The marketing challenge

Accessibility v Creativity, the latest challenge for marketing

Adam Aird offers insight into the challenges facing marketers since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act.

“Why are so many companies focusing on improving access to their premises without realising that the softer elements of their business, including marketing, need to be accessible to drive customers to their door in the first place?”

This question, asked by Grant Kennedy, chief executive of Direct Enquiries is more important than most marketing managers and business owners seem to appreciate. Whilst improved physical access is vital for businesses, both to drive revenue and meet legal obligations, there seems little point in making substantial changes without communication; and what is the point of communication if your audience can’t appreciate the message? 

Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) came into force in October 2004, bringing with it the usual raft of confusion, fear and misconception associated with any new legislation.  Of course there are a small minority who understand the DDA but the greater majority are burying their heads in the sand, plagued by ungrounded fears of costs and upheaval or just unaware of the Act and how it affects them.  Kennedy agrees that there is an awareness problem and more people need to improve access:

“but it is more than that.  For disabled people and companies to mutually benefit from Part III of the act, there needs to be a shift from being purely about the physical to all elements of the business mix; including adverts, brochures, websites - even e-mails and invoices. Creating a website or new marketing campaign is a waste of time and money if millions across the UK can’t appreciate it.”

Once they have planned for physical changes to their premises, companies need to sit back and look at how they communicate, and a compromise between creativity and accessibility seems to be the biggest challenge.  Hearing Dogs for Deaf People press and pr officer, Gemma Baxter:

“Few countries produce creative advertising like the UK, and the last thing disability charities want to do is smother ideas.  However, design agencies and their clients need to consider their entire audience and budget for alternatives if they want to reach out to as many customers as possible.  This would ensure websites, other information and promotional resources are accessible to all in line with Disability Discrimination Act regulations.”

Matt Butterworth of creative marketing agency Folk concurs: 

“There has been some well-publicised criticism of major websites recently, yet some designers still don’t seem to care. Not only is this arrogant, it’s also missing a major opportunity.  Creativity and accessibility are not mutually exclusive.”

Just one of the companies well ahead of their competitors is Lloyds TSB, particularly when it comes to their physical access.  But they have also realised the need to communicate better,  Adam Gallimore from Lloyds TSB says:

“At Lloyds TSB we are committed to making ongoing improvements to the accessibility of our branches for the benefit of all our customers. However, it's only by clearly signposting the facilities available at our locations that we can make sure our customers get the best possible service.”

As suggested, there are many areas where improvements can be made to ensure marketing material is more accessible.  Boots for example launched a service through Alternative Formats in August 2005, allowing customers to call a dedicated number for copies of leaflets and marketing material in their preferred media.  This includes anything from large print to audio or Braille.  Boots DDA programme manager, Steve Goss:

“It’s important that all our customers know that they will be treated with fairness and respect. Whilst we are obviously making every effort to ensure that all our material is as accessible as possible, there can sometimes be a conflict between creativity and clarity.  Alternative Formats gives us a way of providing every customer with the information they need in the format that is best for them.”

Of course the first decade of the the new millenium is seeing a steady move away from traditional marketing to new media but whilst many of us take the internet, e-mail and SMS for granted, there are still barriers to access.  Take the internet for example, badly designed websites can be a nightmare for people with visual impairments and whilst the DRC have just launched new guidance on accessible design compiled by the BSI, that will, like the DDA, take time to filter down. Gala Group’s head of health and safety, Darren Cook comments:

“Having just completely re-worked our website to include online gaming, we have seen first hand the challenges of combining not just creativity but also security with accessibility.  We have an ongoing commitment and plan to constantly improve access, but it is not something that can be fixed overnight.  By working with the right partners from the technical and access fields we can however provide all our members with the best possible experience.”

Gala, Boots and Lloyds TSB are just three of the high street brands to have signed onto, Kennedy’s web based business.  The site, which is rapidly growing, has seen many major companies committing to marketing and advertising campaigns targeted at those with specific access needs.  And it is hardly surprising, as the UK’s only nationwide source of access information, receiving over a million hits per month, it is currently the best way for companies to target the £80 billion spending power of disabled people.  It also has the advantage of being one of only 49 sites in the country to achieve the RNIB’s “See It Right” accreditation.

Making absolutely every element of the marketing mix totally accessible is unlikely ever to be a reality as creatives strive to better each other, competing for brand recognition.  That doesn’t however excuse the need for companies to review everything they create and at the very least ensure the message is available to all.  Apart from anything else, accessibility makes good business sense and no marketing manager is going to last long if they ignore the UK’s 10 million disabled adults. 

Ultimately the whole issue was perhaps best summed up by George Bernard Shaw long before marketing was a profession and the internet was even dreamed of…

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Contact details:
Direct Enquiries –
Hearing Dogs for the Deaf –
Folk -
Alternative Formats – 0870 162 0 162
Lloyds TSB –
Boots –
Gala –