It constantly fascinates me that people who aren’t in advertising consider themselves experts, particularly online. In online advertising, you’re not working with a “turnstile” audience.
This audience goes where it wants to go, watches what it wants to watch, and reads what it wants to read. (Forget FOMO, that’s for people who have no lives. Imagine not missing out on the latest Direct Marketing light opera.) Compulsory, whole page pop-ups simply annoy them. This is about as close as online advertising can get to old-style, compulsory TV commercials, which appears to be the point at which everybody stopped thinking about audience access.
It’s also obsolete. Modern audiences also only pay attention to ads which are of value to them. Like Claude Hopkins said in Scientific Advertising all those years ago, advertising is about customer values. It’s ironic, in the days of SEO as a science, that advertising is still a lumbering plodder in a highly specialized range of market segments. See also “YouTube couldn’t hit a keyword with a dictionary”, a slightly less than idealistic view of ad targeting.
It’s a matter of opinion whether any otherwise normal, rational, client really gets it about advertising realities. They’re experts in their own fields, know their markets, etc., and still miss the obvious. Online advertising is where the wheels fall off.
Dealing with a discretionary audience is a very different business. Many people complain bitterly that their expensive online advertising isn’t delivering for them. Despite ridiculously complex algorithms, bizarre bidding rituals, pubescent fantasies about Facebook likes, and other fascinating dalliances with the futile, they don’t get conversions.
A dismal dribble is the usual result. It’s predictable, it’s expensive, and it doesn’t really achieve very much. Clients, bless their masochistic tendencies, understandably think that because they know what they want they therefore know what the audience wants.
It doesn’t work that way.
Let’s start with a very basic bit of LEGO-level psychology thoughtfully glued to a marketing no-brainer in shopping list form:
- It is better for the market if motivated buyers can get to their goals ASAP.
- Motivated buyers do not need to be told to buy products or services.
- They need information confirming the value of their decisions.
- They need hyperlinks, content, and straightforward purchasing options.
- Anything outside this very simple, effective dynamic probably won’t work, simply because it distracts buyers from purchasing.
- If you’re given 100 million alternatives when you only need two or three, your decision making process is not going to be very efficient, is it?
… All of which calls into question the multilayer song and dance act which basic “get sales” advertising has become. Add to this the fizzy excitement which accompanies anything going viral, which is a synonym for thousands of times more information on anybody actually needs, and the process is truly stuffed. This is taxidermy, not advertising.
If you’re thinking that the fact is that competition naturally creates lots of alternatives, think again. In practice, the consumer is not going to go outside their comfort zone unless absolutely necessary.
The logic is straightforward, and irrefutable:
- For the consumer, simpler is better, cheaper in time and effort, and more convenient.
- The consumer will naturally gravitate to a simple answer unless there is a compelling reason to do something different.
- The whole process of marketing behavioural psychology is based on verifiable, measurable behaviours, not a lottery system of “Now I get to guess where I buy my groceries next”.
For online advertising to have any impact at all, it has to deliver clear values related to consumer needs and preferences. An online ad may attract some attention, but that’s back in the lottery zone. Even a cheap Google classified ad can have the same impact as a full page ad, in this environment.
… Which brings us back to the issue of your long-suffering, verbiage-besieged, client knowing best.
Let’s ask a few questions:
Do you know why a potential customer will read an article containing a backlink? The actual backlink is usually just one link in a 500 word article. Why will that link get clicked, when thousands of online ads are simply ignored?
Why is an image considered high value, when a “spell it out” and is barely noticed?
What level of expertise does your client audience have?
Why are they interested in a particular piece of information, when you have a LEGO-like, dumbed down How To birthday card-type ad which tells them everything they need to know?
Short answer – You don’t really know what they need to know. You can’t. In keeping with the greatest traditions of lazy marketing, the assumption that the audience is comprised entirely of idiots is a massive own goal.
The irony is that the online environment, with its endlessly irritating search capabilities has created another unequivocal demand – The demand for better value information. This is critical, and it is also a major driver for sales. This information creates motivation. It’s the exact opposite of the “People only want to read for 20 seconds” mythology.
When you buy a fridge, a TV, or any other major appliance, you won’t just swallow any old bit of information trying to sell you one of those items. You don’t have to. Quite rightly, you will take your time, look at your options, and get a better deal.
One thing I find hilarious with tech advertising is the assumption that adding bullet points regarding technology people have never heard of will sell that technology. The people who have never heard of it will simply skim over that information. People generally don’t do PhDs simply so that they can read an ad.
People who have heard of the technology tend to be experts, and are therefore much more critical of information of this kind. Ironically, they are more likely to be swayed by old-style price/value advertising than trying to tell them something they already know more about than the copywriter.
This is a classic case of “know your market”, and it is one of the primary factors behind functional online advertising copy.
From the copy and content creator/writer’s perspective, the most basic, and in this case the most ethical, thing to do for a client is to find the strongest selling points. I’ve had many incredibly productive conversations with clients about their business, products, and aspirations.
You can learn more from a client in five minutes on the subject of their business than you could in a 10 day workshop.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the client is an expert on getting hits on a webpage. This is the bottom line requirement, and it will not go away, however bureaucratic, pedantic and culture-driven a company may be.
Generally speaking, another type of psychology applies:
People are driven by an image of what their content is “supposed to” look like, usually a mediocre, “industry standard” which is simply an average. Average content tends to get average results at best, and to be completely ignored at worst.
Even corporate marketers, who know much better, tend to lean to a minimal image of their content. Standout material is a second thought, rather than the first priority.
I could literally write a book on this, but let’s keep it simple:
- Your logo tells people everything they need to know about who the company is.
- From that point onward, the client is looking for information.
- That information has to be useful, has to provide a valuable perspective, and has to make sense in terms of client needs.
- Explanatory information is far more valuable, and certainly far more functional, than “exciting” babble, which is classified as meaningless by default.
OK, now a practical exercise – Try to sell yourself some clothes pegs, in 500 words. Try to make this information interesting, something worth considering. You can use images, videos, and its many hyperlinks as you like.
Next, try to make the content enjoyable and as painless as possible for the customer, preferably a lot of fun to read and watch.
Now try to get somebody else to pay attention to all the content, and actually agree that they would like to buy the product.
(Yes, the clothes pegs can be worn on the nose but be careful- You don’t want too many deaths from your product, and it is just a bit predictable.)
The reason for choosing the clothes pegs is that this particular type of product is considered so banal, and so unworthy of attention that there is almost no commercial advertising. Clothes pegs, in fact, are theoretically obsolete. It is a fairly tough sell.
…But it can be done, and relatively easily- If you know how to do that sort of content and copy.
So here’s the question folks – Do you know best?