Marketing ROI: Advertising Effectively to Consumers with Disabilities

As data about customers and their markets become plentiful and more easily available, Marketing ROI is becoming an increasingly popular tool for assessing the ability of companies to connect with their customers through advertising and brand-building. While Marketing ROI is not the perfect solution to the ever present problem of accurately measuring the impact of advertising campaigns on future sales, it gives marketers and advertisers a certain level of rigor in their evaluation of advertisements.

To most people, ROI – return on investment – is a concept commonly associated with financial analysis. In its most basic definition, ROI is a tool for measuring the payback on an investment. You invest $100 to build a lemonade stand, and hope to sell enough cups of lemonade over time to turn a profit and pay back the investment, and then some. In marketing, ROI is applied to the measurement of sales generated by a marketing campaign, against the expenditures of executing this campaign. Comparing various marketing campaigns on the basis of ROI can inform future marketing strategy.

One of the nagging issues with marketing to people with disabilities is the disconnect between what businesses are marketing and how disabled consumers perceive these marketing efforts. While there are companies that are successful at reaching out to their target market effectively – Cochlear Corporation (cochlear implant manufacturer) and Braunability (wheelchair-accessible vans) come to mind – there are plenty of other companies that fall short in meeting the standards that disabled consumers expect. For every Oscar Pistorius in a Nike advertisement, there is an advertisement that fails to connect with people with disabilities. It is particularly common among companies that do not specialize in the disability market.

It is no surprise that an AT Kearney survey of the mature consumer market (those over 60 years old, and the most likely to have disabilities among any age group) showed persistently negative views of advertising efforts. It’s not the medium, it’s the message: a message that says “I can help you” rather than addresses what excites and inspires people with disabilities, which are prevalent among older consumers.

It goes back to how businesses arrived at the most common perception – or misperception, for that matter – of people with disabilities: people that need help, and demand help. The disability market, as a whole, is a diverse, vibrant community of people whose lives are shaped in varying degrees by their disability. Some embrace it, some mitigate it, some undertake procedures to eliminate it. But all of them have one thing in common: it is not “seeking help.” They desire dignity, a sense of control, and a quality of life just like their non-disabled peers. The companies that recognize this are more successful at reaching out to a market that can represent up to 20% of their customer base.

Marketing ROI is one of various tools in marketing to assess whether consumers with disabilities are reacting positively to marketing campaigns. Businesses typically have multiple marketing campaigns covering different channels such as TV, radio, billboard, print, Internet, and mobile. Consumer responses to each campaign – in the form of increased sales, stronger brand perception, or type of direct feedback – differ across channels, and across campaigns within each channel.

Campaigns with the highest ROI are continued, while those with the lowest ROI are killed off or, at best, modified. Even for those with strong ROIs, it is essential to analyze why they perform so well. Is it because of the content in the advertisement? Wide reach? Positive perceptions about the product? It helps to conduct a survey of consumers in the targeted market to assess their reactions to the marketing campaign. Isolating the factors that positively drive ROI can be immensely helpful in designing more effective campaigns in the future.

Keep in mind that ROI is not the perfect tool. Even in the realm of finance – where the ROI concept originated – it is an inexact science. For all the information financial analysts have about a company’s balance sheet, inventory, revenues, costs, competitors, suppliers, products, and industry, it is difficult to accurately forecast the company’s future earnings. It depends on customer behavior, economic trends, political calculations, future interest rates, and estimated cost of capital, among other things. To be able to have any modicum of rigor in a ROI analysis, analysts use sets of assumptions to address incomplete data, test out the assumptions, and if any of them still work, incorporate them into the ROI model.

Marketing is the same thing. How can we measure customer responses to an ad? Do any of these responses convert into sales? How do we know which sales are directly related to the ad, and which sales are organic (in other words, bought for reasons not related to the ad)? Can we find data about our customers – their buying preferences, where they live, their income, how they use the Internet, etc. – that help us develop an advertisement that results in a higher ROI? No matter how much data we collect about our target market, and no matter how rigorous we try to be in measuring the long-term effectiveness of an advertisement, marketing ROI is still an art, not a science. The best way to approach ROI in marketing is as a catalyst for discussion, to generate ideas and opinions on how to increase sales and build brand equity.

With data on customers so easily available today (look up “big data” on Wikipedia), there is one inescapable reality about marketing in the 21st century: the ability to collect, parse, and analyze the results of marketing activities, and quantitatively measuring the benefits of these activities, has never been more important. It does not matter whether your product is digital or not: there is more data on customer buying behaviors than ever before as more users spend more time on the Web with more devices.

So to the extent the data is available, use it. Measure it. Analyze it. You’ll be surprised about what information you can find about your customers with disabilities.

3 Comments on "Marketing ROI: Advertising Effectively to Consumers with Disabilities"

  1. Thanks for this. I saw it re-posted on the Health Litreracy Listserve. It is indeed related to health literacy. Perhaps the most salient part is this: “But all of them have one thing in common: it is not “seeking help.” They desire dignity, a sense of control, and a quality of life just like their non-disabled peers.”
    We in the helping professions want to help people. Most do not want help, they neither want nor need to be rescued. By helping and rescuing them, we make them small and needy and make ourselves feel good. Health literacy is empowering because and to the degree that it enables a person to gain control over their health and its determinants. It is time to ask, How does this intervention increase this person’s/family’s sense of control and quality of life? We should not be asking, How can we help this person?, or how can we get him to comply?, but rather, what can we empower and enable this person to do for her health?


    1. Thanks, Sandra, for your great comment. Having an attitude that empowers, rather than simply helps, is an effective way to establish rapport and trust with anyone – not just a person with a disability. You’d be amazed how much you can learn from the person you work with, when done this way. That’s why it is so important for businesses to approach the disability market not from a compliance-based perspective, but from a demand-driven perspective that does away with established pre-conceptions of the disability market.


  2. As a person with a temporary disability (I have a projected one year recovery period through physical therapy) I can empathize with those who have to struggle with a permanent disability. I recently made a purchase through a company called “Bella Home Fashions”. I bought two lamps and they sent the wrong lamps. After notifying them of their error they sent me a return sticker with insufficient postage. They insisted that I drive to UPS to return them and refused to call UPS to authorize a pickup with the additional postage. Despite every effort to explain that I couldn’t pick up two boxes or drive at this time, Bella Home Fashions ignored my calls and emails and refused to help me. They did everything possible to keep my money and stick me with these lamps. My injuries are the result of being hit by Mack trucks on a highway. I’ve had surgery and face several more surgeries in the future. The truck exploded and the contents of my home, which I was transporting for a move, burned down. All I wanted was to buy two new lamps and I’ve been put through a nightmare. There has been no begging, or pleading that has moved the heart of this business owner to help me get their merchandise back to them for a refund of my two hundred dollars. I feel for any person person who is disabled who may have to go through something like with any business. I can’t even begin to imagine what would cause human beings to be so thoughtless and callous toward other people, especially those who are going through any sort of difficulty in life. This company has shown that $200.00 is worth more to them than basic understanding or human compassion. Persons with disabilities should be aware of merchants that won’t treat them fairly so that they can exercise caution and take their business elsewhere.


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