Banners Don’t Drive Leads in B2B Marketing

Wrong WayIf your goal is to deliver leads that you can tie back directly to your marketing investment, do not make banners the core of your enterprise B2B marketing program. Period.

Lead generation is still one of the top objectives of enterprise B2B marketers and many B2B publishers continue to propose banners as a way to deliver leads.

Publishers that continue to do this are doing a disservice to marketers that don’t know better and are losing the respect of those that do.

Banners don’t drive leads. Remember that.

B2B Banner Lead Generation Results

Still reading? Still don’t believe me?

Ok, here are how the numbers work out for different banner approaches targeting enterprise B2B audiences.

Table comparing the cost to drive leads through different banner approaches

Can you do better than this? Maybe, and here are two things you can try, if you are determined. However, very few marketers will see a large enough improvement to justify making banners a core part of their program over search, content syndication, email or other stronger lead generation tactics.

  • A great offer (not just content) can improve both click rates and registration rates.
  • Welcome ads (those ads that interrupt you on the way to a page) and clickable site skins will dramatically improve your click rate, although visitors will have a higher bounce rate and your CPM will increase dramatically as well.

The vast majority of enterprise B2B marketers will not change the conclusion that the cost per lead from banner campaigns is simply too high to stomach until other alternatives have been maxed out.

The Fine Print

Every rule has an exception, in this case the exception is retargeting. Outside of retargeting, banners are only ok if someone clicking and filling out a form is NOT your goal.

Retargeting works for two reasons other banner tactics cannot replicate:

  1. It is your exact audience and they are already aware of you and have engaged with you. This increases click rates and conversion rates dramatically with a level of targeting no other solution can match.
  2. It is dirt cheap. With CPMs often below $2.00, price alone makes a huge difference.

The problem is, retargeting isn’t a scalable solution, it is limited by the traffic to your site and cannot reach new audiences.

One Last Time

Banners will not work if your objective is directly driving enterprise B2B leads.

Marketers, stop now if someone is recommending a banner program to drive leads. If you need help identifying alternatives, you can send me an email.

Publishers, stop chasing budgets with banner proposals that simply won’t pan out.

Your Turn

Do you agree? If so, spread the message. Share this post with every B2B marketer or media sales rep that needs to see it.

Banner supporters, sound off in the comments below or flame me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Photo Credit: KungPaoCajun via Flickr cc

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  • Could not agree more. Well said.

    Your point regarding the scale (lack thereof) of retargeting is also ‘on target’.

  • Eric, great post. As a former b2b media professional turned full-time SAAS b2b marketer, I’m going to share a couple of additional dirty secrets from the publishing side:

    1. Any publisher promising you leads from your banner campaign isn’t generating leads exclusively from your banners. Read the fine print and ask questions. You’ll often see the following phrase on lead gen banner promos from publishers “*Leads generated from banner AND other tactics.” What does that mean? They’re actually getting the majority of your leads from content syndication, something that will cost you A LOT less than your lead gen banner campaign and will yield the same, if not better, results if you’re measuring the campaign effectiveness based on leads.

    2. Adding filters/lead criteria to your lead gen banner campaigns with publishers? I’m 99.9% certain that NONE of your leads are actually coming from the banner. Those leads will come from content syndication and, probably, telemarketing (depending on how strict your filters are).

    3. Welcome ads and clickable site skins will dramatically improve your click rate but do have higher bounce rates. Why? Accidental clicks. Oops, a large percentage of those clicks are going to come from people that accidentally clicked on the ad while they were trying to get to or read the content on the page.

    Also, this isn’t to say that banner ads don’t work. You just need to know your objective and make sure this tactic matches that objective, Banners don’t work for lead gen, but they are often quite effective at brand building and getting more of your prospects to your Website.

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  • Tommy Landry

    Good post Eric. Retargeting is actually somewhat of a different animal, and while it can increase conversion against previous visits or abandoned carts, there’s a risk of customers choosing to hide all ads from your company if you get too aggressive. I’ve taken advantage of that feature on Google myself several times. For example, when I viewed one of my client’s competitor’s website, and was then stalked online for months. Yes, you read that right, I was still being retargeted months after a single visit.

    And then there’s the idea of multi step or full funnel attribution. I wouldn’t launch into a non-retargeting banner campaign without some idea of how to attribute those impressions to future conversions.

    Keep up the great work.

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  • tomdebaere

    I still don’t get it why there are still so many banners out there.

    It’s common knowledge that the CTR on banners is crap. People have become blind for it. As you mention the only reason why a B2B marketers would want to use banners in my opinion is in a multi-channel communication campaign. In those campaigns it’s about multiple channels re-enforcing eachother.

    Subconciously people remain to be influenced, and that’s one reason why I believe B2B marketers should be using banners.

    Another reason B2B marketers can use banners is to GIVE knowledge or content to buyers. I have no numbers on these type of banners, so I can’t tell if those work better ;-). I’m currently experimenting with those types of banners, I’ll keep you posted.

    Best regards,

    Tom De Baere

    • Thanks Tom. I have experimented with content-focused banners and from a CTR perspective, if presented right, they DO perform better.

      However, as I wrote earlier today, most marketers do not trust their content. The question remains, will B2B marketers accept more traffic to their content if it doesn’t directly drive significantly more leads? Or is content really only valuable as a carrot, despite all of the content is king rhetoric out there?

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I’m definitely interested in hearing more about your test!

  • Eric,

    I don’t necessary agree with your conclusion that Display doesn’t work for B2B Lead gen because I think you left a lot of information out of your assessment article. It’s also not what I’ve experienced managing display campaigns for a wide range of B2B and B2I clients. It would be helpful to know number pieces of data such as what attribution model where you using to calculate the conversion rates for banners (first interaction, last interaction, linear or VTC View through conversion, etc). This alone change your whole argument if you are looking at a last click wins model. If you understood how those 3.3Million impressions in your exchange example influenced conversions that where attributed to another channel you might have a different story.

    Another topic you completely left out is the role of third party data (from companies such as Bizo and others) for targeting which can dramatically increase CTR’s (I personally experience a .14%-.18% average CTR using third party data).

    Your obviously an experienced digital marketer and understand that advertising has it’s place for building brand awareness, recall, favor-ability and call to action, and this could have a place in an holistic lead generation program. Your lead prospects might see your banner a dozen times and then Google your brand name because that’s what we’re conditioned to do today. You can’t ignore this fact or these other attribution models even if you disagree with them. Unfortunately you don’t address any of this in your piece which leaves it feeling more like a headline catching sound bite position rather than extensive analysis.

    It would also be helpful if you shared the source details behind the numbers you site as your “proof” that display doesn’t work.


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