The Internet thrives in information-rich societies. Traditional communications and marketing thrive in information-poor ones.The job of marketing and advertising was much easier in the Twentieth Century. It could inform people of genuinely novel things like cars and soap powder, microwaves and computers.
People lived rudimentary lives back then and these new products and services made things easier and more pleasant. People were information poor and the advertisement was often a source of interesting information. The marketer was saying to the consumer: "Did you know …"
But as the century progressed, genuine newness began to fade. People began to know a lot more. For increasing numbers of people, advertising became an irritant that was constantly tugging at the sleeve of their attention.
The Internet succeeds because it helps us make better decisions. We go to the Web to get more details. We go to the Web on a mission. When was the last time you went to Google and said, "I wonder what should I search for today?" You go to the Web wanting to buy a lawnmower. The chances of your attention being caught by some clever ad for a vacation in Greece is very, very small. This is a real problem for marketers, because marketers have been trained to say, "Hey, look over here. This is really interesting." Advertising is specifically designed to interrupt something you are doing.
Imagine you are sitting in an airport reading a book as you wait for your flight to be called. A stranger pulls your sleeve and smiles at you. "I've just found out about this amazing new product," he says to you smiling enthusiastically. "And I'd really like to tell you about it." What would you think of that sort of person?
On the Internet, spam emails and websites tell us they will change our lives. They tell us that they want to give us millions for nothing. All they need is our bank account details. There are obviously enough foolish people out there to make some of these spammers rich, but the Web is not the land of the fool. Quite the opposite.
The Web is the land of the skeptic, the cynic, the impatient, time-starved, information-overloaded consumer who is on a mission. The mission is to solve a problem, answer a question, get a good deal. The Web is the land of the comparison shopper, the person who wants to read reviews to see if the product is actually any good.
Trying to grab the attention and tug the sleeve of this information-rich consumer is much more likely to irritate than to interest them. Presenting them, on your homepage, with the big, smiling face of some actor who has never used your product, is a good way of getting them to sneer at you.
Marketing must change. Marketing used to say: "Don't go down that road, go down this road. My destination is much more interesting." On the Web, we choose our destination and will not change it. Marketing must now say: "I can help you get to your destination faster and easier."
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.