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25 May 2020
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On-line accessibility following WCAG standards and its impact on the company’s image.

Traditional marketing and PR activities have been losing its popularity to digital campaigns for quite some time now. This trend became even more visible in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. Furthermore, it’s definitely here to stay for much longer. It will be a perfect time for a thorough analysis of our online activities while taking into account a broader perspective than before. Implementing WCAG standards, created with users at risk of digital exclusion in mind, can be a great place to start.

Starting point- a little bit of theory.

Before we move onto analyzing specific campaigns and communication channels that we use to promote our company, we should take a closer look at some definitions. A good starting point is to see the business from the perspective of two domains – marketing and PR. Sometimes people use these terms interchangeably, but they definitely shouldn’t be treated as synonyms.

PR and marketing are more like two different worlds that complement each other. Their synergy is what allows us to achieve the best results. The goal is the same – to create a positive image of the company and generate the interest of potential customers, which will translate into sales. However, the ways and means of achieving them are very different. In practice, the combination of both works as a charm. It allows us to create a long-term relationship with a broader audience and to influence consumers’ decisions through the well-optimized, precise marketing activities. 

Great marketing is not enough. Why?

PR in Poland still has poor PR. This statement took root in our market reality. Mainly due to low awareness of what public relations really do, and the belief that it is expensive and less effective than marketing or just advertising.

According to the Polish Dictionary, marketing is an activity aimed at finding, researching, stimulating, and satisfying the needs of customers. PR, on the other hand, is defined as a part of an organization’s or company’s activity based on creating and maintaining its positive image outside.

When we compare the definitions, we can immediately see that the main aim of both is coherent – generating interest and developing an image. The difference, however, lies in the approach – marketing affects the market environment, mainly customers, while PR works more widely. It focuses on the general opinion of many groups and does not necessarily seek sales (at least not directly). It also requires a systematic, methodical approach. We have to wait longer to see and measure the effects of PR activities than a traditional marketing campaign, but those effects are also long-lasting. It’s definitely something worth working on.

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The basics of digital marketing.

The key to the successful company’s image is the well-thought, consistent communication, from the PR and marketing point of view. Both strategies should have a common main objective and, appropriately assigned, supporting goals, adequate to the specifics and capabilities of each field.

The website is a logical and universal base when we think about digital activities. For many people, this is a natural first thing to do in terms of building an online image. It can serve as a company’s business card, the main communication channel, and space, where we can present our offer most effectively. The website is often considered a key point of contact between the customer and the brand, which has an impact on the final purchasing decision.

It is not surprising then that website development has become virtually an independent field of marketing. Specialists in this area combine competences from the field of graphic design, User Experience, or User Interface as well as search engine optimization (SEO) and content activities (copywriting). We often pay attention to these components because we know and understand how important they are for achieving our marketing or PR goals.

At the early stage of the site creation process, designers are paying more and more attention to its usefulness for visitors. As a result, experts create many theories and trends, based on the user experience, like the three clicks principle. According to this one, the visitors should never be more than three mouse clicks away from the information they are looking for. Awareness in the field is increasing, but there is still one aspect that is often underestimated. Not only by designers or contractors, but also the entrepreneurs themselves. This aspect is called accessibility.

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What is this accessibility about? WCAG in practice.

Accessibility is still being underestimated, even though the issue is important and relevant to the current social transformation processes. It applies mostly to websites or applications and making them fully functional for every user. We usually associate accessibility with disabilities, which is correct, but at the same time insufficient. Nowadays, this subject is equally crucial for seniors. They are the most dynamically growing group that we refer to as “silver generation” in the digital community.

According to the data from niepelnosprawni.gov.pl, in 2011, people with disabilities were 12,2% of the population in Poland. Meanwhile, the Central Statistical Office informs that seniors represent 24.8% of society. When added up, these numbers are over ¼ of the population, and the increasing life expectancy means that, as a nation, we will continue to grow old. At the same time, digitalization is progressing quickly. We move more and more every-day activities to the virtual world. Naturally, this makes digital exclusion, which concerns both groups mentioned above, the subject of public debate. We have to ensure equal opportunities for all citizens, in terms of access to the information and services available on-line.

It becomes an important matter when designing marketing communication channels. Gradually more and more of our potential users will belong to the groups at risk of digital exclusion. W3C International Consortium responded to the need for regulating good practices and recommendations and created WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) standards.

Which groups can benefit from WCAG standards?

Users, that website creators should pay special attention to, can be divided into four groups:

  1. People with impaired sight
  2. Deaf people
  3. People with physical disabilities
  4. People with cognitive and learning disabilities.

It should be emphasized that these groups will include people with various stages of disabilities. Including those who experience temporary barriers when using our digital resources. The implementation of accessibility recommendations will facilitate using websites or apps for all users and ensure equal access to information for everyone interested.

If you are interested in more info on the WCAG standards, we wrote everything about them here.

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Socially responsible business? What does it really mean?

Many companies build their image on the concept of partnership, supporting their clients, and general openness. In terms of communication strategies, however, it is usually interpreted as a direct style, accent on building relationships and dialogue or providing valuable content. All of this logically correspond with the concept and slogans. However, for the conscious observer, it is just empty worded and irrelevant if the company visibly excludes or ignores a group of users. Discrimination always has a negative impact on the image. It is not socially acceptable in any way or form. But what if we do not express it directly, and just marginalize certain groups unconsciously? We simply underestimate their potential and do not perceive them as our business environment?

Marketing (r)evolutions.

