Is Anybody Paying Attention? The Changing Face of Marketing Communication
Marketing messages bombard consumers daily. J. W. Smith, strategic planning and marketing expert, estimated Americans are exposed to 3,500 to 5,000 marketing messages a day (Howard, 2005). These include spam, text messages, instant messaging, pop-up ads, television commercials, telemarketing and direct mail solicitation – just to name a few. While some marketers believe these approaches are clever, cost-effective strategies, such messages often can annoy busy consumers who perceive such interruptions as uninvited and unappreciated.
Tired of the Interruption
Described as America's greatest marketer, Seth Godin (2008) calls such approaches interruption marketing – strategies that intrude in order to get a person's attention. Author of multiple best selling books, Godin suggests that interruption marketing is increasingly ineffective. Armed with remote controls, mute buttons, pop-up ad blockers, spam filters, caller ID, and TIVO, people use technology to avoid irritating, uninvited marketing messages.
In 2005, a naturalistic, ethnographic project conducted as part of a University of Phoenix undergraduate research class documented how frequently some consumers avoid marketing messages. In their homes, 155 students unobtrusively observed a member of their family, who was watching television. During a 15-minute observation period, 22% of viewers did not change the channel. The remaining 78%, however, changed the channel 10 or more times. Approximately 12% of television viewers changed the channel in excess of 30 times (averaging two changes per minute). One individual changed the channel 170 times in a 15-minute observation period – equating to about 11 changes per minute.
When asked to describe whether people paid attention to television commercials, observers described various channel surfing behaviors. Some people shopped for different shows. Others flipped when commercials aired. Even individuals who remained on the same channel often did not pay attention. Instead, they left the room, talked on the phone or fell asleep.
Asking for Permission
So what can businesses do to get their marketing messages heard? Rather than using strategies designed to interrupt potential customers, Godin (2008) suggests permission is the key to marketing communication. Permission strategies encourage potential customers to agree to receiving announcements and advertising. For instance, a restaurant might offer a 10% discount to individuals willing to share their email address for a monthly newsletter. Unlike spam, viewed largely as an unwanted interruption, permission-initiated marketing tends to be welcomed by potential customers, who requested the communication and recognize its relevance to their lives.
When designing permission marketing strategies, Godin (1999) recommends businesses ask three questions (p. 50):
- Is the message anticipated? Do people expect to receive your message? Are they looking forward to hearing from you again?
- Is the message personal? Do people believe the information was designed for their individual needs?
- Is the message relevant? Will people value the information? Is it important and useful?
Cutting Out the Clutter
Interruption marketing frequently is annoying and inefficient. With consumers short on time and attention, marketers should focus on developing long-term relationships with potential customers. Rather than using generic appeals designed to sell to everyone, marketers should focus on people who are genuinely interested.
Godin, in an interview with the editor of Fast Company, described the changing face of marketing communication this way, "Advertising just doesn't work as well as it used to—in part because there's so much of it, in part because people have learned to ignore it, in part because the rise of the Net means that companies can go beyond it... that's going to change the way almost everything is marketed to almost everybody." (Taylor, 2008).
Godin, S. (1999). Permission marketing. New York: Simon & Schuster.