New Rules of Attention: Customers Are Now In Charge

by Rick Braddy on January 21, 2010

in Online Marketing,Product Launch

Under the old rules, marketers use shouting and interruption techniques to reach buyers and get their attention, and it just doesn’t work well anymore.  The outbound marketing techniques that worked so well in the 1980’s and 1990’s don’t work anymore because people have ways to filter the advertising out.

Buyers now use caller ID, Tivo, email filters, RSS subscriptions and other techniques to filter unwanted interruptions by advertisements and unsolicited sales calls.  Turning up the volume louder only causes people to tune out further and look for new ways to block you and ignore you in the future.  The lonely marketer with his little megaphone no longer controls us.

What buyers want today is a relationship – and great content. They want to know more about you and your people, and they want to know that you are listening to them – they actually want to engage in a conversation with you.  Since they’re doing most of their shopping and more of their business online, they want to know more about who’s on the other side of transactions – before they buy.

Unfortunately, when many marketers started using the Internet and Web for their marketing, they brought their usual interruption-based, broadcast methodology with them. This resulted in unsolicited emails, banner ads, pop-ups and other forms of interruption.

Fortunately, many of these same marketers have come to realize they cannot generate a profit with only a 0.1 to 0.5 percent (or less) response rate.  People have become very proficient at filtering the interruptions out of their life, because we have to in order to get anything else done.

If you continue to use interruption-based techniques as your primary means of marketing online, you will fail and you will lose money (and customers). Today, customers have too many choices to put up with annoying popups, banner ads, unsolicited emails and other forms of marketing harassment.

Instead, people use their available time to check email and open only the ones that interest them, surf the web to find interesting and useful content, and interact on Twitter and Facebook. We use Google to search for what we want to know more about.  We get educated about topics of interest on sites like Wikipedia.

We spend time downloading and listening to our favorite music, watching interesting videos on YouTube and many other sites.

We download podcasts from iTunes and other podcast sites to our iPhone and take them with us, making productive use of travel and commute time.  We work offline, as well as online.

The only way to reach us is by providing competitive content that’s more interesting than our other alternatives.

Today, we pay attention to whatever we choose – and certainly not anything that advertisers try to force upon us.  If you’re advertising and shouting, we’re just not listening – we’re ignoring you. And unless you appeal to us in the right ways, the right places and at the right time, we’ll just continue ignoring you.

Advertisers are no longer in charge – buyers are in charge. You can’t just buy our time and command us to pay attention – at least not online (and the offline methods aren’t working so well now, either). And this phenomenon is just as prevalent in B2B as it is with consumers.  Just because you’re selling to business people, don’t kid yourself – we’re people, too.

People are consumers first and foremost, and business people second. Our consumer behaviors determine how we prefer to look for and find what we want – and how we make most of our decisions.

Instead of bucking these inescapable trends, smart marketers have learned to update their canvassing and branding strategies.  Instead of interrupting people and either shouting louder or jolting people to gain their attention, these marketers figured out if you simply talk about what prospects are actually interested in, they’ll gladly pay attention.  What a concept!

And it works.  The key to gaining people’s attention is giving them great content that’s interesting, engaging and useful.  People love good content and they will go out of their way to actually find it.  That’s right. Instead of broadcasting and interrupting everyone to find those chosen few who actually have an interest, you attract qualified prospects to you.

Bloggers know that content is king and the only reason their audience shows up is because the content is worthy of the reader’s time and interest.  And Twitter provides yet another direct way to find relevant content, as well as poke your head into someone’s social network tent from time to time and see what’s happening.

Blogging platforms like WordPress have made it so quick and easy to become an information publisher than anyone can do it. In fact, WordPress is so robust and flexible now that it’s often the best way to build a new website, very inexpensively and quickly.

Millions of people are now information publishers. People are now so busy socializing, publishing and consuming interesting content and taking care of business online, they no longer have the time to deal with interruptions – and when they do get interrupted, instead of paying attention, they get angry and look for ways to block future interruptions (by hitting the SPAM button in email, blocking the user and making a mental note to avoid this time-waster from now on).

Welcome to the age of “inbound marketing”.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to join the conversations taking place in your marketplace and add some value, so you’ll be noticed and buyers who are looking for you can actually find you.

Now, having made the case for inbound marketing, there is certainly still a place for outbound marketing.  It’s just that marketers need to choose the right balance in their marketing mix to ensure both routes to customers are used properly. And be careful not to “cross the streams” – don’t use traditional outbound techniques with social networking, for example.

Instead of “driving” people to take action (the old marketing vernacular), we now “invite” people and “attract” them to join us and become a part of our launch.  In this way, the majority of our time and energy shifts from “getting the word out” to building a relationship with those who are actually interested in and excited about our launch – and delivering high-quality content for them.

Inbound marketing is a bit like going fishing. To catch fish, you must use the right bait and go fishing in the right places – where the fish hang out.  And if you locate fish that are feeding, you catch a lot more fish.

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