Just a few years ago, when mobile phones were mainly used for calling, the website’s mobile optimization was practically irrelevant. Nobody focused on how and even if it should be dealt with at all. Mobile Internet access was reserved for only a few, often the wealthiest people. It would seem that the users of these technologically advanced toys are potentially premium customers, so small businesses did not see a point in reaching them. However, it soon became apparent that technology is spreading like wildfire, and progress does not discriminate. Mobile was gradually increasing its share in the digital market.

Another example, slightly more recent, can be marketing cooperation with “ordinary people” that we call influencers today. Initially, brands with the budget focused on advertising campaigns with superstars – the world-famous musicians or actors. As TV series and shows started becoming more and more popular, they gradually leaned toward the small screen stars. They seemed to be “closer to people”- viewers knew them well and felt connected by following their stories through many episodes and seasons. Another breakthrough was the appearance of online media and virtual creators.

Influencer’s era.

Over the past few years, bloggers and YouTubers have been the most valuable brand ambassadors. They helped many companies by reaching the right audience and promoting their products. People started to follow their every move and value their opinion because they felt an even stronger bond. After all, products we no longer advertised by some Hollywood superstars, but “ordinary” people who became successful thanks to their hard work, passion, and commitment. However, only five years ago, not many companies would send their products to a teenager with 10,000 Instagram followers. It was the other way around.

Many creators sent hundreds of emails to companies and faced the refusal because their community was considered too small. Today brands probably regret it. The trend has evolved once again, this time towards micro-influencers. They are followed by a smaller, but more engaged audience and they create real communities. For business, this is a huge advantage. Micro-influencers sell better because their followers trust them while those followed by millions, usually engage just a few. Therefore, those who have been underestimated by companies for many years now became the most valuable to them.

Those examples clearly show a certain tendency- marketers love trends. But they also tend to follow common paths. When it comes to reaching KPIs and delivering results as soon as possible, it is perfectly understandable. Sometimes, however, it’s also worth thinking outside the box.

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How to seize the opportunity and gain the advantage?

Like in the mobile market’s or micro-influencers’ case, now we underestimate the potential of people with disabilities and seniors as customers. We often marginalize their importance to our business, because we clearly lack awareness. We assume that since no one reports that something is not working, everything works fine, and this is a simple way to lose potential customers for good.

In Poland, the silver generation is still not among the heavy internet users. Often they consider modern technologies unnecessary because they are not used to them. However, it is how it is today, but things are changing every day. According to the “InfoSenior” report by the Polish Bank Association (ZBP), in 2019, 94% of seniors with access to the network declared that they actively and regularly use online banking. Silver generation representatives also shop online, use social networking sites, and deal with administrative matters. Data regarding people with disabilities are more difficult to reach because such statistics are not updated or made public. However, there is a significant and visible increase in interest around the topic. Every year there are more and more programs for people with disabilities that encourage their social and professional development. On the market, we also see some new technological solutions created to support accessibility.

This trend is definitely worth following, and now is the perfect moment to take a closer look at the digital exclusion problem. WCAG standards will probably soon become mandatory. Those who decide to implement them earlier will have a chance to use this as an advantage. Undertaking actions for equal opportunities is a step that will surely be appreciated. Not only by those directly interested but also by the broadly understood business environment.

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Accessibility and image.

The primary role of public relations is communication between the enterprise and the environment. Adapting the site to accessibility standards can be a gamechanger. We can’t talk about effective communication if, as a company, we are not open to dialogue with everyone. This creates a barrier, often impossible to pass, for a large and growing group of potential customers. Besides, it also affects how other target groups perceive us. Currently, just a few of the average Internet users pay attention to whether the company is open to all, but this may change very soon, due to the growing awareness of consumers.

For a few companies that are aware of market demand, implementing changes may be an important strategic decision.  Here, the next public relations claim applies- do good and talk about it loudly. Appropriate communication of introduced changes, paying attention to the problem, and perceiving the potential of positive change can turn into a significant market advantage. The dominant group of people, currently active on the professional market, and using products/services, are Millennials and Gen Z. Their main distinguishing feature is their specific approach to the companies.

What counts is not only the offer, pricing, or brand recognition, but also the identity of the brand, the idea that stands behind it and with which people can identify. To meet this need of belonging, enterprises have already implemented CSR activities, sponsorship, and social activism into their strategies. They compete in charity activities, implementing eco-friendly solutions, or promoting a healthy lifestyle. To the point that it is quite hard to come up with anything innovative or fresh and get the publicity by doing so. However, there is a chance.  All you have to do is support those groups at risk of digital exclusion and contribute to a real-life solution for the problem.

Where and how to start?

The first step towards accessibility should be a thorough analysis of the problem. It can be helpful if you familiarize yourself with the subject and the scope of WCAG, as well as review some websites that are already following the guidelines.

Then, focus on the issue with your own site or application in mind. Have a look, assess how much work should be done. Some changes are relatively easy to implement. You can probably do it yourself. However, for the full effectiveness and the best results, the problem should be approached comprehensively. For many entrepreneurs and marketers, looking at their communication channels from a different perspective can be hard. It is practically impossible to fully understand potential problems for someone not experiencing accessibility barriers.

The standard strategic move would be to gather feedback from our site’s visitors or application users. Carrying out DIY research is usually not the best idea, though. The data that you can obtain will probably be insufficient, relating to the current situation, without a broader perspective. So what can you do? How to deal with the lack of publicly available data? Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. You can entrust the issue to specialists. A team of experts who professionally deal with website optimization and WCAG standards can efficiently perform the analysis and implement solutions that will guarantee the best results.

Thanks to this, you can focus all your attention on how to communicate changes to your community. Introducing accessibility can be a perfect base for other activities that highlight the problem of digital exclusion. It is always worth doing something good for others. Especially if they are your potential clients. 

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