Offers: weak or strong?

Industry-insights | 07 min read

Are weak offers undermining strong display ads?

Where’s the Beef?

Display ad campaigns easily fall victim to the same problem that afflicts many web design projects — too much focus on aesthetics and not enough on substance, like offers. The most dazzling website in the world is of little value if visitors can’t find their way around the site, figure out how to use the shopping cart, or discover any reason to submit an inquiry. Likewise, online display ads that catch the eye but have nothing backing them up may produce click-throughs, but seldom produce conversions.

The reason companies invest in display advertising is to generate sales leads or e-commerce revenue. Without conversions, advertising ROI is dead in the water. Without strong offers, people won’t convert. Unless companies spend as much time (or more) adding beef to their display ad campaign with strong offers, their well-designed ads and skillful campaign execution will fall short.

Let’s look at five important attributes of strong display ad offers. The following are messages and techniques to weave into the ad and/or the ad’s landing page.

1. Offer Real Value

The first mistake is to lavish thousands on ad design, and pinch pennies on the offer itself. You must determine what incentive your target audience craves, and then how much of it you need to give them to earn a conversion.

The what. Customers are a fickle lot. Some respond to rebates, others to upfront discounts, others to free merchandise, etc. The only way to know for sure is to conduct systematic A/B testing. Start with your best guess as to type of offer, based on experience and your feel for the customer. Be prepared for surprises — testing often reveals customer preferences that differ from expectations.

The how much. A/B testing will also reveal how much of the offer is needed to generate a critical mass of conversions. Token offers such as $5 off seldom work; substantial offers such as $500 may produce off-the-chart conversion rates. Of course, the trick is to find the sweet spot, an offer amount that generates a critical mass of conversions but still produces positive campaign ROI.

In general, think about offer value this way:


2. Create a Sense of Urgency

Time pressure creates a sense of urgency with the target audience. People normally put off making a decision, even when they are attracted to a product or service. Open-ended offers people can take advantage of any time they want, even when the offer is substantial, may not induce the user to convert while they are on the landing page. Once they leave, no matter how interested they are, they may not return. (A smart retargeting campaign, incidentally, is a great way to address this display ad fact of life.)

There are several ways to get customers to think seriously about inquiring or ordering. Some of the best, tried-and-true methods:

  • Limited supplies. Let customers know the offer is good only as long as supplies last. Scarcity is a strong motivator.
  • Limited time. Limited time offers leave no doubt about when to take action. The trick is to leave enough time to appear reasonable (an offer good for 24 hours could appear spammy in some verticals), but not so much time as to lose all sense of urgency. As always, testing tells you what works best.
  • Order early for a better deal. Restaurants offer an “early-bird special” to bring diners in before prime time. The same technique works, for example, when offering a discounted rate to the first “x” number of people who sign up for your seminar, book a hotel, order your product, etc.
  • Avoid disaster. Fear is a strong motivator, to be sure. Paint customers a picture of what will happen to them if they fail to purchase your product or service. For example, their house could cave in, their savings could be wiped out, their children could flunk out of school, their competitors will overtake them, etc.

3. Establish Credibility

Skepticism is a killer of display ad conversions. No matter how appealing the offer, the lingering question in the customer’s mind is, “Can I trust this company?” This is why strong credibility elements must be worked in to every landing page for a display campaign. Unless your brand is as recognizable as Apple or McDonald’s, you’ve got to assume landing page visitors don’t know you, and therefore don’t trust you. Establish credibility in these ways:

  • Social proof. It could be as simple as saying, “Over 5,000 satisfied customers.”
  • Customer testimonials. A more substantive form of social proof is letting a customer do the selling. People are more inclined to trust the experience of a customer rather than a company’s marketing copy.
  • Logos of recognizable customers. This is very effective in B2B, as long as the companies you’re selling to are recognizable. Displaying customer logos of unfamiliar companies is counterproductive, leading landing page visitors to assume your product or service is not geared to their business.
  • Awards and recognition. Did your company, product or service win an award? Did your company make the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies? Your landing page is the place to tell the world.
  • Media mentions and social media reviews. A feature article about you in The Wall Street Journal is impressive. So are simple images of tweets that say something positive about your product, service or company. More angles to demonstrate social proof!

4. Invest in Images

A picture is worth 1,000 conversions.

Even though I’m a writer, I have to admit that visual content, when done right, is far more persuasive than text. Thus a good portion of the display ad budget must be devoted to creating powerful, visual design elements for landing pages.

  • A powerful photo of a product conveys key features or benefits. Plus it takes photographic skill and an understanding of the product and market to produce. A poor photo, in stark contrast, leaves the landing page visitor feeling blah at best!
  • An effective infographic or chart makes a complex feature or benefit comprehensible in an instant. Again, a great deal of industry knowledge and thought must go into the image’s creative development.
  • A persuasive video — a testimonial, showing the product/service in use — must be reasonably short, employ proper camera angles, and be well scripted and clearly audible … for starters. Production costs don’t necessarily have to be four figures or five figures, but shoddy production leads to shoddy conversion rates.

5. Earn Trust

Here is a little thing with a big impact on conversions: adding a privacy statement to the order or inquiry submission form.

Even with a strong offer and a trusted company, people still hesitate to pull the trigger on an order or inquiry. Why? Because they fear their private information will be sold or given away, opening the floodgates for email spam, text message spam, direct mail spam and telemarketing spam.

Spammers are a bane on the entire marketing industry, but a fact of life. However, reassuring landing page visitors you will not sell or give away their emails and other information goes a long way toward overcoming distrust. If it is the case, stating further that your company will not use private information in your own marketing, so much the better (in terms of privacy).


Developing a rock-solid offer and landing page is the easiest starting point for a display ad campaign. Once the initial offer and presentation of it are nailed down, creating the banner ad itself and determining where to display it becomes easier. It’s kind of like designing a house from the inside out.

The importance of A/B testing cannot be overstated. Every element of the landing page, from the offer to the message to the color of the submit button, affect conversion rates.

With so many things to test, prioritization becomes a serious issue. Your offer probably has an extremely important impact on conversions, and should be high on the list of testing priorities.

With this in mind, to get your display ad campaign off to a strong start, map out several offer tests in advance of the campaign launch. By having your future test variables already lined up, you won’t get stuck in the mud after launch trying to concoct new offers. Developing multiple offers is a lot more time consuming and challenging than you might think, and should not be improvised under time pressure. Good preparation leads to strong display campaign outcomes!

This guest blog is written by Brad Shorr who is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North.

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