The Marketer/Consumer Disconnect: What It Is, How to Spot it, and How to Fix It

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The Marketer/Consumer Disconnect: What It Is, How to Spot it, and How to Fix It

Washing your hands. It’s something we’ve been taught to do since we were kindergarteners. It’s a cheap, simple, effective way to help keep yourself healthy. Hand washing has been proven to prevent diarrhea and pneumonia (amongst other common illnesses), and has even been shown to improve development in children.

I think it’s safe to say that most people would agree that hand washing is a good habit. What I’d also expect is that health experts—the very people from whom this advice originates—would be among the best practitioners of this simple habit. Surprisingly, research shows that isn’t the case.

A huge study released last year found just the opposite: “doctors and nurses aren’t following guidelines on washing their hands before and after they come into contact with patients.” After analyzing data from 37 hospitals around the United States, researchers found more than 14 million instances in which a caregiver had contact with a patient and should’ve washed his or her hands, but didn’t. 14 million!

This seems counterintuitive. Healthcare workers in hospitals are at the front lines of maintaining positive health practices, and yet, there’s this huge disconnect between what they should be doing and what they’re actually doing. Whatever the reason is, it’s clear that this is a problem.

A similar thing is happening in business marketing. (I’ll add now that I realize lives aren’t at stake with the marketing problem I’m about to discuss.) There’s a significant disconnect between what marketers personally believe to be good marketing practice as consumers, and how they actually market the companies they work for and with.

It’s something I like to call the marketer/consumer disconnect. Today, I’d like to talk to my fellow marketers about what it is, how to spot it, and most importantly, how to fix it. Let’s start with the first step: defining the problem.

Defining the problem

Like doctors and nurses who know they’re supposed to wash their hands but don’t, my time in corporate social media has taught me that there is a significant number of marketers who know how they personally consume social media, and yet don’t follow those same habits when publishing on behalf of a company or brand.

When, for example, is the last time you liked or favorited a post from a company that was just a link and a headline? The last time you went out of your way to follow a brand when you didn’t feel they offered you something valuable in return? The last time you clicked on a news feed ad with no clear CTA? How many times have you come across a company’s social media page, looked at their posts, and just rolled your eyes because you couldn’t believe some social media person actually approved that content? Though none of these things on their own are death sentences, when they’re consistently done blindly and without intention, they can become insidious.

I’ve spoken at length with lots of people (marketers, specifically) about how they consume social media content, and not many of them use social media in the way I’ve just asked about: liking content just to like it, clicking on bad ads, following ‘boring’ companies. We know bad social media and marketing when we see it. And yet, it’s clear that someone is composing this content and passing it off as good. So what’s the deal?

My best guess is that this comes down to a disconnect between marketers as consumers and marketers as marketers, despite the fact that they’re often the same people. Doctors know they’re supposed to wash their hands frequently, but for whatever reason, they often don’t. Marketers know how they personally use social media, and yet, those standards often go out the window when it comes time to manage a company’s social media marketing.

This disconnect between those two sides of marketing is what I’m referring to here. And it’s something we absolutely need to fix if we want marketing to remain relevant in an era of never-ending content and a surge in ad blocking.

Spotting the disconnect 

So, we think there might be a problem: how do we spot it?

Unfortunately, I’m not a statistician and I don’t have 37 companies and their individual marketers to build a dataset on. What I do have is a good bit of experience working on both sides of the equation: on the one side, as a frequent consumer of social media and other marketing; on the other, as a marketer who’s written content and social media posts for dozens of different companies throughout my career. Does that make me an expert? I’m not sure. But I do know it’s given me a lot of perspective about the dynamics at play in this interesting relationship.

The best way to spot the problem—and then help solve it—is to look at your own work. No one ever wants to admit their work needs to be improved, but it’s something we can’t be afraid to talk about as marketers.

You might be contributing to the marketer/consumer disconnect if:

  • Your set of standards for writing client content is lower than your personal standards for interacting with content on social media
  • You’re publishing social media content “just to publish it”
  • You wouldn’t ever personally interact with the content you’re posting for your client
  • You aren’t keeping your own consumption habits in mind when writing content
  • You don’t feel personally invested in the content you post

This list isn’t exhaustive, of course. The most important question when trying to spot this disconnect is, “would I ever personally interact with this content if it came up in my own feed?” I don’t mean, “I will interact with this content because my boss asked me to.” I mean, subject matter aside (industry news might not be personally relevant to you), is the content you’re creating content that you would personally engage with if you weren’t already connected to it?

If the answer is no, then chances are you’re not thinking hard enough about the people on the other end of the screen—the ones for whom the content is written. What’s the shortest distance between your marketing needs and your audience’s content desires? 

Empathy: the key to the fix

Though there are multiple factors at play, empathy serves as the bedrock of the solution to the marketing disconnect. Empathy is something I’ve written about before, and is something I continue to think should play a central role in marketing today.

Boiled down to it, empathy is essentially the ability to put on someone else’s shoes—the ability to see the world through the eyes of another person. If marketers practiced empathy more often, I have a feeling that the disconnect I’ve spent this article discussing would quickly disappear.

When marketers put on their marketing hats and compose marketing content for clients, they too often ignore the people on the other end—the people who will actually consume the content. For whatever reason, despite knowing that they themselves consume social media in an entirely different way, they forget everything they know and churn out content that they feel no personal attachment to. Thus, the marketer/consumer disconnect.

By putting on the shoes of the people who will ultimately consume your corporate marketing content, you’re forced to think differently about what matters. About the content that’s relevant. About the best way to get that message across. Just being conscious of the disconnect goes a long way towards solving it.

When you market with empathy, that low(er) set of standards for writing client content is raised. That content you publish “just to publish it” never makes it past editing. You actually would interact with the content you’re posting for the client, because you wrote it with real people in mind. You do feel personally invested in the content you post, because you were thinking about your true end user when you wrote it. All those signs of the disconnect suddenly disappear, and the disconnect disappears with them.

When it comes down to it, all the problems that cause the marketer/consumer disconnect are closely related to marketers’ ability to put themselves in their audience’s shoes and create content to fit. Do that, and there’s no more disconnect.

This isn’t easy, and it’s not something all marketers remember. Like doctors and nurses forgetting or neglecting to wash their hands despite knowing they should, too often, we fall into the trap of doing what’s easy and convenient instead of doing what’s right.

In today’s always-on world, though, where we’re constantly bombarded with content and where the most common solution to bad ads is blocking advertising altogether, exercising empathy and bridging the gap between publishing and consumption is something that absolutely must happen.

John strongly dislikes many businesses’ social media accounts. He’s Content Manager at KreativElement.

photo credit: Stretched Skies via photopin (license)

John Darwin
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