We (almost) all have one or a team of them somewhere in our office. They’re the tasteful bunch in the corner with Macbooks, and their “right-brain dominance” is sometimes at odds with the marketing team’s more left-brain, analytical approach to campaigns and creative.
But what makes up this group, and what commonalities can we pull from to advertise to them effectively?
Of course, being a designer doesn’t just mean being a photoshop wiz.
For one, designers tend to be quite empathetic, meticulous, and perceptive. They care about their job titles, they (more often than not) have received formal training, and contrary to popular belief, don’t all work in agencies.
They’re typically some of the younger employees in their workplaces, and they often prefer to work alone. But most importantly, they think carefully before making decisions or speaking out, and they are highly skilled at solving problems in abstract ways.
Because of these traits, advertising to designers requires a unique approach. This is not an audience that can be easily swayed or convinced. Great designers are curious. They observe, take notice, and make notes of things others overlook.
They are trained to pinpoint a product’s shortcomings and find solutions, making them hyper-critical of new tools and services.
However, because designers are such a discerning bunch, this also means they are incredibly loyal to brands that have been good to them in the past. Win them over, and they will reward you by supporting your company, telling everyone in their circle about your products and services, and then filling up your funnel.
Finding and accessing designers in the right places can fuel all stages of your funnel with high lifetime value (LTV) leads.
It’s essential to understand how specific advertisement placements, including contextual placements like sponsored content, email advertising, and other forms, can bring in strong results when done correctly.
It’s also important to know what doesn’t work with designers so you don’t push them away before they can even get started with your product.
Unpacking designer advertising
Demand generation marketers targeting designers need to be thoughtful and intentional with their tactics. It can be tricky to advertise to people who have an insider’s point of view on how ads are created.
Designers are all about the details, and they pay attention to every small aspect of a project until it is complete.
But they’re not impossible to reach and impress. Marketers just need to do their due diligence and keep this audience’s defining characteristics in mind when developing digital ad campaigns.
Designers are sensitive to mediocre creative
Nothing makes a designer’s skin crawl more than bad design. Any ad creative that is too busy, cookie-cutter, or cheap-looking will not fly. They know when you’re cutting design corners.
It’s worth noting they also won’t keep their opinions to themselves. Designers can be highly opinionated and will be the first to pan your campaign in their Slack groups and on social media if they’re not a fan.
When trying to advertise to designers, less is more. Most designers favor clean, simple designs that include a ton of whitespace and a focus on simple fonts. And while this may seem contradictory, bold and innovative designs will also catch their attention. After all, this group can appreciate the skill and respect the courage required to take risks and push the boundaries of conventional design. Here are some visual advertising techniques you may find beneficial.
They’re particular about their tools
Obviously, as a marketer, you want to make sure your ads are shown in the right places. Therefore, if you’re trying to attract designers, you’ll want to opt for publishers that are popular with these audiences. Websites like Dribbble would fit the bill, and if you need help finding high-quality publishers to reach designer audiences, here’s a good place to start when looking for design strategies to inform your creative decisions.
Designers are also passionate about the tools and sites they use, so ads that compromise their user experience or attempt to manipulate their behavior won’t be beneficial. These strategies are called dark patterns for a reason.
While the average user may not be able to pick up on this type of marketing, designers can spot it a mile away. They know all the tricks of the trade because they’ve likely created or used them occasionally themselves.
Fortunately, this is where contextual targeting tactics shine. By serving up thoughtful, non-intrusive ads that provide genuine value in places that designers already know and love, you communicate to designers that you’re more of a potential solution to their issues and not just an irrelevant company trying to make money off of them.
They’re big on personal recommendations
Designers can be pretty hesitant to adopt new tools. This means any ad campaign with too much flash and not enough substance will miss the mark. If you want to impress designers, you’ll want to create advertising content that is not only eye-catching but also motivates them to shout about your product or service (or at least post about your company on their Twitter or Medium pages).
This means that you have to get creative (ahem, pun intended) about how you communicate the value of your offering. Think carefully about how you can show your product's benefits in ways that resonate with designers.
For instance, they’re a business-savvy bunch and care more about how a product would help them achieve their goals over cute features and perks.
For this part, it might be helpful to use the Jobs-to-be-Done Framework to categorize, define, capture, and organize all your customer’s needs, and then use this information to create outcome-focused campaigns, rather than ads based around features or benefits.
They’re not a monolithic group
From product to graphic design to UX to illustration, there are a wide variety of roles that fall under the umbrella of design. While there may be some overlap in terms of the tools and resources they prefer, for the most part, each of these specific types of designers has their go-to's.
Knowing this, if you take a one-size-fits-all approach to your advertising campaigns, at best you’ll end up spending more than you need reaching people who aren’t a fit. At worst, you could end up seriously hurting your brand.
Choosing the right publisher placements that complement your business goals (i.e., your product offering) and bring exposure to specific audiences closest to your offering will be helpful here. Don’t just think designers - think illustrators, media directors, and other positions that you’re looking to target. Many of them go to specific publications to read and learn, and they’re more often than not seeking tools to help them get their jobs done easier.
