Marketing in a World Where Everybody Hates Marketing

In my last post I explored a fast-growing phenomenon, one that many digital marketers really don’t want to hear: not only do consumers not want any more marketing material shoved in their faces than they already get, plenty of us are saying we don’t want to engage with brands, full stop. Worse still, it looks like the very bedrock of commerce – trust – is being eroded, with punters trusting brands less than ever. So how do you do marketing in this strange new world?

Marketing in an era when nobody wants to hear from you

If you’re planning to visit Piccadilly Circus next month, look out for a new 790 square metre advertising billboard. It’s no ordinary billboard. It’ll display ads based on the make, model and colour of passing cars, identifying them via hidden cameras in the screen itself. The intention is to spot high value vehicles and tailor ads to their occupants, cars apparently being a reliable indicator of wealth, ethnic background and educational achievement. Dystopian? Plenty of people think so. At the same time Donald Trump is gathering vast amounts of social media data about immigrants to create an Alien Files database, in a bid to make the USA ‘safer’.  These are just two of an increasing number of news items about ‘sinister’ marketing practices and dodgy data dealings.
Most people would agree that the more of us trust society, the brighter society’s future will be. Trust is the glue that bonds us. So it’s disturbing to see a trend for people trusting brands, governments and lawmakers less than ever. Luckily this slump is matched by an increase in trust amongst individuals, a phenomenon beautifully illustrated by the sharing economy. As Air BnB’s Global Director of Trust, Nick Shapiro, says, “Trust is going down in most places but we’re seeing people trust each other more”.
Distrust in institutions pre-dates the internet, of course, but the web has revealed the dark side in unprecedented ways. We know that Volkswagon cheated on emissions reporting. We know the NSA watches US citizens like a particularly unpleasant hawk. We understand the role banks played in trashing the Western economy, and we know that election systems around the world are deeply flawed. Our eyes have been opened, and they’re unlikely to close now the genie is out of the box.
Marketing in this unfamiliar landscape presents all sorts of new challenges. How do you engage with people who don’t want to hear from you, who are not interested in engaging with brands, who trust corporate entities less than ever, who value their privacy above any amount of targeted, tailored, data-driven offers?

Is less actually more?

In a landscape like this, with the GDPR coming into play next May, digital marketing is heading for a crisis. Unless EU consumers actively opt into marketing on a brand-by-brand basis, marketers won’t be able to contact them. At all. Ever. And if that isn’t scaring the digital marketing sector, it damn well ought to be.
How do you get people to opt-in to marketing? One thing is becoming clear: not by constantly blasting out more content, more emails, more text messages, adverts, notifications, appeals, promises and offers.
A brave step might be to do less marketing, since the indications suggest less may be more. Decoupling quality from quantity might help. Today’s content marketing tactics often involve generating a constant stream of awesome quality stuff in an effort to thrill consumers at every conceivable touch point. But this increasing level of content, fantastic quality as it might be, seems to annoy people more than it pleases them. It looks like the thinking behind content marketing doesn’t actually translate very well into real life.

Marketing tips for a bizarre world

It goes without saying that the more consumers you can persuade to opt-in to marketing communications, the better. But it’s pretty tricky when people are so disengaged. Here are a few ideas that might support an increase in trust, therefore a desire to opt-in.

  • Stop assuming that it’s OK to re-target people, following them around the internet like a bad smell
  • Stop assuming that everyone is desperate for you to deliver an endless stream of new content
  • Make every communication count – if you don’t have anything worth saying, say nothing
  • Market less frequently – test the frequency of your campaigns to find a decent balance
  • Put people first – target punters based on how often they want to hear from you, not on how often you want to contact them
  • Remember marketing isn’t about what you want to say. It’s about what your customers want to hear. If you don’t know what they want to hear, ask them
  • Be 100% open about what data you collect, how you store it and what you’ll be using it for before GDPR comes in
  • Make your website – your shop window – as excellent as it can be, a treat to use with a superb UX
  • Beat everyone else on the price and quality of your products, customer service and after-sales support

Taking things to the extreme, you could simply ask people what kind of marcomms they’d like to get from you. It might be ‘none’. But at least you’ll know. Then you can promise never to market to them again. Ironically, that might be the very thing that wins their loyalty.

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