Six Crucial Banner Tips From the Media Guy

I’m often vexed that online media professionals are typically 100 percent on the hook for a campaign’s performance when the creative typically determines whether a well-planned and -targeted campaign succeeds or fails. People often forget that media will only put you in front of the right people, while the creative (banners and landing pages) make people react, interact, click, take action, and convert.

This occurred when I was involved with a small campaign for a business-to-business (B2B) tech company. It had a product for bank IT staffers, and we placed ads on Bank Systems and Technology, BankInfoSecurity, “Banking Technology” magazine, and more. All the stars seemed aligned on this one, the media hit the target square on the head, and the offer in the banner was a valuable report from well-known analysts.

The campaign tanked.

The client quickly blamed the media plan. However, if we couldn’t generate interest for a banking technology industry report on a site like Banking Technology, this company had a bigger problem than a bad media plan.

The real problem was the creative was provided by another agency that didn’t know what it was doing! First, the banner was a ultra-creative and so ethereal that people didn’t get it. People had to think way too much to discover the product and offer relevance. Second, and this was the bigger problem, the offer didn’t appear for 19 seconds. Who’ s going to wait for 19 seconds in a looping banner to see an offer?

Rather than cancel all the media that clearly hit the right audience, we stepped in and created some banners (for free) to salvage the situation. Instead of ultra-creative, the banners were ultra-pragmatic. Pragmatic tends to resonate more with some crowds, especially IT professionals who want to get to the point. We produced very simple, non-animated banners: a white background, a small company logo, a picture of the white paper cover, and text that read, “Special 2008 IT security and compliance report from the X Group — download now.” Our banners were so non-banner-like that they looked like navigation or content being offered by the publication. Needless to say, the click rate went from zero to over 2.5% and the conversion rate was huge.

Below, the lessons learned.

Know Your Audience

Match the banner technology, storyboard, and imagery to your audience and its likely state of mind on a particular site. Especially for B2B or serious consumer products, people aren’t performing research as a leisure-time activity. They’re looking for serious information and don’t have time to play a game or stare at a banner for 20 seconds. You must grab attention and allow audience members to get something of value quickly and efficiently. If you sell a video game, promote a movie, or advertise a product on leisure sites where people spend time, then the more flash, glitz, and pizzazz the better. In other words, don’t serve a sit-down dinner to someone who only has time for a coffee break.

Start With Success Metrics

Every campaign is a branding campaign until the client looks at the reports. Start the creative process for online ads with the desired behavior you are trying to encourage. Keep in mind the campaign’s success metrics. Creative folks will cringe when I say this, but here it goes: metrics then message. If you approach the creative process from this standpoint, you will be more likely to make your calls to action the campaign’s centerpiece. Results will be better.

Answer the Question, What’s in It for Me?

When people look at ads or perform research online, they are typically asking two questions: how will you help me, and what do you have for me right now? A Google/Millward Brown study shows that over 70 percent of what influences a click in a search ad is from the benefit statement and call to action. The same applies to banners. Write down your benefit and offer statements, and make sure they are the foundation of your ad copy.

Get to the Point and Stay There

Don’t make people wait around for the banner payoff. Use reverse-pyramid-style messaging: start with your offer. Then make the offer/call to action ever-present in the banner. With skyscrapers, make sure the offer has static placements at the top and bottom of the unit.

Broaden Your Horizons

List all possible ad units a campaign could include, and design around the entire spectrum of sizes and possibilities. I often see concepts that will only work as a certain size. Make sure your concept can accommodate skyscrapers, leader boards, boxes, and 468 x 60 ads, as well as text ads and buttons. Squeeze that strong offer in everywhere you can!

Lock and Load

You launched a campaign with multiple versions or concepts and found the one or two that work best. What about when they stop working? As soon as you get an idea of what works, start working on the next round to layer into your campaign. That way you aren’t wasting impressions on tired creative while you scramble to produce the next round. Clients can take a long time to approve things, especially if they need to go through compliance. Start your next round of banners as soon as possible.

That’s it for now. Please send me any ideas you have!

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