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Ashley Headshot
written by Ashley Sinclair
Jan 17, 2023

Overcoming banner blindness in L&D

Marketing for learning

When it comes to marketing for learning®, we know you’ll be searching for ways to make your life a little bit easier. Quick wins. Templates. Hacks. Anything just to make the process quicker. But in an attempt to save time, L&Ders often fall into a trap of using the same template, email layout or image design time and time again. And this little mistake could be detrimental to your marketing success – it could be causing a form of banner blindness.

What is banner blindness?

Simply put, it’s the process of ignoring banner advertisements. It’s a form of selective attention, in which web visitors ignore information presented in banners – especially if they believe they’ve seen them before.

For example, Google used to have ads all along the right-hand side of their search results (as well as at the top and the bottom of the page!) Google did a lot of research with heat mapping and eye tracking to see what users actually looked at – and this showed that in many cases, users hardly looked at the adverts at all. Which of course means clicks on these ads were minimal too!

So given that we probably don’t advertise our learning offering on Google, how on earth does this apply to Marketing for Learning? Well if you look at the reasoning behind banner blindness, you can understand why L&D fall victim to the same phenomenon. 

Humans have become very good at determining what information they want to absorb. If we think we’ve seen something before and we know what it’s trying to tell us – we’ll subconsciously ignore it. So when we try to save time by using templates, imagery and layouts repeatedly – we may be pushing out content that our target audience is simply not absorbing.

Grabbing attention with visuals

It’s not just L&D that falls victim to this, take this example from the supermarket Sainsbury’s. Like many shops and public spaces, Sainsbury’s had posters up reminding shoppers to read face coverings during the Covid-19 pandemic. But after a year of perfectly on-brand posters, they changed them all to bright blue in February 2021. No, Sainsbury's marketing team didn’t have a complete bypass of their senses, they realised that these health-critical posters blended in with almost everything else in their store. And because of that, shoppers started ignoring them.

We see this repeatedly in L&D. Banners, emails, and posters – all looking very similar. This leaves your audience thinking “I’ve seen/read that before, I don’t need to look at it again”.

5 ways to prevent banner blindness in learning communications

So, the first step to overcoming banner blindness is being aware that it is a thing in marketing for learning. But here are 5 ways we can interrupt and grab our audiences' attention:

  • Switch up the imagery
    If you’re trying to disrupt and grab the attention of your learners, you cannot keep using the same imagery time and time again. Even if you’ve changed everything but the image, your audience will start to assume they’ve seen it before and ignore it. Make use of your entire image library, or free stock imagery websites such as Unsplash, to keep your content looking fresh.
  • Unify your messaging with colour
    Not all L&Ders have the luxury of having access to image libraries, or you may not be allowed to use external stock images – so why not grab attention with colours and fonts? Could you use text-based imagery that's just in one of your brand’s accent colours and your font? Could you use different combinations of your brand colours to keep your content fresh?
  • Defy expectations
    Take a second to imagine a nicely designed email that has just landed in your work inbox. What does it look like? Does it have a banner image at the top? Probably. A body of text? Yep. A big button telling you to do something? Of course. Most emails – particularly in a corporate marketing environment – look just like this. So defy expectations. Design yours differently. Put the text first and the image second. Use a gif. Switch it up. Hey - here at MAAS we’ve even sent out emails with one, very large image and a little text. It’s impossible for people to ignore! So if you can, use non-standard imagery sizes, change your font sizes, and switch up your colour combos. Create marketing that your audience doesn’t expect to see.

  • Answer the WIIFM
    I’m genuinely convinced that MAAS will never create a blog, podcast or presentation that doesn’t come back to the ‘What’s in it for me’ (WIIFM) question. Tapping into your audiences’ pain points is a sure-fire way to grab attention. You’ve probably experienced this before on a website – seeing a banner ad that you’d typically ignore, but looking at it, reading it, clicking on it, because it’s something that interests you. Always put your audience at the heart of everything you do – it’ll get you far!
  • Brand marketing
    If you’re consistently putting out messages saying “take this learning” or “new course available in the LMS” your audience will quickly get bored and start ignoring you. So instead of being so ‘on the nose’ all the time, think about marketing your learning brand. Share ideas and stories about leadership who have progressed their careers through your academies or telling user stories about successes. Hey, using influencer marketing is also a great tactic here – get your star learners to amplify your message for you! (You can learn more about influencer marketing for L&D in Caroline Fitzpatrick’s interview on the Marketing for Learning Podcast!)

But what about brand consistency?

If you know anything about brand marketing, this blog might feel like a bit of an oxymoron. When you’re trying to develop and form a brand, you want to make sure you’re consistently representing your brand. For example, for a long while at MAAS we used an image of a hand holding a plastic dinosaur to start all of our presentations. It stands out, grabs attention and is in line with our brand. But you’d never see this image on any of our marketing that’s designed to interrupt and get your attention (like our LinkedIn posts, for example!)

In the below image, you can see how we build consistency whilst also grabbing attention. The attention-grabbing posts still use our fonts, bright colours and wacky images – but they’re different and they stand out. While the first slide of our presentation deck creates a familiarity with the brand:

Brand consistency:

Grabbing attention:

It’s time to think outside the box

Banner blindness is a risk for us if we don't start to think a little bit more outside the box. Your audience has a short attention span, and a lot vying for their attention. So make sure your marketing stands out amongst the noise. Make it impossible to ignore. Be different. Try out different layouts, templates, imagery and sizes. Even with very tight brand guidelines, there are many ways you can overcome banner blindness, so make sure you keep this phenomenon in mind and don’t let your marketing for learning efforts go to waste.

Ashley Headshot
written by Ashley Sinclair

from the blog

from the blog