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Phil Wickenden: Reach is only helpful if it gets to the right people

I heard an oxymoronic gem from a fellow Gooner in Azerbaijan last week ahead of the Europa League final. “Keep your wits about you, lads,” he said. “The police here will just grab you and throw you in the cells. They don’t take no prisoners!”

The fan’s concern for his compatriots was great but his articulation less so, proving you can’t be great at everything. None of us are.

But the question is, what will you do about it? What will you do about the areas where you do not have the commitment, time or skills to be exceptional? One approach is to ignore it; to do the work poorly but pretend you don’t. Another is to talk about it with zeal.

Work to find resources you can use to avoid the things you do poorly.  Find a cohort that will challenge you to get better. Find new ways to improve. One of the areas in which advisers we spoke with recently admitted to struggling a touch is marketing communications – in particular, the dilemma of channels and reach.

But reach might be the biggest misconception in all of advertising. The X Factor has reach. Google has reach. Radio has reach.

So what? Why do you care if you can, for more money, reach more people?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to reach the right people instead?

Reach doesn’t matter, because your job isn’t to interrupt people on other planets, with other interests. Your job is to interact with people who care.

Running an ad on the most popular podcast is not smart if that podcast reaches people who do not care about you. It makes sense only to pay extra to reach precisely the right people, never more people. All the less so when we take into account the cognitive load that overwhelms us on a daily basis.

With too many choices, the stakes feel too high. Every day, we make a thousand times as many different decisions as our cavemen ancestors did.

We are exhausted from all the decisions and, more than that, from the narrative we have about making them poorly.

Over the years, marketers have offered us one wonder or another in exchange for just a little cognitive load.

And those promises have often been empty and not worth the hassle. So now, we’ll press the re-order button like a rat in a lab. It’s easier.

If you want people to stop and think (let alone act), you will need to be much smarter.

Phil Wickenden is a consultant

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