Since the dawn of humanity, everyone is trying to sell you something.

I was writing a comment on this post (Are the UX articles you’re reading trying to sell you something?) It was becoming a bit of a tangent. I had to reply here.

Summary of the article:

  • Publishing in UX is biased
  • Everyone is trying to sell you something (their product, a job, etc.)
  • Beware!

I agree with the points about bias. I just don’t think any of this is new news or particular to UX writing. But you should read it yourself.

Important to note: is an advertisement-free publication. In the call for submissions, they state clearly they won’t publish anything that “sells” something. Of course, the authors admit they are selling their personal brand image. And I say, good on ’em.

Here I’ll explain why…

Everyone is trying to sell you something (me too probably)

Everyone is trying to sell you something.

I remember flipping through magazines, bemused by the word “Advertisement” printed across the top of advertorial inserts. Wasn’t the entire magazine full of editorial content influenced by advertisers? Fashion Magazines are B2C. But even in the B2B market, I would expect the same in trade publications. Rehashed Press Releases. Product Reviews. Is that also “disguised advertising”? Not very well hidden.

I expect (or hope for) unbiased journalism from newspapers, but even some of those have agendas. As objective and impartial as peer-review can be, even Academic publishing has an agenda. Nothing is perfect.

Considering that, I would MUCH more trust a PhD about in-app user guidance than I would a blog post from a software company about user onboarding. (Yes, I’m trying to sell you something too!)

I wouldn’t normally compare my expectations of that “objective” content to a blog post on a company site, or a personal site. Are other readers?

I would always look at who is writing, what their angle is, and what’s in it for the reader.

Content is king.

In 1996, Bill Gates declared Content is King. Long live the king. But it goes much further back than that. Content has been selling you something since songs have existed to praise a leader or stories told to “sell” some war. You may have been entertained, but they had an angle.

Fabricio said in his article “Knowledge sharing is an intrinsic part of human nature” and illustrated his point with a cave painting. Presumably, the person teaching you to hunt expected you to hunt with them. Maybe he or she had an angle too?

It’s an interesting question, though. What is this very human urge to teach? Susan Blackmore said the meme machine itself goads us to share information. Yes, even information may have agenda to spread, like a virus. A selfish meme makes itself catchy and memorable, and like an earworm it winds its way into your brain. (warning: ear worm)

Advertorial is nothing new. Everyone has an angle. What’s changed more recently?

  1. Access. There’s increased access to information, increased sharing and greater transparency. The information glut makes it harder to sift through. Now search indexes, curation and collections have improved browsing and discovery.
  2. Bubbles. Algorithms are regurgitating smooth content experiences for us. Maybe it’s too good, and we’re stuck in a bubble. Overall, advertising is seen less and less. It’s pay to play for companies now. Advertisers can’t access audiences so easily. So they produce yet more advertorial.
  3. I missed other things, tell me in the comments. I sense this could be a long list.

There are challenges and opportunities for both readers and producers of content.

  • On the one hand, we have a blurred relationship now between “influencers” on social media or YouTube. We have a hard time filtering out real honest-to-goodness reviews.
  • On the other hand, companies are discovering that with increased transparency, and open dialogues with customer complaints, products and services are significantly improved.

An Aside🍕 I was amazed to learn that Domino’s came out and admitted that 30 mins delivery didn’t mean much anymore. And their pizza sucked. Domino’s listened to their customers, and I have to say, I really like their pizza now. Their fancy schmancy Italian range means my cow-milk intolerant husband can get goat cheese on a pizza. This new Italian pizza has a toothsome crust, tasty sauce, yummy cheese and great toppings. And it’s fast when we can’t be arsed to cook. Mmm… pizza.

I ❤ good sales people. Just me?

I think things have gotten so much better for decision makers, particularly in B2B.

Have we forgotten that the readers we’re talking about have needs? They’re actually willing to spend money because they’re sick of their problems, or sick of their kludgy workarounds.

If I have a problem. I want to GIVE you money to fix it. If the value you’re giving me is more than the cost. Demonstrate the value to me. Spell it out. Help me decide.

Am I going to get something awesome by buying your service? Please tell me!

I much prefer this type of sales experience.

  • Educate me as a customer.
  • Curate information for me that you’ll know I love.
  • Don’t talk down to me.
  • Be transparent about pros and cons.
  • Address my specific pain points
  • Show me how you can fix it

From a decision maker’s point of view, this is far superior. I remember going to big-box electronic megastores to buy computer peripherals. And just the way someone could speak down to you could make you feel tiny. These sales guys would assume I knew nothing, and not answer my questions directly. So frustrating.

I’m generally wary of manipulative sales techniques. It’s easier now to cost-compare and read reviews online. Though generally, I actually like sales people. Good sales people can save you time and they will stand by their recommendations for you. I would rather be sold a slow cooker by someone who knew a lot about slow cookers. Someone who listened to what I needed, and recommended me the best slow cooker for me.

I’d thank them for saving me the time and recommend them to someone else next time slow cookers came up.

“There isn’t a more effective way to sell UX work than talking and writing about it,” said Fabricio. If these experts are willing to share their knowledge, in a bid for me recommending their work, I say — thank you very kindly.

Read it for yourself. And hire that guy!

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