Customer, Interrupted: Second-Guessing Digital Marketing’s Most Effective Tactic

Jul 30 2018

Most sensible marketers — and everyone but the worst of the worst — left pop-up windows behind ages ago. While that move was welcome news to, well, everybody, similarly intrusive tactics still exist in modern marketing playbooks.

While interruptive tactics can be effective, marketers must first weigh short-term benefits with long-term costs. Full-screen overlays, modal windows, and interstitials, for example, could do more harm than good. They might be highly visible, but they can damage the overall user experience and leave a bad taste in visitors’ mouths. These modern pop-ups are simply a new breed of interruptive marketing that prioritises business needs over the experience we’re creating.

To get (and keep) audience attention, marketers must give us something worthwhile. We know this. But instead of looking for new ways to use old tricks, the best path forward requires marketers to transcend marketing for marketing’s sake by creating authentic, meaningful experiences for audiences.

Dangers of distraction

From erosion of goodwill to impressions of inauthenticity, it’s no wonder these annoying pop-up ads taught internet users from the early 2000s to hate digital marketing.

Even when interruptive content claims to be helpful, audiences aren’t fooled. They see through the sales pitch to the self-serving nature behind an advertisement. Rather than seeing it as a strong reminder that they might benefit from an experience, they view it as a manipulation tactic.

One study discovered that the presence of interruptive ads in a game made users less likely to buy from the brand than they were before they saw the ad. Truly helpful content develops relationships and increases the likelihood of future sales; annoying content inspires customers to ignore a brand and spend their money elsewhere.

Modal windows for self-serving reasons can hardly be considered contributions toward delightful experiences. Then why do marketers, who consider the customer’s delight to be their modus operandi, keep using them? Anything that pulls the customer away from the experience should be well-considered before including in your marketing toolkit.

Surprisingly, customer delight should not be our goal.

As it turns out, campaigns that seek to delight customers take significant resources and yield only minor returns. While delighting customers often winds up expensive and ineffective, something as simple as reducing the effort they must expend provides significant returns and builds goodwill. Low-effort experiences win the day in the end.

Education over interruption

People don’t browse the web for fun branded experiences; they seek the quickest and easiest solutions to their immediate problems. When brands make that process simple, customers appreciate it. A study by the Customer Contact Council found that 94 percent of customers who expended low effort to solve an issue said they would buy again; meanwhile, 81 percent who had to invest more energy said they would tell others about their negative experiences.

Don’t turn audiences away from your brand upon the first impression. Instead, reduce the effort they spend and provide the sort of content they crave. Here’s how:

1. Remove distractions

Start by eliminating anything that detracts from the experience, such as full-screen modal windows. Or at least know what you’re giving up and make sure it’s worth it.

Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz and co-founder of SparkToro, suggests avoiding anything that might harm the user experience. “If you’re willing to take a small sacrifice in user experience in exchange for a great deal of value because you capture people’s email addresses or you get more engagement of other different kinds, okay,” Fishkin writes.

You can still put offers in front of people without interrupting their experiences. Rather than force the issue, implement alternative requests through slides, accordions, expanding panes, and enhanced tooltips. This allows you to minimize interruptions while still making that call to action.

2. Instill confidence

People don’t enjoy failure. If you put consumers in a position where they might fail, they quickly become anxious and lose any incentive to continue. Eliminate this fear by making it easy for people to engage with your content. 

Allow people to solve their problems quickly. Provide easy navigation tools, such as favorites, recently viewed items, recommendations or targeted next steps so people can experience your content-driven experience in a way that is relevant and provides a path forward.

3. Outline a map to success

Create clear goals by guiding customers from one step to the next. Don’t take over the experience, but do make it easy for self-service users to focus on the next logical step in their journeys. People are visiting your website to solve a problem — help them find a solution.

Not only does this create better experiences, but it also deepens consumer engagement with your brand. If every part of the process includes guidance to a logical next step, those steps eventually lead to a series of conversions, one of which just might be the most important: becoming a customer.

4. Communicate with relevance

Provide timely, clear feedback by using click navigation to lead customers down a path of self-service. Someone who views a product might like to see related products or add-ons. Someone who reads a blog post about a do-it-yourself task might want to learn more about that process.

Subtly use UI (user interface) elements to provide feedback when users take specific actions. This immediate feedback helps maintain momentum by linking smaller goals with bigger targets in a continuum.

5. Use personalisation for all of the above

This is one of the true strengths and opportunities for content personalisation to shine. Like the interruptive techniques mentioned above, personalisation often falls prey to the inclination to sell, rather than to help. Don’t make this mistake. Use personalisation to enable the low-effort customer experience and win hearts and minds instead of a ham-fisted conversion.

Great experiences and intrusive marketing tactics generally don’t mix well. We can’t simultaneously make an experience about the customer and ourselves. Any goodwill we create will be undermined by our desire to put ourselves first. And marketers who insist on interruptive experiences will quickly find themselves irrelevant; those who provide relevant, low-effort experiences will enjoy authentic engagement — and a serious competitive advantage.

Author: Sean Schroeder