Pop quiz: who said this?
“I just want to cut through the noise.”
a) Marketers everywhere as they struggle to be heard online?
b) Overwhelmed smartphone users, as they struggle with the daily bombardment of online life?
If you said ‘both’, you’d be absolutely correct. But while they appear to want the same thing; the reality is that they are two very different sides of the same coin. While some consumers click the ‘hide this ad’ button, mark as spam or just put the metaphorical blinkers on, plenty of others are heading down the road of digital detoxing in an attempt to address social media induced stress and the seemingly endless self-imposed pressure to respond to the ‘little red dots’.
One such person is mental health campaigner and podcaster, Loren Miles who, despite being a popular social media influencer with many thousands of online followers, took the drastic step of removing herself from the internet in an attempt to reintroduce some balance to her life, and tackle ever increasing feelings of anxiety that resulted from being ‘always on’.
“You’re available to everyone when you’re on social media,” says Loren on her decision to quit. “It can be incredible, but it can also be completely detrimental. You get emails, target advertising, direct messages. Certainly, as a social media influencer in the beauty industry I got messages and emails, but then I was also being targeted as an everyday consumer. It just doesn’t sleep.” This is simply everyday life for a lot of people. The sheer volume of personalised and targeted messaging in digital, combined with lives lived online means that people and brands are fighting for attention. And when that attention is limited at best, or at worst simply makes consumers angry enough to switch off, it’s bad news for brands – they’re either noise or nothing.
It also feels disturbing when this targeting creeps into unlikely and unwanted places. Like many of us, Loren opted out of paper statements from her bank because she believed it was the ecologically sound thing to do. She quickly realised that her banking app was using this change of behaviour to target her with deals in her online statements. “Certain lines said, ‘use this and get this much cashback’, so they’ve actually integrated marketing into my bank statements based on where I’ve spent my money.”
An indication that consumers are reaching saturation point also comes from organisations such as PageFair (a service that actively tracks adblocks), which reports that around 615 million devices worldwide are now actively adblocking. And the annual ‘day of unplugging’ movement is gaining traction worldwide. Perhaps this and Loren’s experience of digital detoxing can inadvertently give brands the starting point for building a new kind of relationship with their desired audience. By completely switching off, she actually enjoyed reconnecting differently.
“It was the best thing I’ve ever done. I had my choices back. Anxiety is a lack of control and I felt so much calmer because I spoke to who I wanted to speak to and shopped when I wanted to shop.” Clearly, Loren’s world was not suddenly completely influence free, but her influences were different, less intrusive ones, such as window displays, point of sale, magazines or billboards. Dropping out of the digital deluge actually encouraged her to make the positive choice to act rather than the negative choice to ignore. This is the holy grail for marketers. “If advertising is good enough you shouldn’t have to overwhelm people with so much,” she explains. “Spend money on good advertising instead of small amounts on social media posts.”
Research certainly backs up Loren’s opinion. A famous report on the subconscious mind of the consumer by Professor Gerald Zaltman of Harvard Business School is the source of a statement oft-cited by advertising agencies – 80% of the buying decision is emotional. And in pursuit of these positively charged decisions, Professor Zaltman explains something that seems so obvious, “Imaginative thinking by managers and market researchers is required to successfully apply insights… for example, to generate helpful new products, more informative communications, and more rewarding in-store experiences.”. The key is to ‘mix it up’.
Marketers who create campaigns that embrace digital and real-world opportunities are not just selling but building a rounded relationship with the consumer. And part of this emotional connection can be found through good old-fashioned print. Even today, when our news can (and often does) come from anywhere, today’s consumers look to traditional media as a source of trusted information and this trust extends into the ads they publish, which still hold their value. The same can be said of direct mail, which recently surprised and delighted Loren, “I had a free National Geographic sent to me. I follow National Geographic on Instagram and I don’t read that much from them, but because I got it sent to me, I sat and went through the whole thing.”