From ABM ad strategy to execution: Preparing the handoff to your creative team

In display advertising for account-based marketing (or ABM), the results you achieve will depend mainly on the quality of thought and insight that goes into your planning process.

Consistently solid thought processes produce consistently better ads.

This article is about bringing the elements of your thought process together for handoff to the creative team that writes, designs, and executes your ads.

You read several tips for planning your ABM ad campaigns.

You’ll also find links where you can download templates for your two creative briefs. One brief is for use with individual ads, and the second is for use with landing pages that link to your ads.  

I assume you’re a marketer who manages a new program of online display advertising for ABM.

Earlier articles in this series have urged you to think and plan ahead. (Please see the list at the end of this post.)

Thinking ahead is the best way to avoid surprises that may arise after your online display campaign has begun.

If you’ve followed my suggestions to this point, you’ve done plenty of preparation.

You’ve lined up your creative team. You know how long it will take for them to produce your ads.

You’ve checked your company’s processes, policies, and timelines for getting ads reviewed and approved.

You’ve learned about the technical capabilities of your ad technology platform.

You’ve thought how you’re going to target and segment the individuals you want to reach within the accounts you’ve chosen:

  • Will you use Internet Protocol (or IP addresses)?
  • Will you also target by geographic location?
  • Will you also use data available in cookies for even more accurate targeting?

You’ve checked with your ad tech platform to see how many individuals are available within each of the groups you’ve targeted.

You’ve checked the inventory of ad formats available for each segment you’ve targeted.

You’ve considered how you will measure the effectiveness of your ads.

Now you’re almost ready to pass your ad plans to a creative team for copywriting, design, and production. This is where it all comes together.

Tip for pros: Cluster your ads for efficient production, review, and approvals

If your company has a long approval or production process for display ads, you will find it efficient to process your ads in batches.

This means you will prepare specifications for several ads at the same time. You will then run them through your creative and reviews processes in bundles or clusters.

By doing so, you’re less at risk of finding yourself in a situation where you have to pause an ad campaign because you have no ads to publish.

Here’s how that may happen. Suppose your start your campaign with a promising ad. But a week or two into the campaign, your ad platform tells you this ad is performing below par.

You can either waste money by continuing to run the ad, or you can replace it with another you think will do better.

Plan to maintain a queue of ‘backup ads’ ready to go on short notice

That’s why it’s always a good idea to maintain a list of backup ads you can plug into an ailing campaign. It’s like maintaining a strong bench in sports.

You want to have fresh players you can send in on a moment’s notice.

If you have no backup ads waiting in the queue, you have little choice but to pause your campaign.

That’s when it really hurts if you need four weeks (or whatever your lead time is) to get a new ad produced and approved.

If you must suspend a campaign, some targeted segment of your market will have nothing to view during that period. You may fall short of your goals.

Get the best work from your creative team while you have their full attention

Assuming your creative teams is not 100% committed to serving your ad needs all the time, they will move on to other priorities as soon as they’ve finished their work on your ads.

Next time you want their attention, you will have reschedule. They will have lost focus, attention, and momentum.

You’ll get their best work while you have their undivided attention. So take advantage of their attention while you have it.  

Use a six-step process to prepare your creative briefs

Your goal now is to prepare a series of creative briefs for the team who will prepare your ads and related landing pages.

Your creative briefs should provide all the information they’ll need to produce effective ads.

Here are the six steps in your process:  

  1. Revisit your goals and audience segments.
  2. Plan your campaigns.
  3. Plan individual ads within your campaigns.
  4. Plan the other elements in your conversion sequence.
  5. Prepare a creative brief for each ad.
  6. Prepare a creative brief for each landing page.

With these six steps completed, you’ll be ready to commission the copywriting and design elements for your ads and landing pages.

The rest of this article reviews the steps in detail.

1. Revisit your goals and audience segments

Go back to your ABM segmentation pyramid. See that discussion here and here.

For each tier on your pyramid, review how you will segment your ad campaigns for the target audiences you’ve chosen to reach.

An earlier post in this series suggested that you simplify your segmentation by focusing on just a handful of criteria (besides account name). Here are the criteria:

  • Geography
  • Industry
  • Level of awareness
  • Relationship
  • Level of interest

Now it’s time to think how you will vary your messages, offers, and calls to action for the segmentation strategy you’ve chosen.

