Advertising legend David Ogilvy said, “On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
Ads have changed since then, and he certainly didn’t have the digital revolution in mind. But his message still applies: ads need to capture attention, and people decide quickly if they want to read them or not.
You can have the best content, landing page, experimentation strategy, and target audience, but if the ad doesn’t demand a click, who cares?
In 2023, the average person sees between 5,000 and 10,000 ads per day.
“Just think about that,” says Jonathan Bland, co-founder of Omni Lab, in his DEMAND session How to Build the Highest Performing Ad Creative. “You have radio, print, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, the small screens at the gas station. There’s a lot of noise.”
To make sure yours is one of the few they see—and click—you need to invest in creative.
This article looks at five actionable tips you can use to build high-performing creative, optimize for in-channel consumption, and create ads that don’t look like, well, ads.
The best ads aren’t merely the output of savvy designers who’ve mastered the most innovative ad formats and copywriters who’ve pooled their collective brainpower. If you look at the B2B companies with the best ads, they do a whole lot more than look pretty.
The highest-performing ads address a real problem and make it abundantly clear their product can solve it. Your ads must follow suit.
Every B2B buy stems from a problem; 93% of B2B buyers require a business case for all technology solutions.
Demand gen marketers use Metadata to automate low-value marketing tasks and drive more revenue.
Chief Customer Officers (CCOs) use Pendo to reduce churn.
Sales leaders use Dooly to eliminate admin tasks and win more business.
In some way, shape, or form, every B2B company exists to solve problems.
Your ads need to put that problem—or problems—at the center and make it clear that your product is the solution.
Every aspect of your ads, including the headline, creative, and calls to action, must reinforce that.
Remember: Your competitors are using ads to pitch the same solution to the same people. Why should your target audience click yours?
Here’s an excellent example from Dooly:
Every part of it—from the intro text to the creative and headline—speaks to their target audience’s challenge: sales reps missing their quota.
My only problem is with the CTA. Instead of saying, “Request a demo,” it could highlight their problem again with copy like, “Help your reps hit their quotas.”
Now let’s take a look at an example from BigCommerce.
This ad is lacking specificity and urgency. What problem does the platform solve? In this case, the lack of clarity could be the difference between a click and a scroll.
Understanding buyer motivation has always plagued B2B marketers. In a recent survey, 63% of B2B marketing executives identified this as one of their top three challenges.
Why? Because it’s always changing—and it’s doing so now more than ever.
CEOs who were all about driving net-new business are shifting their focus to customer retention and upsells. Managers who historically led teams in an office are now looking to use software to keep remote teams productive.
This demands constantly adapting to change.
While aspects of your ideal customer profile (ICP) will stay consistent long-term, good chunks won’t. Building ads under the assumption that your buyers haven’t changed is a risky move.
Instead, figure out what they care about today and tailor your creative to those outcomes and challenges.
How? Hop on a call with them and ask about their challenges and how your product helps them.
An equally valuable but lower-touch way to get these insights is to experiment with ad messaging. For example, you could run two ads highlighting different problems, similar to what Slack did below.
Smart targeting is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, you can build hyper-specific audiences to reach the smallest pocket of buyers online. On the other hand, these targeting powers are available to everyone natively or using demand generation tools. As a result, you’re likely fighting your competitors for the same people’s attention.
For example, marketers promoting expense management software target the same CFOs, while eCommerce solutions send messages to the same sea of founders.
This is the nature of the beast and one set to intensify in the coming years. According to eMarketer, digital ad spending in the U.S. will reach $248.72 billion this year, up by 12.5% from 2021. By 2026, that number is projected to reach $385.47 billion.
Given that your target audience sees similar product ads, how do you make yours stand out?
What makes you unique compared to the other people and ads out there?
This is where you highlight your go-to-market differentiator. For example, maybe you zoom in on the number of integrations you have or how your product is the only one tailor-made for a particular industry.
While product-based differentiation takes the cake, it’s not your only play.
In the example below, Salesforce touts the number of sellers using their tools. You can do the same—even if you don’t have thousands of customers—to lend light to your credibility and market presence.
Your POV doesn’t have to be complicated; it just has to set you apart and make your ad shine slightly brighter than the rest.
B2B companies are investing in content; 44% of responding companies placed content creation among their top three marketing areas to invest in.
