Digital MarketingStrategiesStop Interrupting Me!

Stop Interrupting Me!

How legislators, programmers, and your own customers are about to retool your marketing strategy -- unless you change it first.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of being interrupted. Everywhere I turn, companies are trying to get my attention. Whether I’m driving down the freeway, walking around my neighborhood, digging my mail out of my mailbox, watching television, reading the paper, surfing the Web, or sifting through my email, they all are trying to interrupt me to tell me how important their products are for my success and well-being or vying to sell me their latest cool widget.

Don’t get me wrong. As an entrepreneur and marketer, I understand the need in our capitalist economy to build a customer base and to sell them stuff. What bothers me is not their trying to sell me their products, it’s the way they keep interrupting me to do so.

I happen to know I’m not be the only one feeling bothered and overwhelmed. Consulting firm Accenture claims the average American in 2001 was subjected to 3,000 advertising impressions daily, up from 640 15 years earlier. A lot of anecdotal information, research, and data point to a disturbing trend for the old school of intrusive marketing and advertising. In fact, it may have outlived its useful life. Relief for the overinterrupted consumer may be right around the corner.

Forrester Research predicts traditional TV ad viewing will drop 19 percent in the next five years, reducing traditional ad spending by $7 billion. New digital video recording devices such as TiVo make it easy for viewers to skip ads with the click of a button. Clicking the button is exactly what they’re doing, making TV advertising a lot less effective. Result: Three out of every four marketers plan to cut TV ad spending.

USA Today recently reported over 1 million Wisconsin residents have joined the state’s new do-not-call list. It’s now illegal to call a Wisconsin resident who added her phone number to the list. Penalties for infractions are stiff, at $100 per call. At last count, over 1,500 privacy bills were enacted or pending in federal, state, and local legislatures. Missouri state lawmakers are proposing a do-not-spam list for unsolicited commercial email, fashioned after the do-not-call lists in telemarketing. A bill is currently pending in the California state legislature that would make it illegal to send unsolicited commercial email in California. There are over 100 anti-spam solutions on the market. Big ISPs such as MSN and AOL are leading with their new anti-spam functionality as the key benefit of recent service and software upgrades.

The trend is clear. Anything that interrupts or disturbs is bad. People have too much to do, suffer from information overload, and don’t want to be bothered all the time. They’re voting with their feet. They’re saying loud and clear they don’t like interruption advertising any more. “Get rid of it or I’ll vote for someone else, take my business to your competitor, or buy a new product that makes your marketing redundant regardless of how hard you try to reach me.” Legislators, service providers, and lots of techies are lining up to make it even more difficult to rise above the noise and get consumers’ attention.

What can a poor marketer do? First, let’s assume most of the people advertisers want to reach are stressed, overworked, or too busy. Often, all of the above. Second, let’s consider what most of us respond to well when we’re stressed, overworked, or too busy: help and relief.

Anyone who offers to help me by making my life a little bit less stressful or returning a small slice of my time when I suffer from the afflictions above becomes my hero. What if marketers could make it their job to help customers and prospects? What if marketing’s role was to make it so useful for a person to be “interrupted” by a message from its company, if he didn’t get interrupted he’d contact the company and ask what was wrong?

Why Aren’t You Helping Me Anymore?

Help can take many forms. It could be a service that keeps me up to date about something important to me: the pollen count, if I suffer from allergies; a low-calorie meal plan each week if I’m trying to eat healthy; a notice my favorite artist just released a new CD. If each “interruption” relates to me personally and lets me rely on the fact I don’t have to worry about seeking out pollen counts, carefully planning my meals each week, or missing my favorite artist’s newly released album, you’ve done me a great favor. In return I’ll pay keen attention to you and your messages.

What else works when I’m stressed out? I like to “escape.” It may be a momentary escape brought on by humor or escape through entertainment. I grew up in a country where there was no television advertising. We showed up 20 minutes early when we went to the movies to catch the pre-film advertisements. Why? They were really funny and entertaining. They made us laugh. We paid money to see the movie and came early to make sure we didn’t miss the commercials.

Interruption marketing is dying. Help and relief are the keywords for this century. Stop making excuses about why it’s difficult to do. Sure, there are no established guidelines, return on investment (ROI) calculation can be elusive, and technologies are complex.

Do you have a choice? Interruption marketing done the old-fashioned way is doomed to become less and less effective. Legal and technological obstacles to interrupting people when they don’t want to be bothered require we approach advertising in a new way. Think of marketing’s role as offering service, information, and entertainment. You’ll do just fine.

Your role as a 21st century marketer is no longer to “target” a customer segment. Your role is to delight a customer.

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