Design choices have business impact.

The digital marketing practices that we can apply to business have never been as sophisticated as they are today. Then, when we start to master these marketing practices, everything changes. Again.

Like many of you, I’ve experienced first-hand the constant, end-to-end impacts of digital media evolution ever since I began in the industry 13 years ago. Despite the steady stream of disruptive innovations which keep us on our toes, some things have always been in our control – our design choices.

Creative aspects of a marketing campaign can’t be adequately automated. At least not yet, because machines can’t tell the difference between what’s beautiful and what’s not. Machines have no feelings, but you do, and so does your audience.

You want to get someone’s attention? Hit them right in the feels.

Critical choices in design will help you produce effective ads. Here are four tips to follow when developing your next programmatic display campaign.

Tip #1: Six Words or Less is Ideal

‘Less is More’ is a principle that applies to all sorts of effective communication, whether it be in print or digital. Generally speaking, if your message is hard to take in, audiences will mentally block it out as if it never even existed. 😱

I consider programmatic display ads to be similar to outdoor billboards regarding making first impressions. At the end of the day, we’re all bidding for people’s attention. We also have to assume that people are always on the go, so naturally, keeping your headline short and sweet will be quicker to read.

While you can stretch the headline to 11 words depending on word length and ease of reading, best practice dictates that six words or less is ideal. It’s the golden rule of outdoor advertising, and the same applies when designing programmatic display ads.

The Industry proclaims that you have 3-8 seconds to be memorable. If you can’t read the headline out loud at a calm and normal pace within 6 seconds, your headline is probably a dud.

Do you really want to pay to put a dud out there for everyone to ignore?

Tip #2: Image Matters

Use high-quality images to win audience favour. People instinctively associate high-quality imagery with positive feelings of trust and expertise. With a multitude of easy-access image licensing options in the market, there’s no excuse to create an ad campaign with sub-par image assets. Choosing the right image for your campaign should take a few things into consideration:

• use bright and colourful, high impact visuals

• use images with a clear focal point or foreground subject

• avoid busy, cluttered looking images

• use an image only if it supports your message

Further to the last point, if you don’t have a suitable image for your ad, don’t use one at all. A random image creates confusion, which then creates an unwanted effect – distrust. No business wants to undo their brand credibility, so don’t jeopardize it with a confused look. Allow your designer to come up with visual solutions that don’t depend on photos or illustrations.

Tip #3: Respect the CTA Button

The Call-to-Action (CTA) is a link or a button that drives users to other campaign touch points like a landing page or website. They exist to guide users along their path to conversion.

Make sure your CTA stands out by using contrasting colours and remember to make it mobile friendly. That is, design it for fingers, not just for a mouse cursor. And the simplest advice of all: don’t put a paragraph in the CTA button. Make it meaningful, but keep your character count as short as you can.

And finally, I’ll leave you on a more general note….

Tip #4: If You Want to be Relevant, be Fascinating

In the digital world, marketers now have unprecedented reach, but there is a penalty for being boring. Boring drives users to install ad blockers, which ultimately incurs a cost. But there are brands that consumers don’t want to tune out. What is it about their brand touch points that make them so engaging?

A recent study commissioned by Fast Company found that multi-faceted brands whose ad messages demonstrated 1 of 4 key traits were consistently favoured among respondents. These four kinds of compelling content are: funny, useful, beautiful, and inspiring.

This last tip is about how everything comes together. This is about your campaign’s BIG IDEA; where art meets commerce. If this still seems too ambiguous to resonate with, all you have to remember is that nice brands don’t finish last, boring ones do.

These tips are good for any kind of visual advertising campaign, not just for programmatic display. If you’re looking to improve performance of an existing campaign, improving just one of these elements could result in performance lift.

Your design choices are just as important as the campaign message or business promotion. Make the right ones, and your audience will reward you with their attention.