That said, actions speak louder than words, and the difference between knowing and doing is huge.
Behind every good ad is an offer. Whether that’s an ebook, video, case study, or demo request page, every ad comes with a payoff. The best ads deliver on them.
Does LiveRamp actually tell me 40 ways to maximize my budget? If so, do they work?
The downfall of third-party cookies and other identifiers will continue to put audience targeting strategies under pressure. Shrinking budgets, rising ad costs, and intensifying competition will only compound that pressure.
That said, expectations are the same: Get your ads in front of the right people.
To do that, you need to understand your ICP and target buyers who fit perfectly within it.
By understanding your customers and their core challenges, you can create ads that look good and demand a click. You can also build out more thoughtful targeting and experimentation strategies to drive more efficiency—and dollars—from your campaigns.
Remember: You can create award-worthy ads, but it’s all for naught if the wrong people see
We covered a handful of steps you need to take behind the scenes to build high-performing ad creative. Let’s round out this article by diving into some tips you can apply to the actual ads.
People come to LinkedIn and Facebook to consume content, not click on an ad that redirects them to another site and asks them to fill out a form.
Instead of making people jump through hoops to consume your content, provide it—or at least some of it—directly on the platform, like Zillow did below.
Another increasingly common example is contextualized demos.
Historically, B2B marketers have approached demo requests with a gate (see below). LinkedIn’s taken steps to remove some friction via in-feed forms, but buyers are still forced to take another step—one they may not be ready to take.
Instead of forcing them to jump through work to see your product, strip friction from the equation with a short video showing how your product addresses a core challenge.
If you have your heart set on redirecting them to your website, likely for tracking purposes, consider providing an ungated demo there, as we do on our website.
Don’t worry about this level of in-feed optimization impacting performance, either.
“What we find when we do this [optimize for in-feed consumption], click-through rates and cost-per-clicks are often lower,” Jonathan Bland says in his DEMAND session. “The reason for that is that we’re building up trust and optimizing for the 99% of people who aren’t clicking on your ad.”
The highest-performing ads are the ones that don’t look like ads. B2B marketers are waking up to this, which is why native formats are becoming so popular.
When building your ad creative in 2023, focus on making them look as natural as possible. Your goal is to make them “behave” similarly to organic posts.
While social platforms don’t have a traditional native ad setting, there’s plenty you can do with the creative to make it blend into its surroundings—think removing your logo from the ad, cutting CTAs, and avoiding stock imagery like the plague.
The example below from Arrows is excellent, and its engagement rate shows that.
Another slept-on option is the low-quality video.
Here, low quality is a good thing: genuinely authentic and raw. Nothing screams “we want you to buy something” more than an ad that rivals something in Steven Spielberg’s archives.
High-performing ads don’t necessarily require a ton of resources. Are there companies out there that can help you create awesome ads? Absolutely, and they’ll come in handy when you need to scale.
That said, you don’t have to recreate the wheel.
Here’s an example: Take an existing webinar and break it into five or six snippets. Then run those as individual ads.
Not only is the core asset already live, which means you don’t have to start from scratch, but breaking up the webinar into bite-sized ads can significantly extend your reach.
Just look at the table below from Jonathan’s session, How to Build the Highest Performing Ad Creative.
By segmenting the webinar in a thoughtful way, he increased consumption by 17x—and it didn’t require a ton of resources (beyond creating the webinar).
When speaking about the table, Jonathan said, “Most people aren’t doing it on the right side [the new way]. They’re just thinking about the next piece of content.”
So, not only can you drive more value from existing content, but you can deliver your message in a way the competition may not be considering. It’s a win-win.
There was a time many moons ago when standing out with ads was relatively easy. Companies weren’t buying a ton, and the public sentiment was largely positive.
Today, B2B companies are pouring billions into ads to target a finite number of buyers. As a result, standing out is more challenging than ever.
To be the neon pink sheep in the flock, you need to invest in creating ads that address a real problem and make it clear that your product is the answer to all their woes. Do that—without hitting audiences over the head with an in-your-face ad—and the clicks will come.
To learn more about creating engaging ads, check out Jonathan Bland’s DEMAND 2022 session, How to Build the Highest Performing Ad Creative.
To check out all on-demand recordings, click here.