Are you grateful for digital?
In a world where we're bombarded with digital interruptions, it's hard to feel grateful for digital. So what's a marketer to do? Columnist Lewis Gersh has an answer to the conundrum.
The internet is both the best and worst thing that’s ever happened to us. (And I say that as someone who’s invested in a vast portfolio of digital advertising technology companies.) It’s the best because we can do so much and do it anywhere and any time it suits us; we can work with global partners without ever leaving our desks; we can stream music and movies, curating works that we like; we can get things done quickly.
And because we can get things done quickly, it’s also the worst. The world expects things to be done quickly — and all the while, we’re bombarded with interruptions in our digital experience.
When push comes to shove — and that’s how it feels on the internet today — are you grateful for digital?
As a consumer, I’m exhausted by the constant digital interruptions. I find it challenging, if not utterly frustrating, to focus on a single task while advertising pops up all around me. To me, it’s the equivalent of trying to write a blog post when the kids want me to take them somewhere — that constant, “Dad! Dad! Dad! Dad! Dad!” How can anyone focus and get anything done?
Because that’s the promise of digital, right? Helping you to get stuff done instead of hounding you with constant distractions.
The internet has made marketing rude!
With respect to marketing, the internet has delivered a vast amount of data. We understand the customer journey; we can decipher the signals that tell us when our target customers are ready to make decisions and ready to buy.
But we’ve gotten so immersed in our own way of communicating with these consumers that instead of gently persuading them to buy our product, it’s more like we’re jumping out of the shadows and threatening them with a large, blunt object. When we should be making persuasive offers, we’re instead shouting them down.
The problem boils down neatly to the fact that our goals are simply not aligned. Consumers want their internet experience to be efficient and effective: get the research done, buy the thing. We as marketers are focused on efficiency only, and effectiveness be damned. We want them to buy the thing from us, and we’re not putting enough thought into their overall experience.
It’s not that we don’t have manners. It’s because we need our message to that consumer to stand out on a page or device filled with engaging content and advertising. Today’s internet leaves us few options. How else are we supposed to get them to buy that shiny new toy?
So really, who can blame consumers for blocking ads? The marketer has trained the consumer to be an intrinsic ad blocker, ignoring everything. When we’re driven to creating ever more intrusive ads, it’s the only way they can preserve their own user experience.
The marketer must find a way to reach consumers that’s unobtrusive and polite but will still get their attention. The challenge is finding out what that looks like.
Native ads seem to be the obvious alternative, but limited inventory could be a problem — as well as the inevitability of blocking, not to mention all of the other digital pain points marketers deal with, like ad fraud and viewability.
What’s a marketer to do?
Maybe take a breath and consider the basics and start from scratch. What do consumers care about? What do they interact with? What do they gloss over, and what do they keep?
Remember, marketers, you are consumers, too. Put yourself in their position. I don’t think we do this often enough.
Can we please stop searching for silver bullets?
We’ve become so obsessed with the concept of the “silver bullet” — getting the right message to the right consumer at the right time. Programmatic, data-driven advertising was meant to solve that, even ensuring that the message arrived on the right device at a critical moment along the path to purchase.
But have we ever considered that while “right message” and “right consumer” are obviously keys to the conundrum, the “right time” for us may not be the “right time” for the consumer?
Take a minute and think about that. Imagine the consumer’s situation for a moment when they’re online. Are they ready for your ad? Receptive to an interruption?
If a purchase is more than, say, $20, do we know for a fact that surfacing a digital advertisement to a consumer will compel them to buy within an hour? What if we could deliver something more valuable and tangible — something non-digital — to that consumer, and give them control over when (and if) to respond?
A consumer considering a luxury purchase — a watch, for example — may not be swayed by yet another digital ad, no matter how graceful the storytelling. If they’re already in that consideration phase, it may take something more personal and more high-touch to move them on to checkout: a phone call, an invitation to see the watch in-store (assuming that’s possible) or a personalized, tangible piece of collateral they can open and touch.
Any one of these options could help a marketer rise above the noise of the internet and stand out — and could meet the “right person, right message” criteria.
However, we may have to reconsider the “right time” leg of the stool. Our marketing goals may be driving that time; the consumer isn’t in a rush. From that perspective, they may not be grateful for the internet either. Looking at a watch online shouldn’t mean you get harassed by ads for 30 days to the point you wished you had a restraining order.
Perhaps it’s time we started giving consumers a little more time to consider their purchases — and a little less digital interference. Perhaps, if we put the customer journey back in the customer’s control, and maybe, just maybe, showed them a little more respect — in the form of a discount or promo code, or even just a tangible “thank you” of some kind — they would appreciate our efforts more.
If we try in earnest to respect consumers’ experiences online, maybe we could begin to make them feel honestly grateful for the internet.