The industry needs to go beyond the bubble and start listening to actual audiences, writes Atomic 212° head of strategy Asier Carazo.
There is a tendency in our industry to take ourselves far too seriously; to consider ourselves or, by extension, our agency to be some kind of all-seeing, all-knowing soothsayer who provides predictions about the future with absolute certainty.
We need to have a bit of humility, to listen to a dissenting opinion from time to time, because this provides the opportunity to find a solid answer, backed up by data sourced from consumers.
THE INDUSTRY ECHO CHAMBER
One of the most common complaints about the way we communicate these days is that we often find ourselves living in an echo chamber.We tend to follow people on social media with whom we agree on most important matters – those who like what we like, think the way we think, and disagree with matters we also find objectionable.
The result is often a seriously homogenised outlook on the world, one in which we are rarely challenged by alternative – let alone completely opposite – viewpoints of the world. And we can be completely incredulous, even angry, when we come across someone who disagrees with our way of thinking.
I know, I know, the online echo chamber is old news. But have you stopped to listen to the sounds bouncing around inside our industry?
It’s not that we’re an industry of ‘yes’ people, it’s that – from a work perspective – we’re a fairly narrow target audience. We largely read the same publications, attend the same conferences, and interact on the same platforms. Which means there can be a lack of variety when a client comes up with a new problem. Or, worse, there can be a tendency to dismiss a dissenting viewpoint because it’s not broadly held at your company – and you talked to a mate at another big agency, and they say the same thing as you.
We’ve become all too ready to say, “I know” to a client’s problem without stopping and thinking about whether the answer we’re putting forward is a robust response backed up by data, or just a common refrain we’ve heard so many times it’s become the accepted truth.
OPTIMISTS AGAINST THE REAL WORLD
While there is no shortage of pessimists and cynics in our industry, at our core, we are fundamentally optimists.Because we have to be.I mean, what other industry holds a major event where speakers call the industry itself “silly, ridiculous or stupid”, as happened at the 2019 Advertising Week conference.
We live with this every day and therefore perhaps become complacent about the fact the majority of our audience are being brought to what we do kicking and screaming.Because the stats repeatedly tell us that our audience doesn’t care about brands or advertising.So to tell a client, with actual conviction and belief, “your audience really likes…” is a whisker short of a lie. They don’t like much of anything we do. They tolerate it. And it’s important to remember that – if not focus on it – because it’s a way of keeping in mind that what we as marketers believe about our job and our industry at large may be fundamentally different to the perception of the everyday person.
So why wouldn’t we investigate when someone disagrees with what our colleagues and competitors all broadly believe?
“REAL USERS (NOT YOUR COLLEAGUES)”
As our colleagues working in UX should remind us on a daily basis, ‘you are not the user’.
We all bring our own influences, opinions and biases to work every day – and that’s fine. The problem is forgetting that we forget these inclinations are our own and begin projecting them onto our audience.
Your actual audience – aka ‘real users’ – are a goldmine of information that are far too often ignored because we simply believe we know what they want.
While the likes of Henry Ford and Steve Jobs are famous for changing the world by supposedly ignoring what people wanted and giving them what they are going to want, both also tested the hell out of their markets first. Because even visionaries who end up dictating terms start out by listening to complaints.
All of which is to say we should embrace the dissenting opinion. To, rather than take it as an offence, see the potential for learning and growth.
My personal resolution for 2022 was to spend more time understanding other perspectives, getting out of the agency ‘bubble’ and simply listen more. We may have only just begun February – the month when the majority of New Year’s resolutions fail – but I’ve got plans in place to ensure I stick to this one.
And I suspect I’ll have results to show for it as well.
Asier Carazo is the head of strategy at Atomic 212.