Marketing Automation

How to Use Templates to Enhance Your Creative

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In marketing circles, “template” can be a dirty word. To many professionals, it implies you’re not creative enough to generate anything original. Maybe this is because creative is often synonymous with ownership: Every artist wants to look at his work and say, “This is mine.” Besides, who wants to show employers and clients a portfolio filled with cookie-cutter content?

Ask any writer, musician, or sculptor why they do what they do, and they’ll probably say something about connecting with people. This couldn’t be more essential to marketing, a field dependent on reaching and resonating with an audience so it might seem logical to avoid the template or “cookie cutter,” right?

Not necessarily. Templates don’t have to be paint-by-number outlines. They can be blank canvases—creative springboards for your most brilliant ideas and amazing vehicles for delivering personalization on a massive scale.

A Secret Weapon

Templates are a paradox: They provide some rigid guidelines to your ideas, yet they can make your work more daring and original. Starting with a template allows you to experiment with a wide range of concepts and see what works best. Think about all the golden ideas you’ve had to ditch in favor of something else. With templates, you can get more content in your customers’ hands and avoid this problem.

Fortunately, when you use the right template, you don’t have to sacrifice quality for efficiency. At RAPP, we’ve used templates to send quick, personal emails when we started developing content for McDonald’s restaurants. We created a design template system that lets us deliver emails at the speed of consumer behavior. But because we can deploy these emails dynamically, we can still customize them to appeal to individual customers. This way, we are efficient without sending generic form letters to our customer base.

Modular templates allow you to use data to achieve personalization at scale. We create modules for McDonald’s that speak to individual data points we have on a customer. Say a person who uses the McDonald’s app and has purchased beef previously receives an email. It might contain the latest offer for a Quarter Pounder with cheese and content that pushes the customer to use McDonald’s mobile ordering. Meanwhile, a person who has purchased chicken and subscribes only to email, receives content promoting the new Glazed Chicken Tenders, as well as content driving her to download the app. Instead of creating and deploying two full emails, we create individual modules that are assembled dynamically.

Even if you’re not infatuated with the ideas you’ve narrowed down, templates get your work into the market faster. 30% of marketers claim they don’t have time to design their ideal marketing campaigns anyway, making templates your safest option to stay at the forefront of customers’ minds.

Making the Transition

Once you’ve warmed up to using templates, however, the battle has just begun. Maximizing your templates’ potential is an art in itself, but you can make it work.

Try these steps to make your content timelier and more appealing:

1. Get Everyone Involved

It’s important that every discipline is represented in test planning. Optimal test planning happens when analytics brings insights and data points for the teams to capitalize on; strategy helps make those insights empathetic to the customer, and creative brings those to life in the most compelling ways. From a test-planning perspective, all disciplines need to be involved so that they understand the end-to-end implications for the customer and the business.

The whole point of multivariate tests is that they allow marketers to make multiple changes, freeing their minds to try anything. With these inhibitions lowered, marketers can be more productive. That said, marketing is a data-driven field. Creatives can come up with innovative ideas only if they’re working with accurate, relevant information. Because intuition will only get you so far, combining current data with a visionary mind is what makes this a solid first step in the campaign optimization process.

2. Look at Your Tools

As a marketer, there are thousands of tools to choose from for every possible need for your business. Content creation is a time-consuming process. It’s also important to note that what works for Company A in 2015 may not be what works for Company A in 2019. A continual evaluation process with key stakeholders will empower your team to adapt and grow alongside technology instead of being pulled by innovation unwillingly or being forced into a new option due to necessity.

When evaluating your tools and software, you should consider your company’s growth plan as well as what you will need to scale up to your goals. Growing your business requires the ability to scale, learn, and pivot alongside your customers as things change—and you need technology that will scale with you.

3. Embrace the Agile Method

In today’s warp-speed world, being quick is crucial. Organizations need to be agile, shifting from quarterly and calendared planning to real-time responses to customer behaviors when necessary.

Remember: Just because you’re creating something doesn’t mean it’s a valuable use of your time. If you’re using the traditional waterfall approach, you could spend six months and half your budget shooting a commercial flop. While you definitely should have some long-term plans in place, it’s more important than ever to be nimble. Templates offer a tremendously effective way to churn out an idea quickly. A huge cultural moment tonight could be the perfect springboard for tomorrow’s marketing message.

Remember when the lights went out at the Super Bowl a few years ago? Oreo had the team and the template in place to respond to just about any phenomenal play or cultural moment; it just so happened to be a power outage. If you have the parameters of a template in place, you’re halfway there.

The downside is that using templates isn’t as easy as throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. While you may be following a predefined structure, no one’s telling you what to create. But that’s good news: It means the old stereotype is dying, and templates aren’t actually a cheater’s choice. If you’re using a template the right way, no one will ever know the difference anyway.