ASSERT Yourself

I’ve been developing methodologies to help online advertisers create effective ads that reach any campaign’s goals. Although technologies we use to accomplish tasks will change, the methodologies should remain fairly stable.

I call the model that best describes the approach for designing online advertising ASSERT. The steps are:

  1. Attract consumer’s attention

  2. Show consumers the benefit
  3. Specify action to take
  4. Engage consumer
  5. Reinforce message
  6. Terminate transaction

Let’s zoom in for a closer look.

Attract Consumer’s Attention

The most basic law of communication is if you don’t have a user’s attention, you can’t deliver a message. In online advertising, that message is the ad’s focus.

The message can be a special offer or general branding. In either case, the goal is to deliver that message from the ad space to the consumer’s mind.

Attracting attention can be done in a variety of ways. You can present trigger words, such as “FREE,” “NEW,” “SPECIAL,” or “SEX.” Or you can use creative that moves, flashes, makes noise, or changes shape and size (consult with your ad serving company and publishers before attempting anything that may be construed as obnoxious).

Show Consumers the Benefits

People react to different stimuli for a variety of reasons. At the core of most behaviors is a search for benefit. We always seek things that will bring us toward pleasure and away from pain. To be attractive, an ad must present something that appeals to our sense of need. It must provide benefit.

Benefit statements quickly tell a consumer what the offer means to her. If the benefit matches the consumer’s perceived need, attention is captured. If not, the ad and its message elude the consumer’s consciousness.

Specify Actions to Take

Think of the ad as an extension of the advertiser. As a good host, the advertiser wants to make the consumer feel comfortable. It needs to help direct the consumer toward the ad’s goal.

In ads that focus on click-through as the primary action for the consumer to take, a need for explicit instructions is pretty much unnecessary. With interactive ads, actions the consumer can take include playing a game, filing out a form, printing a coupon, or downloading a screensaver.

Just as you’d tell a guest in your home the bathroom is “down the hall, second door on the left,” let the consumer know what actions to take to reach the benefit.

An example of the first three steps of the ASSERT model might be:

Looking for FREE investment advice? (Attract attention)

You can make millions during the next stock market boom! (Show benefit)

Send your email address and we’ll send you our FREE report! (Specify action to take)

Be a good host. Take the guesswork out of what needs to be done. Consumers will be happy to follow your lead.

Engage Consumer

Although different ads have different requirements, advertisers need to be able to hold consumers’ attention long enough to get them to complete the task that benefits them and matches the advertiser’s marketing goals.

For ads promoting brand awareness, the more time the consumer spends in the ad’s space, the stronger the branding effect. For this reason, many rich media ads attempt to create an environment (such as a game) where consumers might be willing to spend a minute or two.

Engagement approaches can include text, interactive elements to allow consumer involvement in the marketing process, offers, games, links, and animation.

Reinforce Message

While the consumer’s mind is in the ad space, the ad’s goal must be constantly reinforced until that message has been transferred from the ad space to the consumer.

If the ad is promoting brand awareness, it needs to be designed in such a way as to constantly reinforce the brand (and the brand’s benefits to the consumer).

If the ad focuses on an action goal, such as printing a coupon, providing data, or clicking, then the reinforcing message is driving the consumer toward completing the task.

Terminate Transaction

As with any hosting situation, your guests will eventually leave. If the consumer completed the task offered, thank her and let her get on her way.

Terminating the transaction provides two things: necessary feedback to the consumer and a nice, clean place to break off.

If the goal is to get the consumer to enter his email address and hit a “submit” button, it’s good practice to follow up with a screen that thanks him for the submission and informs him of the next step (e.g., “Thank you for joining the Northeastern Investor’s network. You will receive our daily newsletter starting tomorrow.”). This eliminates situations in which a consumer enters information into a field several times because the submission doesn’t appear to be working.

Different ads have different objectives and designs. By using the ASSERT model, advertisers can provide the most effective way to get the message from the ad space to the consumer.

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