For the relatively small number of accounts at the apex of your pyramid (Tier 1 accounts), it’s helpful to prepare a matrix similar to the one shown below.

Along the vertical axis of the matrix, you see account and division names for the business units you’ve targeted.

For simplicity, this matrix shows just four of the 16 accounts in this top tier.

Along the horizontal axis, you might list the targeting factors you’ll use to select the individuals who will see your ads.

At lower levels of your targeting pyramid (tiers 2, 3, and 4), you may have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of accounts in each tier as you progress downward.

This is too many accounts to target by account and division name.

So to help organize your thinking, you may find it helpful to create a matrix similar to this one:

In this case, the assumption is that you still want to target accounts by Geography.

You may also want to use cookie data to target individuals by their Business Function, Job Title, or Job Level.

Alternatively, you may prefer to target your campaigns by a variety of other factors.

The following illustrations share how a matrix might look for each of the most common combinations of segmentation factors.

You can build and manage such matrices by using conventional spreadsheets such as Excel or Google Sheets. You can also create tables within Word or Google Docs.

Or your can use a variety of other planning and collaboration tools such as Airtable and Trello.

You may also find it useful to use mind-mapping software such as MindManager.

2. Plan your campaigns

For each target audience or ad segment you identify, think about how you’ll run one or more ad campaigns.

A campaign is a series of related ads. The ads in a campaign may be related by targeted audience, by theme, by timing, by offer, or by other factors.

To plan your campaigns, ask these questions about the accounts you’re targeting:

  • From a strategic perspective, which of your targeted audience segments are most important to achieving your revenue goals?
  • Which accounts would have the greatest prestige or “marquis” value?
  • Which accounts are most likely to close soonest?

Ask these questions about timing and seasonal factors:

  • What seasonal or calendar-related themes will they draw on? Will your campaign allude to the winter holidays? To summer vacation? Will your campaign messages refer to your audiences’ end-of-quarter concerns and preoccupations? Will you anticipate their planning or budgeting seasons?
  • What tradeshows, industry events, or other dates should your ads precede, follow, or coincide with?  

Ask these questions about how you will share your messaging, content, and offers with the segments you target:  

  • Which ad formats will you show to which audiences?
  • How will the messages of your ads vary by audience segment?
  • How will your offers and calls to action vary by audience segment?
  • For which offers will you provide gated versus ungated content?

Get outside your own head

It’s easy to become self-absorbed when you plan ad campaigns.

You’re thinking about your production logistics, your budgets, your lead times, and so on.

Without realizing you’re doing so, you may at times focus more attention on how your campaign looks to your management team than how it will appear to your target audiences.

Let’s say you schedule five ads to run in a fiscal quarter. Depending on your total volume of advertising, that might sound like adequate exposure.

But it’s possible that one of your targeted segments would see only one or two of those five ads. Exposure to only one or two ads isn’t likely to have much effect.  

To avoid such oversight, it helps to create an ad schedule or timetable for each campaign. You might structure it like the example shown in the following diagram:

On this matrix, each horizontal line represents a targeted audience. Each colored block represents a different ad campaign.

On the line nearest the horizontal axis, you can see that this target audience will view two different campaigns during the year.

One campaign begins and ends in the first quarter. The second begins in late August and runs through late December.

With a diagram such as this, you have a clear picture of when each of your target audiences will see each of your campaigns.  

3. Plan individual ads within campaigns

Once you’ve established the broad outlines of your ad campaigns, it’s time to think about the individual ads that will comprise each campaign.

Ask these questions:

  • How many ads will you run within each campaign?
  • What will be the unifying themes for your copy elements?
  • What offers and calls to action will you include?  
  • What ad formats will you use?
  • What graphical elements might link the ads together?

Remember your high-level goal: Through a series of successive ad exposures, you’re trying to entice your viewer through a series of actions that will lead her closer to a sale.

You must progress in small steps. Don’t make unreasonable demands on your viewer’s time and attention.

This is a process of seduction in small increments.  

Ask yourself how the viewer of these ads will progress through the series you create. Think about variety, tempo, and timing.

You will probably need more ads than you think

Remember the pro tip about clustering the production of your ads? This is where you begin making those decisions.

You will need at least one ad for each of these elements in your campaign plan:

  • Each targeted audience segment
  • Each language group
  • Each key message
  • Each offer
  • Each ad format.

