The End of Interruption Marketing

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by: Jon Miller

Seth Godin coined the term Interruption Marketing to describe tactics that work only if they interrupt you to get your attention.

Classic B2B examples include the cold call that interrupts you working on a proposal, the print ad in your morning newspaper, or the flashy booth at a tradeshow. In each example, the marketer – who knows the buyer doesn’t want to pay attention to the advertisement – thinks his job is to create a call script, ad copy, or booth gimmick that will make people pay attention.

Of course, all the other marketers are also fighting to get the buyer’s attention, and so the battle escalates. The result is a “tragedy of the commons” – when everyone tries to get the customer’s attention, the customer tunes it all out and nobody wins. Just look at what happened with credit card direct mail: from 1990-2002, direct mail volumes went up 5X while response rates dropped to below 0.5%.


Seth and others have done an excellent job describing why this approach doesn’t work anymore in consumer-marketing: TiVo lets people screen out TV ads; spam filters block unwanted e-mails; the national do-not-call list prevents unwanted telemarketing. (It is even less effective with younger consumers who are used to multi-tasking and “snacking” on content in YouTube-length snippets.)

The same people who buy TiVos and spam filters don’t suddenly embrace interruptions when they get to the office. They’re just as good at blocking unwanted B2B advertising. Jill Konrath writes that it is virtually impossible today to cold call a C-level executive without going straight to voicemail. Direct mail goes to a box in the mailroom which gets checked rarely or never. Even webinars – which the customer has actively decided to attend – are watched while simultaneously checking email or reading websites.

Stay tuned for my next post: “The End of Interruption Marketing: How B2B Marketers Should Respond.”

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