We are at a tipping point which will redefine the world of digital marketing. It is time to leave behind the legacy of the pre-digital era. Embrace a marketing strategy built on improving the users experience.
I have worked in the web over 20 years. Over that time I have watched many sectors struggle to adapt to the changes the web has brought. Nowhere has that challenge been more acute than in marketing.
For the longest time marketers have done little but adapt old marketing techniques for the new platform. Billboard adverts have become banners. Newspaper advertising has become sponsored blog posts. Direct mail has become email marketing.
Even the arrival of mobile has done little to curb this trend. Marketers cram ever more intrusive banner ads on these small screens to the point it obscures the content.
But things are finally changing. Marketers are having their hands forced. They have no choice but to think in a different way.
Filtering out the Shouts
Users are becoming ever more frustrated with traditional marketing. To begin with this was on a subconscious level. Users developed a blindness to banners leading click through rates to fall through the floor.
Then they started to become more vocal. They hated spam and so email clients gave them more sophisticated tools to manage their email. Many of the promotional emails marketers spend we never see let alone open.
Marketers fought back with ever more intrusive advertising in an attempt to grab users attention. But this just lead to the birth of ad blockers. Ad blockers have become so popular that they threaten the online advertising industry. This is especially true with Apple about to enable Ad blockers in Mobile Safari.
No doubt marketers will find ways around these constraints. But in the end they are fighting a losing battle because they are trying to force people to look at something they are not interested in. They are fighting the customers they are seeking to attract!
But the problem is deeper than even that.
The Impact of Reviews and Ratings
The easy access the web provides to rating and reviews has further harmed traditional marketing. Whether buying a toaster or making a donation to charity, users can find out what others thing with a quick google search.
Mobile further enhances this ability by enabling users to even get feedback on a product when standing in a high street store.
In short, it no longer matters what you say about your products. It is what others say that matters. Whether consumer organisations like Which or amazon reviews, consumers trust reviews more than marketers.
It is no longer enough to pour money into promoting your product. If others do not recommend it, the product will fail.
The Network Effect
Word of mouth recommendation has gone from being the best marketing technique to almost the only effective one. It out performs any other form of advertising and yet is terrifying to many marketers. That is because the marketer no longer controls the message. They cannot dictate what the customer says about the product.
This leads to a profound change in marketing. If you can no longer control the message then the only alternative is to make sure the product or service is outstanding. Only then can you be sure the message is a good one.
For many marketers this isn’t marketing at all. But an increasing number are getting it. User experience is a crucial component in a successful marketing strategy. If the user finds their experience delightful they will share that experience. But if they have a bad experience they will share that too.
Before pouring money into advertising campaigns marketers need to focus on the experience.
But this doesn’t just apply to for profits. It applies to not-for-profits too. I once worked with a charity who poured millions into advertising campaigns. All with the aim of driving potential donors to their website. But the website was so ineffective and frustrating that the number who turned into actual donors was low.
Not only was the charity failing to convert supporters, it was alienating existing ones. Constant email campaigns asking for more donations felt more like spam than engagement. This had led to a raft of negative comments online that undermined the goodwill they had built through their ad campaign.
But there is another great advantage to focusing on user experience. It is cheaper than traditional advertising.
The Level Playing Field of the Web
Creating a great experience is about listening to your customers and responding appropriately. This is something even the smallest organisation can do. You don’t need a big advertising budget to grab eye balls. You can nurture your small community with a good experience and turn them into advocates.
It also scales well. You need to continually pump money into advertising at ever larger levels to attract more customers. But by providing a great experience your community grows ever bigger as one customer invites another.
Just look at Charity Water. They have grown their revenue from $1.7 million in 2007 to $36 million in 2013 largely through their online experience.
My point in this post is a simple one. Look at your marketing budget and ask yourself if you are spending it as wisely as you could be. Is it time to refocus that budget on the user experience rather than a series of marketing campaigns? Traditional marketing campaigns are great if you have a great user experience in place. But if you do not you are pouring that money away.