Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

First published November 16, 2010

From submit to apply 

For, oh, I don’t know – maybe 15 years, the most commonly clicked word on the web was ‘Submit’. If you wanted to interact with an organization which had a web presence, you would likely fill in a form and at some point click on a button that was labelled just that: ‘Submit’.Nowadays modern web technologies allow us as users to do for ourselves much of what we were previously ‘submitting’. Now, instead of submitting a request to an organization to have something done, most often we can simply change our preferences right there onscreen, then click ‘Apply’.

Notice the enormous semantic difference in those two words:

Submit: Even setting aside the Freudian implication of the word itself, ‘Submit’ is all about the business at the other end of the interaction, not about you. You, the user, are submitting something to me, the business, and you can only hope I’ll get to it at some point. When you click ‘submit’, it conveys a subtle, subliminal undercurrent about the relationship between you the user and the online organization, and where the perceived power lies in the relationship.

Apply: This is all about you, the user. You’ve made a free choice of your own to do something, you’ve done it, and now you finish the interaction by ‘applying’ it. To yourself. By yourself. You, you, you. The provider organization is almost invisible in the interaction – and there’s certainly no metaphoric ‘submission’ involved. You have the power.

There are many bricks and mortar business still living in the past – in an era where clients and customers have to ‘submit’, sometimes frighteningly literally, to get what they want. Cellphone companies, banks and airlines spring to mind, but they’re far from alone.

Look around at how you go to market. Whether you’re web-based or not, what are you doing that’s forcing forcing your clients and customers to ‘submit’? How can you get out of the way, give them the power, and help them ‘apply’ instead?

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