Over the last two decades, as the internet and globalization ratcheted up competition to unprecedented levels, brand marketing budgets have steadily shifted to performance marketing programs. Economic downturns have only exacerbated this shift, pushing brands to prioritize immediate returns over long-term brand health — and with CMO tenures of top advertisers hovering around 3.3 years, senior marketers are under more pressure than ever to show immediate results.
The data clearly demonstrates this shift. A study by Gartner found that brand marketing budgets have declined as a percentage of total marketing budgets from 12.1% in 2016 to 9.1% in 2023. At the same time, performance marketing budgets have increased from 23.9% in 2016 to 30.2% in 2023, with most of those budgets going to walled gardens.
Performance marketing teams are now managing campaigns that are up the funnel
Ironically, as performance marketing budgets grow, teams are now tackling tasks beyond the lower funnel. Major publishers like Google, Meta, and Amazon, eager to boost ad revenues, have expanded their ad programs to span the entire customer journey. Consequently, performance teams increasingly manage more mid and upper-funnel campaigns than ever, where creativity plays a key role. Unlike bottom-funnel tasks, which focus on price-sensitive, decided consumers, these upper stages require nuanced creative strategies to truly influence behavior.
So, the time has come for performance marketers to stop treating creativity as an expendable asset and recognize it as an integral component for long-term success. Contrary to the narrow view that ‘the creative that performs best is the best creative,’ the nuanced reality is that the right creative at the right time at the right place can be just as powerful a tool as all of the other levers have been to performance marketers.
To many performance marketers, creative assets are just fodder for the data-driven machine, pitted against each other for incremental gains.
This metric-centric approach misses a crucial point: compelling creative’s immeasurable value in both driving growth and building a brand.
As performance marketers increasingly garner more of the media budget — and more mid- and upper-funnel campaigns — they must stop relying on spreadsheets and better understand the art and science of creative beyond base KPIs.
Five Reasons You Must Radically Rethink the Role of Creative in Performance Marketing
In the world of performance marketing, creativity often takes a back seat. However, it’s time to change that mindset.
Here are five compelling reasons why you should rethink the role of creativity and elevate its importance in your marketing strategy:
Creativity = cuts through the clutter
Creative ad content in a crowded marketplace ensures your message is heard over the noise of your competition. For performance marketers interested in short-term ROI, 47% of sales impact in advertising comes from effective creative — almost half of your sales conversions can be attributed to how creatively compelling your message is.
Moreover, a Kantar study backs up this point by revealing that creative and effective ads generate more than four times as much profit as less creative ads. For performance marketers, you must better understand your creative assets beyond click-through rate if you want your ads to be consumed by users. And a survey from Celtra found that 85% of U.S. adults are more likely to trust a brand with high-quality and well-designed ads.
Emotion = memorable storytelling
Data may provide you with the ‘who,’ ‘where,’ and ‘when,’ but brands can use ad creative to give customers the ‘why.’ The emotional component of your ads can be the secret sauce in motivating clicks and conversions. A Google study has shown that 70% of a campaign’s success is determined by the creative aspect, emphasizing that compelling emotional storytelling is not just fluff—it’s a strategic necessity.
Performance marketers should aim for a balance between complex numbers and emotional impact. Of course, if one ad is crushing it on the metrics, stick with it. But when several ads perform almost the same, they should go with emotion and tell a good story. In such cases, choosing emotional connection over numbers is best for long-term brand building.
Engagement = sales down the road
Engagement isn’t just a metric; it’s a conversational doorway to conversion because not every click or like turns into an immediate sale. Engagement is the critical, initial activity between a consumer and a brand that one day will blossom into a brand-customer relationship. The Association of National Advertisers found that performance marketers investing in creativity see a 19% lift in conversion rates. And a more engaged audience is more likely to take action, contributing to those short-term wins you’re looking for.
Consider how great creative — if highly engaging — can grab attention and collapse the funnel, taking consumers from initial awareness to conversion in a single impression. TikTok, for example, combines entertainment and commerce to create a seamless experience from discovery to purchase and beyond.
That’s the power of engaging content!
Also, a HubSpot study reported that 72% of marketers say that creative content is the most essential factor in their marketing strategy. By prioritizing creative content, you’re not just throwing aesthetics at the wall—you’re laying a foundation for measurable engagement and conversion.
Branding = long-term payoff
For performance marketers, the end game is often quick ROI, making it easy to sideline creativity as a “nice-to-have.” However, this view must be more realistic and include the symbiotic relationship between brand building and performance advertising. Brand marketing was always about performance—just not immediately. Its goal is to build brand equity within each and every customer so that when they reach for a product or service to solve a need, they think of your company first.
Investing in ad creative isn’t just about aesthetics; it’s a strategic move with immediate and long-term payoffs. When your brand resonates with people, you build a tribe of loyalists. These aren’t just one-time customers; they’re your brand advocates who buy from you repeatedly and become your word-of-mouth marketers. This makes your performance advertising way more effective.
Ultimately = it always mattered
The most important reason performance marketers should rethink the role of creativity is that it always mattered. Most of the time, performance marketers never even examine the ads they get from their creative teams. They’ve been taught — and rightly so — that every asset must be tested. That assumptions do not trump data, and the right answer to which creative is best is simply it must be tested.
But, frankly, ad messaging is vital to the brand-customer relationship. It frames the brand in the consumer’s mind. It helps the user understand your brand’s solutions and reminds them that you exist. The tone you take in your ad messaging has to be right. The offers have to align with your vision. The imagery, fonts, colors, boxes, etc. tell the world who your brand is beyond just a product or service.
Yes, creative has always mattered. Performance marketers know this, they’ve just been trained to test and learn that with so many daily tasks, they have turned over creative decisions to conversion rates and ROAS. However, moving forward, these teams must get great at understanding their creative’s impact on customers beyond KPIs to succeed.
Master your performance marketing creative strategy with Skai
By integrating creative flair into their full-funnel strategies, performance marketers can elevate their campaigns from mere transactions to meaningful, memorable interactions. Ultimately, it’s about harmonizing data and creativity to achieve sales and sustainable growth. The age of performance marketing is upon us, and it’s up to marketers to adapt and take their approach to the next level with a true, sophisticated understanding of the power of creative.
Skai is the only omnichannel marketing platform for performance advertising with deep capabilities to ensure your creative tasks are data-driven and AI-powered. We’re helping marketers connect the walled gardens across retail media, paid search, paid social, and app marketing, making true omnichannel performance marketing a reality. We’ll keep you at the forefront of the digital evolution with data and insights, marketing execution, and measurement tools that work together to drive powerful brand growth.
For more information or to see our cutting-edge creative innovation for yourself, please schedule a quick demo with our team.