The Press, February 2008

Last week I started thinking about buying a new car. After a bit of trawling around a few yards, I saw a Chrysler 300C. Now I am seeing them everywhere – hundreds seem to be driving around, I see advertisements on TV, articles in magazines. A week ago I had barely heard of the big grill sedans, now I can’t escape them.

Now I don’t think Chrysler has suddenly started advertising, nor has there been a sudden rush of people buying 300Cs. The situation hasn’t changed, but my awareness of that brand of vehicle has. Suddenly the marketing message is getting through.

It’s easy to underestimate how hard it is to get through to the people you want to buy your product. A good rule of thumb is that no matter you how hard think it might be, it is probably exponentially more difficult.

Noise is the first issue you are contending with. Advertising messages are appearing everywhere, not just in traditional mediums. In the US big companies are putting their messages on everything from eggs to air sickness bags. Closer to home we have seen local brands adorning streakers at the rugby.

The off beat placement is because they are trying to break through the noise, through the cacophony of messages being shouted to the poor consumer. US market research firm Yankelovich released a study last year estimating that a person living in a city 30 years ago saw up to 2,000 ad messages a day, compared with up to 5,000 today.

So no matter how clever your method of communication, and how powerful your message, you are still competing with thousands of other stories being told.

But it’s worse than that.

Even if you get through to the poor embattled consumer, they are only likely to take real notice if the timing is right.

Marketing writer Seth Godin calls it the concept of “being full”. For example as a car owner I am not constantly looking to buy a new car, most of the time I am “full”, not interested in taking in any advertising messages about cars. As soon I started thinking about buying a new car though I became a little “unfull”. Suddenly I’m interested in those banal car advertisements, reading the Press’ Drive page and tuning into Top Gear.

So not only are your prospective customers bombarded with so many messages they typically tune most of them out, if you do somehow get through there is only a small chance they are in buying mode.

That makes a ‘single-threaded’ approach to marketing so senseless. Expecting a single advertisement promotional mailout or tradeshow exhibit to yield any real results is naive. People will blame a one-off advertisement for not working, when they were dropping the equivalent of a small pebble in a large ocean and expecting the world to cry Tsunami.

Successfully getting through to a potential customer is about boring repetition. Not boring to them, because they are not taking any notice most of the time, but boring to you. Repeating your message in a consistent and compelling way across as many appropriate mediums as often as you can.

You can’t just rely on that one tradeshow, you need to back it up with a direct mail programme, some publicity and maybe some online promotions. If you touch the same customers through multiple mediums at once you are much more likely to get through.

It doesn’t matter how good your product or service is, how much of an advantage it offers over the competition. You are still competing against the noise and complexity of the customer’s world. Apple’s iPod has been spectacularly successful and are almost a must-have for people, but Apple still spend a lot on expensive TV advertising.

You have to be always prepared to push your product, as former Microsoft senior executive Jim Allchin once said, “We're obviously going to spend a lot in marketing because we think the product sells itself.”

Fine advice for Toyota, KFC or Adidas, but how can someone with a more modest promotional budget achieve this?

The answer is focus. All companies have limited resources and these resources need to be 100% focused on a specific market to achieve the maximum gain. The tighter that focus the greater intensity you can achieve with your marketing activity, the more likely you are to be able to break through the noise and strike someone interested in buying.

So how can you get through the noise and reach those people who might be ready to buy? Some key steps:

1. Define your market as tightly as possible. Of course it has to be big enough to deliver good returns, but the more defined the greater the intensity you can achieve.

2. Where and how can you touch your customers? What mediums and methods will work most effectively?

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Build a programme of activities over 6-12 months and consistently implement them.

Part of what constitutes great marketing is being a bore. Repeat your message until you are completely bored of it. By that time a few prospective customers may have actually noticed you.

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