Creating ads for designers
It may seem counterintuitive, but if you want to reach designers, you need to shift your focus from clicks and other immediate targets. For instance, designers can be suspicious of advertising based on behavioral targeting, shopper behavior, and purchase intent. That’s because, unlike the average website visitor, they know exactly how these ads work and what brands are trying to do.
Based on what you now know about designers – their likes and their dislikes – here are some ideas to incorporate into your next digital ad campaign.
Try out some ‘bionic creative.’
It’s getting harder and harder to penetrate the force field consumers have developed to protect themselves from unwanted advertising messages, and a technical audience like designers can be even tougher to reach.
This means that to cut through the noise, marketers can’t play it too safe. Bionic creative is defined by “big, bold creative ideas that are informed by data and cultural insights.”
Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign would fall under this category. Designers admire brands that put their values at the core, speak from their heart, and walk the talk. So if you take a chance on some edgier creative, designers will reward your courage with their admiration and interest.
Opt for native advertising.
Interstitial ads, sign-up forms, pre-roll videos, and other kinds of disruptive placements will only annoy designers. A recent study found that people engage more with mobile video ads that are embedded in the app experience and contextually relevant, compared to a full-page interstitial ad.
While most people want a seamless user experience from the websites they frequent, designers are extra sensitive to this approach. Bad pop-up ads could turn this audience off your brand for good.
This is why it’s helpful for advertisers to opt for native advertising. These ads blend in with their surroundings, use the website’s design to inform placement, and don’t distract from the content or impact the user experience.
This simple placement for Vimeo on Web Designer Depot is an excellent example of this. It doesn’t take up too much of the page and disappears once a user scrolls to the top, so it doesn’t block the top menu. Plus, the pink and black text catch the eye without distracting a user from the rest of the content.
Another great example of a non intrusive, appropriate native placement, put on by Adobe Stock. It's simple, constrained, and fits into the interface perfectly:
Ad placements on high-quality publishers put your brand top-of-mind in front of an audience already viewing content on a website they love. We’ve also seen how these campaigns keep on giving, driving top-of-funnel actions and influencing purchasing decisions further down the road.
Tech-savvy audiences like designers always have a wealth of information at their fingertips. They’re active in online communities and forums and continuously looking for referrals from friends and colleagues. This means that for many prospects, a well-timed offer can be all it takes to flip them from the interest and intent stage over to making a decision.
Leverage social proof.
A large portion of a designer’s work focuses on identifying pain points and coming up with solutions. The more you can tie this messaging into your advertising, the better.
Using social proof is a great way to speak your target market’s language. Social media praise, positive ratings on review sites, and testimonials from respected industry professionals are all excellent ways to build trust with your audience.
This is key because, as we’ve learned from the rise and fall of retargeting, one-too-many ads can be irritating and off-putting to customers. But if you partner with ad networks that only curate high-quality publishers, your designer audience will only receive ads on websites they already like, which helps put your brand in their good books.
Studies have shown that advertising on premium publishers can lead to a 67% increase in brand lift, due in large part to the ‘halo effect’ that can occur as a result of appearing on platforms with a strong reputation.
For example, BuySellAds lets you target niche technical audiences through the Carbon Ads network. Publishers on the Carbon Ads network only serve one ad per page in a non-intrusive format. Carbon Ads are also part of Adblock Plus’ Acceptable Ads program, meaning Adblock Plus users will see the ads without issue, and in our experience, actually click on and utilize the ads due to increased trust.
Get specific with your messaging.
Before you start placing advertisements, figure out the specific types of designers you want to reach, and then consider how you can communicate value to these different audiences. This can be as simple as using separate ad copy to target different types of users, but since you’re speaking to creatives, a little out-of-the-box thinking can go a long way.
This ad from Envato on World Vector Logo is a great example. The size and shape of the ad fit perfectly with the rest of the icons on the page, but its vibrant color, simple copy, and clear call-to-action attract the eye and show the value of the tool in seconds.
Where contextual targeting fits in your funnel
Before diving into the deep end of contextual advertising, it’s essential to know how these types of placements can impact your lead generation efforts. For instance, native ads like the ones referenced above are great for increasing product awareness and driving top-of-funnel actions like form completions and sign-ups.
These ads might not necessarily lead to conversions right away, but they can impact decision-making when the time comes, giving your brand a seat at the table when tools are discussed. Plus, here at BSA, we’ve seen first-hand the value of showing up in front of the right people in the right places.
The best thing you can do to maximize the impact of your contextual ad campaigns is to test, test, iterate, optimize, and test. Make it a priority to optimize continually and A/B test your landing pages, creatives, and copy to keep your ad performance high.
Key takeaways for targeting designers
To reach designers at scale, you need to lead with empathy first. This audience is extra sensitive to advertising. They can read into subtle cues to figure out if a brand or a piece of marketing is going to add value to their professional lives or detract from it.
But if you can capture their attention with bold concepts, respect their online content experience with non-intrusive ads, and clearly illustrate the value of your offering, you’ll be well on your way to developing a successful contextual advertising campaign that your designer audience will love.