Listening to customers makes business sense

Listening to customers is the name of the game in business these days, but advertising and media companies seem happy to ignore such developments. Bob Wootton says it’s time they changed. Bob Wootton is director of media services at ISBA.

If there is any common theme coming from business gurus these days it has to be “listen to your customers”.

From major retailers, to banks and cars manufacturers, customer relationships are as critical a differentiation as specification and price.

By contrast, the advertising and media industries often seem to have a completely different mind set.

The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) strives to make customers’ (advertisers’) views known, but all too often it’s like going to a shop assistant and being told “nah, mate, you don’t want that, what you really want is”.

Take our May submission to the ITC – supported in detail by almost 80 major advertisers spending some 850m annually on TV. We requested that the terrestrial commercial broadcasters be permitted to carry the same levels of advertising as their satellite and cable competitors and European counterparts – an average of nine minutes per hour.

Since broadcasters already manipulate their inventories to increase from nine minutes up to the absolute maximum of 12 minutes of ads in peak time, where the revenue opportunity is greatest, our proposal amounts to little more than seeking regulatory formalisation of what is already a widespread custom and practice.

Agencies voice concerns about dilution of advertising effect, but at the same time are placing their clients’ commercials into the very same time bands which routinely carry the greatest density of advertising.

Broadcasters oppose the proposal as deflationary, which is precisely why we seek it, given their apparent inability to address the severe decline in viewing – which is driving media cost inflation through the roof.

Neither group appears to wish to yield to the views of its paying customers.

But it is not just in TV that this occurs. Despite the protestations of many in the outdoor industry, the impression among advertisers is that fewer sites are now available without any strings – such as packaging – attached.

At the same time, advertisers’ calls for increased transparency in all media go largely unheeded.

And more than a year after advertisers expressed grave concerns over national newspapers’ insistence on accepting digital colour copy through a very small number of repro houses – dubbed gatekeepers – there has been very little progress, with some publishers expressing quite obvious disdain for advertisers’ concerns.

Even in media research, where customers’ views should surely be paramount, advertisers’ wishes are again frustrated.

Another year will probably end with the National Readership Survey still unable to show how many people read the multitude of sections that now comprise most newspapers.

The reason given is something to do with research integrity, but advertisers suspect that publishers are trying to delay the revelation that some newspaper sections are read by small proportions of the total readership.

Does it matter that customers are not being listened to? Ultimately, it’s a commercial decision for those who supply them.

It seems that listening to customers can work, though for some it might already be too late.

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