Don’t Ever Marry Your Target Audience

Our Marketing Hack of the Year
Image by Leszek Paradowski

If you’ve ever lived under the same roof with your significant other before and after the marriage, you must have noticed a change in communication. Some ephemeral changes happen literally overnight, while others are slower but nonetheless inevitable taking weeks or even months.

Here’s another observation: perhaps you had a colleague, a sort of an ordinary acquaintance, a pal in the office, who was suddenly promoted. If you stop to think about it, your communication with them has imperceptibly changed, hasn’t it?

What unites these two examples is the subjects’ awareness of their increased safeguarding against potential ills of the world around them. In turn, their agenda changes and attitude shifts in almost the opposite way; they become less likely to discuss subtle, abstract, and not particularly applied complex matters. In other words, their content becomes more practical but — more importantly — “primitivized”.

Business Communication Tends to Trivialize as Business Matures

This not only happens to people, but to other complex sentient organisms as well, organizations and businesses in particular. While a business “feels” comparatively immature and unprotected — before it gains a steady foothold — we deal with an intelligent, interlocutor who willingly provides detailed and deep materials (e.g. a white paper). A startup’s collective mind rightly perceives probable investors as a potential part of itself; as such, the communication is built with an attempt to be on an equal footing with investors, at an intellectual level set to the reachable maximum. While interacting with an investor, a business in its early stage does not allow itself to implicitly assume that it is addressing a dumbass. The business does not simplify the language, does not use trivial and vulgar tricks to convince or manipulate, does not generally offend its counterpart with primitivization or straight-forward advertisements.

In contrast, once a business branches into solids, the sense of independence becomes accompanied by a slide in marketing communication, degraded to slogans, simplified texts, teaser pictures, and other half-wits-oriented content.

The bar of minimum intellectual qualification can often be safely lowered with positive immediate effects. This would not be a problem, if not for one unfortunate circumstance — the transition to “yellowness” never comes alone. It has quite terrible concomitant diseases and side effects. Let’s take a step back and recall some of the history of content trivialization.

Tolerated General Content Trivialization? Now Watch for Ad-blocking Gandering from Behind!

Nowadays, it is considered normal that most published content is “pop”, “yellow”, or “belongs to mass culture”. This was not the case 157 year ago, before Beadle brothers’ dime novels; only 122 years ago the incubus was completely set free with the “yellow kid” comic. So, what’s the difference? Yellowing an edition hardly helps to gain an additional market share or attract not-yet-readers. 100% of people’s attention is already occupied; online, informational junk is now capable of self-multiplication through “likes” and “upvotes”, thus vacuous content ousts the valuable. That’s pretty much where its influence ends.

The frayed phenomenon of primitive content’s popularity would not have become life-threatening for good brands and honest marketers were it not for being followed by ad-blocking, which is also nothing new. It may be hard to locate when people first declared war on commercials, but the story begins at least in 1950 with the invention of television remote control. Seventy years later, we now have fully automated online ad-blockers. Today, almost half of all people use ad-blockers and we find ourselves standing on the doorsteps of a new ad-blocking era, that powered by artificial intelligence.

The real danger is a combination of the two: trivial content meets ad-blocking, the perfect storm which ignites the spiral of death. Step by step, brands and their best customers are separated into two different universes. Brands remain in the cell with fools, pop music, and laughable advertising; sane people leave for freedom without advertising, with paid subscriptions to clever content.

In the digital marketing its programmatic layer in particular, the business elite’s pronouncements on the two issues show little consistency; their outlines, however, suggest the mood is mostly isolationist and dismissive of the broader meta-industry order that had been constructed — largely by Google — in the course of the entire last decade. Some declare anti-crisis coalitions “obsolete,” others criticize particular players for starting costly, unwinnable wars, but most just focus on internal policies.

Ad-blocking, in its Turn, has an Unexpected Side-Effect You Can Exploit

— My website does not sell ads inventory and my business does not currently try to attract investors. Can I possibly benefit from an anti-ad-blocking software and investor relations tactics?
— The answer is “yes for both”.

The ad-blocking crisis produces both motivation and an opportunity for a brave and rigorous marketer. Since we’ve nailed the source and essence of the problem, we understand there’s at least one reason to be optimistic. It turns out that statistics implicitly confirm a peculiar silver lining. The very fact of using of an ad-blocking software marks advanced users; there are plenty of special analytics software options to detect and monitor, called anti-ad-blockers or counter-ad-blockers. Install one and you will quickly find that across all demographic strata, all major user engagement indicators such as bounce rate, page views depth, dwelling time, etc. will improve for users who block ads. And that’s happening not because of an improved no-ads-anymore user experience.

I presume you just don’t have any ads on your website, just because most businesses don’t.

Misusing things often overlaps with inventing

Advice to deploy an anti-ad-blocking software on a website that doesn’t have advertising inventory may sound strange, but why would you care if that allows you to directly communicate with your smartest potential customers? Normally, such software is used to prompt an ad-blocking user with a message like “We noticed you use an ad-blocker, let’s clear things out…”, and then the action continues. It could be pretty much anything, including an option to present that user with content that is different from normal, with normal being banned altogether, blurred, limited, etc. Nothing stops you from using a principally similar scenario, but with no “punishment” involved. On the contrary, you can proceed by additionally welcoming such users with a piece of special, more advanced, better-than-average content.

What counter-ad-blocking software is normally used for — enforcement of reciprocity — marks only one, and not the mightiest, of the possible communication strategies. Where ordinary online publishers develop a new utility vocabulary for philosophizing user idiosyncrasies, businessmen who are not concerned with the sale of advertising space can use this software to expound the allure of their services to advanced customers in a form that doesn’t insult their intelligence. There’s no reason you should follow the mainstream and consider the old custom to have a whitepaper or a full-scale business catalog as a decorative anachronism.

Your customers deserve more of your kind attention than your investors — the former do not try to take some of your ownership away. So, if you gift your investors with a comprehensive whitepaper, don’t deny your customers of the same right; moreover, you just learned a simple trick how to filter out customers who would consider a long paper reading as a burden.

The nature and temper of web content has undergone a generational shift, albeit faster than children turn to adults, but slowly enough to clearly differentiate one epoch from another. Facebook and Twitter — which will probably lend their names to the current times in the future historians’ manuscripts — are already a history. We are on the doorstep of a new era and it is in our interests to speed up its arrival. How can we do that? Simply put: the deliberate and conscious upgrade of our content quality.

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