You may also want to create multiple formats for the same ad, as one Kwanzoo client did for this ad:

Note that these ads are not shown to scale. One is a Medium Rectangle (300 X 250 px), one is a Banner (468 X 60 px), and one is a Skyscraper (160 X 600 px).

Why produce the same ad in multiple formats?

For some target segments, the inventory of available space might be limited for one format or another.

You may be able to increase your reach by offering the same ad in multiple formats.

Think in terms of conversion sequences, not just ads

Your goal is not just to create an effective ad, but to motivate someone to complete an action you desire.

For this purpose, your ad must usually work in conjunction with other elements in a conversion sequence.

That’s because a display ad rarely contains enough text to motivate someone to take anything more than a very simple action.

The landing page elaborates on the offer made in the ad. It contains enough copy and design elements to sell the offer more effectively than an ad can do alone.

The other elements in a full lead-gen conversion sequence typically include one or more landing pages, a thank-you page, a follow-up email message (only if you capture contact information), and so on.

So as you think about conversion sequences, you must plan your landing pages, thank-you pages, and follow-up email messages as well as your ads.

Split testing requires more ads

If you’re going to split test your ads, you must create multiple treatments or variations of the same ad.

You typically run a split test with two or more treatments. The ad platform serves the various treatments randomly to different viewers within your target audiences.

After enough people have seen each ad over an adequate period of time, you can draw statistically valid conclusions about which ad is the strongest performer.

Remember to order backup versions of your ads

Finally, think about what backup ads you will have in reserve if one or more of your ads is not successful.

Ask yourself: What if this ad fails? What will be your backup to put in its place?

What alternative ads could you run in the same time period, without having to pause the entire campaign while you produce new ads?

4. Plan the other elements in each conversion sequence

Your decisions about use of landing pages will depend on how will you measure the effectiveness of your ads.

Will you do split testing of your landing pages? (See the figure below.) If so, you’ll need alternative treatments of the same landing page.

Will you send several ads to the same landing page? (See the figure below.)

Or will you provide a different landing page for each ad? (See diagram below.)

If you plan to use a separate landing page for each ad, note that you may also need a separate thank-you page for each ad. If you collect email addresses, you will also want to prepare an automated email thank-you message.  

5. Prepare a creative brief for each ad

A creative brief is a document in which you gather all your thoughts and ideas for your creative team.

It should focus their attention on all the elements that go into an effective ad: target audience, segmentation, purpose, goals, context, message, call to action, etc.

Click here for a free downloadable template for a creative brief for ABM display ads.This document, a Microsoft Word file, is ungated. You don’t have to provide your name or email address to download it.  

The template provides 19 different fields where you can organize information about an ad, including such elements as the campaign with which it’s associated, its target audience, its planned run time, its goal or objective, its offer, and so on.

The template offers instructions for completing each field.   

6. Prepare a creative brief for each landing page

Just as you’ve done for your display ads, you’ll also want to prepare a creative brief for each new landing page.

These documents will serve exactly the same purpose of gathering all your thoughts and ideas in a single form for your creative team.

Click here for a free downloadable template for a creative brief for ABM landing pages.This document, like the creative brief for ads, is also ungated.

This one provides 20 fields where you can organize information about each landing page you’ll need.

Again, this template includes complete instructions.  

Make a list: How many landing pages will you need?

Let’s run back through the list we’ve been gathering.

You will need at least one landing page for each offer you make.

That’s because the purpose of the landing page is to help “sell” the offer. So each landing page is specific to an offer.  

You will also need a different landing page for each language. If you distinguish between British and American English, you may want a separate landing page for each.

You may also want to create a different landing page for various audience segments. The language and tone of your copy, in addition to the level of detail you provide on a landing page, might vary by audience segment.

You may want one landing page for each ad, depending on your strategy for measurement and optimization.

If you can’t track the traffic from a landing page back to a specific ad, you will probably want a one-to-one relationship between your ads and your landing pages.

If three ads send traffic to the same landing page, you may not be able to see which ad drove which traffic to the landing page. So you won’t be able to measure the effectiveness of each ad.

If you want to split-test your landing pages, you will also need multiple treatments or variations of the same page.

Don’t worry. If you have the right software and tools, it’s fast, inexpensive, and easy to create landing pages.

Include only one offer per landing page

Experts in conversion optimization recommend that you make only one offer and include only one call to action per landing page.

