OPINION: Advertisers are only just more popular than hackers and criminals

14 Feb 2015

Self-awareness is the ultimate double-edged sword because while on one side it bestows upon us an understanding of our place in the world, on the other side the place we’ve been given isn’t always the one we would want!

Scotland’s bard Robbie Burns rightly claims that self-awareness is essential to save us from ourselves, to free us from many a blunder!

O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!

It wad frae mony a blunder free us.

Unsurprisingly in the digital world, self-awareness is a key ingredient in successful communications. And just as unsurprisingly, self-awareness involves understanding our lowly place in the pecking order, and why.

Director Woody Allen defines hell as being stuck in an elevator between an insurance salesman and a born-again Christian. You couldn’t find two more hackneyed targets for Allen’s ire if you tried, but in truth they represent two groups who haven’t always done a lot to protect their own rep. According to a recent report, if Allen had been writing his pithy observations based on digital life rather than urban life, he would have replaced the insurance salesman and the religious zealot with a hacker and an advertiser.

In Reine et al’s The Quest for Anonymity Online (2013) they cite advertisers just behind “hackers and criminals” as the group users most wish to avoid. Felons accounted for 33pc of the vote, with marketers at 28pc, certain friends at 19pc and people from your past at 19pc.

That’s right, digital advertisers are only 5pc more popular than common criminals!

Digital marketers and trust

By any measure, this is a startling insight and one which all of us involved in digital communications do well to regard. In particular, it highlights the lack of trust digital marketers endure and we do well to consider why this is. For too long marketers have exaggerated, told their own version of the story, used hyperbole, put only their best foot forward. For too long digital marketing has been intrusive, irrelevant, distracting, unhelpful, misleading and a downright waste of time.

In short, it’s our own fault. Or to put it in UX-speak, we have created a situation where organisational priorities are at direct loggerheads with the user’s needs.

And so if this “giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us” is to “frae mony a blunder free us” then we need to start by addressing the blunder of failing to align organisational communication with user priorities.

The world’s leading online brands have not only understood their customers’ expectations but have completely realigned their design and decision-making processes to put customer needs at the heart of them. 

Virtually every new software-as-a-service platform claims user experience as a differentiator but only a tiny fraction deliver. Those that deliver on the promise reap the massive commercial benefits; for proof look at Dropbox, Uber, Basecamp, Booking.com and Airbnb. Each of these businesses operate in a hyper-competitive marketplace and in each case usability and obsessing about customers has been a key ingredient in their success.

Reine et al’s report reminds us that marketing at customers online is a waste of time. The in-control user demands that we market with them.

Gareth Dunlop

 Gareth Dunlop Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy that helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Invest NI, Power NI, Three, Ordnance Survey Ireland, and Independent News and Media. Visit Fathom online.

Online advertising image via Shutterstock

Gareth Dunlop runs Fathom, a UX consultancy that helps organisations get the most from their digital products.