When it comes to reaching and engaging with consumers, are our expectations too high?


This question is for the PR and communications folks. The marketing people. The entrepreneurs and business owners. 

When it comes to reaching people with our message, are we still partying like it’s 1999?

Do we honestly think we can reach the same number of people we did two years ago? Five years ago?

Are we overly optimistic in thinking we’re going to engage the number of people we think we should be engaging with our (marketing and corporate) communications, or are we simply pulling figures out of our proverbial backside?

Now, I’m not saying we can’t reach big numbers of people, far from it.

Indeed, we see it all the time – savvy brands that over time build large, influential and engaged communities that in turn spread their content and message on their behalf. And of course, sometimes brands do fluke the odd viral video smash hit.

Needless to say, if you’ve got cash to burn, you can always rent someone else’s audience (‘paid media”) and belt ’em over the head with your message ad nauseam, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. We definitely know the traditional scattergun paid media approach is becoming less and less effective, with brands having to pay more to reach less people (people, I might add, who are ready, willing and able to block your message).

No, I’m more concerned with reaching people via owned, earned and social media, and of those reached, hopefully a percentage of them take notice of what it is you have to say, and of that lot, a smaller percentage again are influenced enough to take action (whatever the action is you want them to take – buy a product, refer a friend, download a whitepaper, come see you speak, vote for your organisation, provide a donation etc).

Before reading further, please check out the infographic below (here is a cool tune to listen to while you’re digesting the data presented).


Pretty crazy stats, huh?

If your YouTube video ‘only’ gets 800 views, do you say: “That’s not enough” (and when you say it, do you even know what ‘enough’ actually is?).

If your blog post gets read by 1634 people, or your whitepaper gets 850 downloads, or your podcast is downloaded 1000 times. Would you class that as being good? Five years ago, these figures (maybe) would have been higher because there were less blogs, less ebooks and whitepapers being offered in exchange for an email address, and definitely less action on the podcasting front.

Today, however, things are a lot tougher (unless you’ve had the ‘luxury’ of building your audience for a number years).

If your Facebook post only reaches 2 per cent of your 2800-strong Brand Page; if your Periscope live stream only attracts 45 views … if your tweet was only retweeted 13 times, is that considered a good result? And is having 2800 people ‘like’ your Facebook page an impressive statistic for your industry, or is it lame? The same question could be asked about the number of Twitter or Instagram followers you have. NOTE: Of course it’s not necessarily the numbers of followers that’s really important ultimately but the level of engagement you’re getting, and are the relationships you build on these social networks driving a desired (commercial) outcome for your brand?

So would you be disappointed or happy with the figures mentioned above?

Obviously these figures are totally random and illustrative only because it’s going to be a lot different for a well-known brand with money and people behind it versus a small-to-medium enterprise that’s doing the hard yards on social media with little in the way of resources (although sometimes the latter can punch well above its weight!). And budget brings with it a whole set of expectations as we know. But I ask again: Are those expectations in-sync with today’s noisy digital world? Do they take into consideration the fact people have virtually zero attention spans?

This is something I hear quite often from agency folk working with large organisations, how their clients are setting them goals that they believe are often unachievable.

Unachievable why?

Because people aren’t interested in your brand!

They’re too busy:

  • liking their friends’ Instagram photos;
  • perusing (or uploading to) images on Pinterest;
  • watching Netflix;
  • voting on Reddit;
  • browsing Amazon; or
  • making Skype calls.

And if they’re not doing that, they’re snapchatting, tweeting, downloading apps from iTunes, chatting to an Uber driver or swiping left (or right) on Tinder – as per the infographic above.

And you think they’re going spend time with you?

I’m not being negative, just realistic.

Maybe it’s time we start realigning our expectations as to what can be achieved with our marketing and communications? Information noise is at all-time highs (and it’s going to get noisier), and our target audience is more preoccupied with digital minutiae than ever before. Again, this is going to get worse too as more and more content seeps from every digital orifice imaginable, demanding our already over-stretched attention. (Marketing author and blogger, Mark Schaefer, wrote a good piece on what he calls ‘content shock’).

Which means your job of cutting through and resonating just got a whole lot harder. Just wondering, have you factored that into your expectations?

Does this mean we shouldn’t try and reach for the engagement stars?

Absolutely not!

We should always be looking for growth in engaged followers. We should be always be striving to attract more YouTube views and podcast listens, encourage more people to like or comment on our stuff on Facebook and  willingly opt in to our email subscriber list.

We want to grow an engaged audience that consumes our content and increasingly shares it with their networks of fans, followers and friends.

And we should always be striving for more (and better) media exposure, and more productive and mutually beneficial relationships with key influencers in our marketplace and industry.

And yes, we want to increase the propensity for people to act in a certain way (if that is our goal). Generating an outcome from said activity should be at the forefront of our minds.

But again, let’s do it from a base of realistic expectations.

Xqr9iXvVDarren Rowse (left) from Problogger and Digital Photography School fame attracts something like five million readers to his two blogs every month. He’s been in this blogging caper for about a decade now, and he’s been prolific and relentlessly generous over that period of time. But if Darren had to start all over again today, from scratch, I doubt his growth trajectory would be as impressively steady as it has been over the journey.

If Darren kicked off his blogs today, while he’d do everything in his power to grow an engaged audience, he’d also understand it’s a lot tougher to cut through and be heard because of the high density of noise that consumes us daily.

So let’s shoot for quality, as Darren has done consistently over the journey.

Let’s connect with our audience in a way that’s authentic and human.

Let’s add value at every turn.

But let’s not get too hung up on the numbers as we would have five years ago.

Let’s be content with connecting with audiences that are smaller but more engaged versus trying to hit targets that were probably do-able five years ago but today are fanciful. And even if you do hit them, chances are your message is not cutting through and resonating anyway.

As Seth Godin has been quoted as saying:

“Entertaining the people who click on 50 things a day will get you numbers, but it won’t make a difference.”

What do you think?

Are our expectations out of sync with reality?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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3 thoughts on “When it comes to reaching and engaging with consumers, are our expectations too high?”

  1. Pingback: Engaging with consumers: Are our expectations t...

  2. Before we engage in our customers, we must ask ourselves the questions “What do they want? Will this attract them? Does this have the charm to persuade them to engage?”. Simple and basic questions in marketing yet we do not practice it. We always think that we can exceed to the expectations of our customers but we cannot and will never will. The world of economics tell us a principle that consumers has never ending wants. By that, we can concur that no one will ever can exceed to the expectation of a consumer.

  3. Pingback: Engaging influencers is the key to avoiding content shock - Spark

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