a super close-up image of something weird or gross and you can’t really tell what it is, and the headline will be clickbait crap like “A family’s shocking discovery under a 97 year old grandma’s bed. You’ll never believe where it came from.”

Out-of-place visuals almost always force users to pause because their brain recognizes a disconnect within milliseconds. Without intention, the user digests the copy around the weird thing to reorient their brain. The eye typically gravitates to the headline, because we’ve been trained that images have captions and the headline is bigger and bolder than the rest of the text in the ad type.

The inconvenient truth about social marketing – people scroll on mobile screens at a rate of 1.7 seconds per item. You have about a second and half to win attention in social channels. The likelihood of winning the click drops even more if brand standards prevent marketers from producing a visually exciting ad. 

Images earn the attention. Copy wins the click. The landing page sells the product.

AC: Let’s shift to video. We see more video almost daily on social channels while the channels themselves are investing huge sums to be THE source for video views. How should marketers approach video as part of their social marketing mix?

Facebook is really pushing video, giving it much more weight in the News Feed algorithm. LinkedIn is not far behind. Data clearly tells us video posts are better at engaging viewers and being a great thumbstopper. Trouble is, creating great moving visuals takes time. Great tools can help with creating effective videos, but still usually requires more work than static images.

Because Facebook gives more weight to video, marketers who use video effectively will likely see much better distribution and engagement. Quite simply, moving images are typically more compelling and eye catching. But again, think about the mobile scroll of 1.7 seconds, video must to be great from frame-1 of the content to get them to pause and engage. The first 1.5 seconds have to be exciting. There is no room for a slow build or slow introduction or some sort of static corporate title slate. The first frames have to reach the viewer at their core and reel them in.

The really powerful thing Facebook is doing with video is providing advertisers the ability to retarget users who viewed X-percent of the video. With compelling content and retargeting opportunities, video can be a fabulous brand play. The steps are easy: Roll out the campaign with awesome video to introduce, then retarget those who watched X percent with followup ads. Followups could be more about specific product sell, because you know people invested some time to watch and theoretically already be familiar with the brand. Video can be an inexpensive way to reach people in Facebook, especially if the video catches and locks the viewer – if even for ten or fifteen seconds.

Another option for marketers that may find video out of reach, consider creating slideshows in much the same manner. Craft a slideshow with a handful of great images. Include minimal, catchy text and play the slideshow at 1 second per image. You may see engagement that approaches the level of video and it can be inexpensive and easy to create. Marketers can gain the same kind of retargeting opportunities as video.

From an organic standpoint, video carries more weight due to engagement potential compared to a static image. Brands are trying things like turning static images to a video file with some sort of movement or element that creates something more eye catching. Hover over such an image and you’ll see the video scrubber bar, but rarely will you hear sound if you click on the image. Some brands have seen big engagement with this tactic, but we’ll see how long before Facebook will deem what is and isn’t actual video.

AC: If people take one thing from this article, what do you want that to be?
MM: Simple. Do everything you can to make that “thumbstopper” moment. Respect the way people want to engage in social. Be of value. Never ever underestimate the power of really great creative. It was a game-changer on Madison Ave. many years ago. It’s a game-changer today.

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