First: The Golden Rule
You’ve heard it before, the universal golden rule: keep it simple (stupid).
Not the golden rule you expected? Thought so. Consider a slight tweak to the order of this phrase: keep it (stupid) simple. Translation: keep it (beyond) simple.
Adjust your advertising lens.
While you likely perceive this cliche as ‘throwaway’ advice, it’s woven into the fabric of B2B demand generation. Consider it from a different perspective: that of a designer.
We see it plenty at OM, brilliant small business owners with a solid product offering who struggle to capture the attention of their target audience. Business and marketing minds are often guilty of forgetting to adjust the advertising lens when developing B2B marketing strategies.
Forget the frills.
If you ask our in-house design experts, they’ll quickly recite the golden rule, politely reminding you that what matters most is the message. “Forget the fluff and frills,” as Director of Production Mark Bunker puts it. “Over-design is the real villain. Remove the non-essential and stick to communicating your one or two key points efficiently and effectively.”
We recently forced our designers to pry away from their multi-screen work setup and log off of the creative cloud to help us think like them. Now we’re sharing those insights.
Key Design Elements of Impactful Display Ads
To take our own advice and keep it simple, we’ve taken a systematic approach to define the key elements of impactful display advertising. Each element has a corresponding recommendation from our design team.
1) Optimize the Obvious: Messaging
The ‘why’ is obvious. Display ads expand reach beyond keyword search campaigns, targeting the user with more engaging content at the right place and time.
For example, the Google Display Network boasts a reach of over 35 million websites and apps, but regardless of the choice of platform, the rule of thumb is the same. “Don’t make it a landing page,” warns UX Designer Daniel Perez. “Too often, the core message is drowned out by an amalgamation of block text. Marketers try to say everything at once and thus say nothing at all.”
If your display ad contains text that takes on a shape of its own, you’re sabotaging the objective. Remember that 96% of digital ads are viewed for less than two seconds. Can you read the text copy on your graphic in such time? If not, consider shifting text to the ad copy itself.
Recommendation: Start by optimizing the message on your graphic. Less is more.
2) Ensure Proper Branding
Word of advice, fonts matter.
There’s a reason B2B companies pour over seemingly identical typefaces for days (sometimes weeks) to identify that ‘perfect fit.’ It represents their business. And not just their business, their identity, their style, and most importantly, the tone they want to set with the end consumer.
“Fonts are attributed to a specific audience,” says designer Demetrius Daniels. “Businesses invest so much time and energy to ensure their brand resonates with a target audience. It’s a mistake not to unify branding throughout marketing activities.”
Any digital marketer worth their salt recognizes the impact of the font on the user experience as a tone-setter. Beyond aesthetic value, consistent branding provides congruity, harmonizing the ‘feeling’ users get from multiple marketing touchpoints.
Recommendation: Ensure your branding (especially your font) is well represented and remains consistent.
3) Consider the User Flow
Perhaps the most understated aspect of impactive design is user flow. “People focus on the ad but not necessarily on the flow,” says Mark. “The landing page must complement the ad. If it doesn’t seem natural, you may have missed the mark with respect to universal messaging.”
As a straightforward example, consider a display ad that promotes a ‘free-trial.’ No need to close your eyes, but imagine the type of content you’d expect to see after clicking on the corresponding URL. If you’re/we’re being honest, you’d probably admit to expecting more info on the free trial, perhaps a form to fill out or a number to call.
Frustration would likely ensue should you click that ‘free trial’ ad just to jump through additional hoops with vague language and an unclear call-to-action. Beyond the obvious must-haves like ‘free-trial’ verbiage, the landing page should build trust by functioning as an extension of the ad itself, an unvarying presentation (i.e., uniform color scheme, etc.).
Now consider a landing page that works. What do you envision? Likely something straightforward, with language derivative of the ad copy. The fundamental difference between these pages? Tremendous drop-off due to a lack of congruity.
Recommendation: The user experience doesn’t end after the click; adjust your marketing materials accordingly.
4) Engage By Standing Out
Just stand out. Got it? Good. If only it were that simple…
We acknowledge that there’s no unique recipe for standing out amongst the noise competing for a user’s attention (aka ‘click’). Mark proclaims, “The best advice I can give you is to zig where others zag. Take Nike, for example. Their marketing efforts are so impactful because they’ve perfected the art of storytelling.”
In more practical terms, it helps to start small. Think through your imagery. Most images feel overly stock or robotic and lose that crucial storytelling component. There are opportunities to communicate the core message without filling space with what you believe to be relevant (remember, less is more).
Do you want your ad to be so eye-catching that it stops a user’s scroll? Or do you have the perfect product you want to share with the world?
Impactful design adds to the user experience without compromising the objective. “When I begin selecting images, I account for formatting and ensure what I’m producing feels natural,” says Daniel. “The user, even if unknowingly, prefers this to something that could have been made via Canva.”
Recommendation: Build a user story that compliments your objective. Eliminate ‘clutter’ that distracts from your core message.
When All Else Fails, Live By the Golden Rule
When in doubt, refer to the golden rule. Above all, it’s most important to keep it simple.
Don’t overcomplicate the user journey with unnecessary messaging or additional steps. Identify your value proposition and align your graphic accordingly.
As Demetrius wisely puts it, “There are too many external stimuli competing for your user’s attention to overcomplicate your ad.”
Remove the noise. Focus on the signal.