Do Ads Work? Yes, But Don’t Squander Attention

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Christopher G. Fox

Someone asked me a fascinating question last week. I was describing my point of view on thought leadership and the value of in-depth, ideas-driven content. I said that thought leadership provides the best way to connect with an audience. In B2B fintech and banking marketing content, thought leadership often has the highest impact on someone’s buying decision. The question was, “do you believe that advertising still has any value, and does it make sense for companies in this industry to use their marketing budget on it?”

Advertising does still make sense, but marketers should think about it holistically. Assuming ads are high quality, well-designed, and include compelling, well-crafted Calls to Action, they can provide an excellent way to get people’s attention.

Keep in mind that when someone sees an ad, they are typically doing something else (such as reading industry news, searching for something, scrolling through a social feed.). Your ad has to draw enough of your audience’s attention to stay in their mind and lead them to take some later action (that’s the only option in the case of non-digital ads) or divert themselves by taking unintended actions (i.e., clicking through).

Many factors go into the effectiveness of any specific ad. The only further point I want to make about ad content is that the more content there is, the more advertisers need to think through whether even a sliver of thought leadership needs to work its way into the copy. Think about a one-page ad, a larger display ad, or a pre-roll digital video spot. After the main brand message, there is the potential to convey an idea or a point of view, which in turn is what makes the ad memorable or actionable.

But let’s assume the ad works, by whatever means (ideas-driven, emotional, or other). What happens for the audience after an ad has made a good enough impression on them that it got their attention? What happens next determines whether or not your advertising budget is money well-spent.

In the case of high-stakes buying decisions such as fintech and financial services, there are three choices.

    • Make sure that the next stages of the funnel take that seed of attention and grow it into increasing levels of trust
    • Take people to a landing page that asks for immediate conversion (i.e., the gated content or lead magnet tactic) without
    • Squander the audience’s attention by taking them somewhere generic, dull, and unactionable such as a home page or a product page

Clearly, the first option is the best way to make ads effective in fintech and financial services. In this scenario, advertisers reward people for responding by giving them meaningful insights that build trust right away. They also give people a reason to go deeper, with enough trust in the value of what will come next to share contact information and proceed through the funnel.

For example, an executive summary, infographic, or video can share a few unique and compelling insights or top-line research findings right on the landing page without asking for anything in return. As a result, this next experience earns people’s trust by signaling quality, building trust, and earning permission for the next ask, whether that be a lead submission or a subscription to email updates.

The second option does precisely the opposite of cultivating trust. It squanders attention. We all have had this kind of experience before. We find a link or an ad promoting a whitepaper or research study. When we click through, we get to a landing page with a one-sentence description of the content and a lead capture form. After we submit our information and download the content, we get a barrage of spammy emails, and sometimes even a phone call within a few minutes if we’ve been honest enough to share our real number. Of course, some people will continue to progress through such a funnel, but at the cost of alienating so many other people and teaching them never to download your content again if they want peace.

The third option doesn’t bear much discussion, other than noting it happens far too often, and it’s such an unfortunate waste of a marketing budget. As with option two, it teaches people that it’s not worth their time to respond to your ads because you have nothing to say.

Ad spend can have real ROI, even in a world where everyone’s attention is overwhelmed. The key to success is making sure you give something back in return for the attention that you attract.

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