They suggest this so you don’t confuse or distract your visitor by offering options. Focus on just one thing.

Some marketers include secondary calls to action in the form of links to social media, email sharing, and so on. As you’ll see below, I suggest you offer secondary calls to action on a thank-you page, not on your primary landing page.    

The experts also recommend that you strip navigation tabs and footer information from your landing page. I agree.

Remember, your goal with ABM is different from lead generation. You’re not trying to get a visitor to provide a contact name and an email address.

That information isn’t necessary for your to achieve your goal of increasing engagement.

Although you generally don’t care about collecting names and email addresses, your goal is still to convert traffic. You want visitors to take the action you’ve suggested in your ad and your landing page.  

For that reason, it’s smart to apply the best principles of conversion optimization to the design of your landing pages.

So here’s the rule again, for emphasis: Provide only one offer and call to action per landing page.  

Provide additional offers on a thank-you page, after you’ve won the conversion

Any kind of increased engagement from targeted individuals in a targeted account is a win for your ABM display program.

So once you’ve won the primary conversion you want, always make secondary offers on your thank-you page.

Encourage social sharing. Suggest that the visitor email a link to a colleague. Make it easy to post your content to Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

You might also provide a link to Snapchat.

Offer links to other relevant content

Also encourage further engagement with other relevant content. So provide a list of other related content your visitor can view online.  

Encourage them to go deeper and deeper into your content.

Provide links to different kinds of content for different levels of awareness and interest, or for different stages in their buying process.

Consider providing links to other specific articles: “If you like this, chances are you’ll also like these articles.”   

Evaluate technologies that make it easy to offer related content

Also consider incorporating a capability such as Überflip, which enables anyone to create content hubs with no training and little effort.

Also evaluate LookBookHQ and Curata, which offer related capabilities.  

With these services, you can serve a buffet of additional content that encourages content bingeing.  

Don’t expect your visitors to invest time to hunt for relevant content sprinkled around your site. Concentrate it in one place. Make it easy.

Try to establish your site as a valuable resource for them to return to often.

That won’t happen if you provide transparently self-serving information that focuses more on your company and your products than on their needs and interests.

Offer ungated content

Remember, you’re not doing lead gen here. You don’t have to capture a name and email address for your ads to be effective.

So don’t make your visitors fill out a form.

Studies have shown that you reduce engagement with your content by as much as 90% when you require visitors to fill out a form.

I offer only a few exceptions.

If you’re offering an invitation to a webinar, an event, or an instructional series of email messages, you need a name and email address for registration.

You must be able to reach registrants with reminders, updates, and details.

When you complete the actions suggested in this article, you will have everything ready to pass on to your creative team.

They will have all the information they need to do an outstanding job of copywriting, design, and ad production.

Your campaigns will have a much better chance of succeeding.

Look for future articles in this series to address these topics:

  • Creating effective ad copy and design
  • Common concerns about display advertising
  • Retargeting

If you share your name and email address, we’ll notify you when future articles appear.

If you have other questions about getting started with B2B online display advertising, look for other articles in this series. Here are the links:

Online Display Advertising for Account-Based Marketing: What’s in It for B2B Sales Teams

B2B Display Advertising: Targeting the Exact Groups You Want to Reach

ABM Display Ads: How to Reach Your Ideal Customers Before Your Competitors Do

Inside Display Ads for Account-Based Marketing: From Specs to Creative to Production

Online Display Advertising for Account-Based Marketing: How Much Does It Cost?

CEO’s Dilemma: When to Invest in Display Advertising for ABM (Part 1 of 2)

Marketing Leader’s Dilemma: When to Invest in Display Advertising for ABM (Part 2 of 2)

20 Tips for Creating Effective ABM Display Ads (Part 1 of 2)

20 Tips for Creating Effective ABM Display Ads (Part 2 of 2)

About Dave Vranicar

Dave is founder of Redwell B2B, a company that provides consulting, coaching, and content-creation services at the intersection of Sales and Marketing. Redwell’s goal is to help business-to-business companies accelerate revenue growth by helping Sales and Marketing work together as members of the same agile revenue team. Most of Redwell’s clients are tech firms that engage in complex sales involving multiple decision influencers. Content created by Redwell supports both inbound and outbound prospecting, including social selling and account-based marketing and sales development.  

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