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Stop! Why interruption marketing doesn’t work

Written by Seth Jackson on September 7th, 2017

Disrupting someone’s day can turn a positive user experience into a negative one. Tread carefully…

Marketing is all about grabbing people’s attention. A little bit state-the-obvious there, but it’s true – grabbing people’s attention, and then encouraging them to do something as a result, is really, at its simplest, the end goal of every brand.

So, how do we do that? Well, traditionally, brands used what’s now known as outbound marketing – going out into the world, finding people and spreading your message around. One form of this is interruption marketing – marketing that stops people in their tracks and demands they pay attention before you let them get on their way again.

But with so many brands competing for space online, outbound marketing is reaching its limits of effectiveness. So instead of pushing your message on the world, the newest tactic favoured in digital marketing is to subtly put out some delicious content to serve as bait that attracts people inwards – and towards your brand. This is called inbound marketing.

Interruption marketing and inbound are somewhat at odds, but it doesn’t stop people trying to smush them together, barraging the people who have taken the tasty content-bait with messages they can’t avoid. We’re going to have a little look at why that’s not always the best idea.

What is interruption marketing?

Interruption marketing is any form of marketing that forces people to stop what they’re doing and pay attention to a message before they can carry on. This can include:

  • Telemarketing cold calls
  • Website pop-ups
  • Television ads
  • Those ads that play before YouTube videos

You know, that sort of thing. The stuff that gets in the way – whether engaging with the ad is the price you pay to access something, or just coming at you out of the blue.

Sidebars, sponsored ads on search engines, even a billboard – these aren’t really forms of interruption marketing because they don’t get in your way. Billboards aren’t placed in the middle of the road with a door to drive through once you’ve had a good look, for example. You can look at them if you want to, but they’re easy to ignore. With interruption marketing, not so much.

Literally everyone hates pop-ups

And so, we come to one of the most despised forms of interruption marketing – the pop-up ad. If there’s one piece of conventional web wisdom that everyone knows, it’s that pop-ups are the worst. They just… they just suck.

Or do they? We’ve looked into the pros and cons of pop-ups in an earlier blog, and it has to be said that they can be effective. But at what cost?

Google penalises sites with too many mobile ads, AdBlock is incredibly popular, and too many ads really put people off using a website. You don’t need to be a UX specialist to know that an advert that you can’t avoid can kill a user journey dead.

While we’re not totally anti-pop-up, we would recommend that they’re always used sparingly, and that there are some similar, but less disruptive, alternatives that can also be really effective.

But generally speaking, the traditional pop-up is probably on the way out. Why? Because it’s just not precise enough for the way the internet works now.

Interruption marketing is just too unfocused

Interruption marketing, whether it’s a pop-up or a TV ad, is sort of the marketing equivalent of standing in the middle of a town centre and screaming into the void.  What are you screaming? Who are you screaming at? Who cares, as long as your voice is heard.

More than ever, though, people want something personalised from their marketing experience. We all say that it’s creepy when Facebook knows what we’re thinking – and it kind of is – but you also can’t deny that it’s pretty useful to actually have relevant ads shown to you every now and then, rather than ads for cat food when you don’t have a cat, that sort of thing.

So much of interruption marketing relies on using one message over and over again – showing it to everyone in the hope that some people will take the bait. Cold-calling is scripted, pop-ups can’t be targeted to individual users, and so on. YouTube ads are starting to get more targeted – which is an interesting development – but it’s still out of reach on other platforms.

Outside of YouTube, the interruption process can still be tweaked here and there once you know a bit more about the user – smart CTAs can show different messages depending on what people have already viewed on a site, a cold-caller can take the script in different directions – but this means people have to engage at least a little bit with the initial interruption to stick with you long enough for you to find this out. If you’re wanting to build relationships with your visitors and customers, there are better ways to go about it.

People want relevance and choice

The public’s engagement with marketing isn’t passive anymore – people make a choice about which brands they want to engage with and see messages from. It’s who we follow on social media, whose email newsletters we sign up to, which sites we value enough to disable AdBlock for. But a big part of that choice is also about switching off, and ignoring marketing comms altogether if people want to.

Interruption marketing generally doesn’t give people a choice. They don’t choose the message, and they don’t choose whether or not they have to see it. Younger people in particular are not into this – surveys have found that two-thirds of millennials want control over the ads they see, more than the 56% of consumers of all ages who said that choosing relevant content is important for them.

This is the way things are going. Relevance and choice are absolutely essential for convincing people to trust your brand – they need to feel like it’s their decision, like they’ve found you after considering the options and weighing the pros and cons. Interruption marketing takes that power away.

Permission marketing is much better for building relationships

Think of interruption marketing as essentially bombarding a consumer into submission – they choose you so you’ll shut up and leave them alone. It’s a good quick win, sure, but is it the way to build a long-term customer who trusts you?

The answer, to be honest, is pretty much just “no”. However, the customer who’s found out a bit about you on their own, decided that you’re the brand for them, and has chosen to interact with you, is going to stick around.

Inbound marketing is all about playing the long game – attracting people, converting them to customers, and delighting them enough that they not only keep coming back for more, but start spreading the news about how good you are, turning customers into brand advocates that help attract more people.

Building authenticity

This slow process is how brands build authenticity – people start to see you as a reliable voice, with great content, and the services to back it up.

The inbound method of creating content that answers potential customers’ questions as a means of encouraging them to come to you to solve their problem relies on showing customers that you care about their needs – and are here to help.

Interruption marketing, on the other hand, seems a bit thoughtless in comparison. Although there is still a craft to it, it looks to the world like it’s chucking a message at the wall and hoping it sticks, rather than crafting something that’s genuinely useful among the noise of the digital landscape. And while it may be good for a quick win – the sheer volume of messages going out will lead to some clicks and conversions in a pure numbers game – it could harm your brand in the long run.

At the very least, it’s wasted time and effort that could be spent creating something more worthwhile!

If you’d like to find out more about how we do just that, click below to download our free resource that’ll take you through the ins and outs of content marketing and inbound.

Written by Seth Jackson on September 7th, 2017

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