I was sat in the waiting room of my local doctor’s practice recently, idly staring at the walls and hoping that I’d be called in soon for my appointment.
As I casually read the many, many posters, leaflets and signs that covered the wall space, it struck me what a great example doctor’s waiting rooms are of the ‘throw enough crap at the wall and some of it may stick’ approach to communication.
You’ve sat in a doctor’s waiting room, I’m sure. You’ll have seen the posters telling you you’re probably about to keel over from a heart attack, that your cholesterol is too high, your blood pressure is off the scale, or a multitude of other medical messages that the well-meaning GP is keen for you to be aware of.
And you’ll also have seen all the warning signs on the walls. No smoking! No using your phone! Please shut the door! Mind your head on the low beam! DO THIS! DON’T DO THAT!!
…you get the picture. There are a LOT of messages being fired at you in a waiting room.
But because there are so many competing messages, all those carefully (and not so carefully) worded lines of copy start to merge together into the written equivalent of audio white noise. The sheer volume of copy and content begins to morph into one giant mess, with every word being shouted at you so loudly that your brain begins to turn off and ignore the whole lot.
In a nutshell, there are so many messages vying for your attention, that nothing gets communicated at all.
And it’s not just GP’s waiting rooms that have this problem with communication…
The problem with digital white noise in marketing
We live in a digital age. It’s never been easier to have an idea, write it down and convey that message to a large group of people.
Digital communication, the internet and social media mean we can literally talk to anyone on the planet who has access to Wi-Fi – but that ability for constant, global, 24/7 communication is a double-edged sword, particularly in business.
An aspiring business had a huge number of ways to communicate with their customers and potential targets.
- You can send them a direct email promoting your latest marketing campaign (as long as they’ve signed up to receive them).
- You can tweet them about your new product line from your Twitter account.
- You can send them helpful articles through your LinkedIn account.
- You can message them with company news through your Facebook page.
- You can share your latest photos and videos with them on Instagram and Flickr.
- You can ask them to fill out a customer survey on SurveyMonkey.
- You can even pick up the telephone (remember those?) and follow up a potential lead.
If you use these channels well, you can do a great job of enhancing customer relationships, building advocates for your brand and creating more sales for your business.
But if you use them unwisely, you can start creating exactly the same kind of ‘white noise’ that’s generated by the posters in the GP’s waiting room.
How over-communication undermines the brand experience
So, why is sending out lots of different communications to customers such a bad thing? Surely the more they hear about your business the more likely it is that your brand will stick in their mind, no?
Well, yes, your brand may well stick in the customer’s mind…but probably for ALL the wrong reasons. And therein lies the problem.
Here’s a quick example of ‘marketing white noise’ in action. A few months back, I decided to get some business cards printed. I googled a few different companies that offered reasonable rates on design and printing and whittled it down to one business that seemed to have what I wanted.
This printing company is a reasonably sized business – you’ll have heard of them, but I won’t ‘name and shame’. They have a decent website where you can design your own business card, using templates, or designing your own card completely from scratch. You upload a headshot, you finalise your design and then they print and deliver you your cards.
So far, so good! In fact, I was very impressed with how this process worked and how easy it was to design a very professional-looking business card.
But then this company started to slowly chip away at my advocacy for their brand…
Soon after my business cards were delivered, I began to get sales emails from the company. A few at first, but they gradually began to increase in number. Now I seem to get an email from this company practically every week, sometimes several times a week.
And the more emails I get, and the more pushy they begin to sound, the less likely I become to use this business’s service again. I don’t want a t-shirt with my headshot photo printed on the front. I DEFINITELY don’t want a coffee mug with MY face on it! Who wants one of those??
This whitewashing approach to direct email marketing just doesn’t work. It didn’t work when it was direct mailing, it didn’t work when it was direct calling and it very much doesn’t work when it’s direct email either.
Push vs pull marketing for your communications and campaigns
‘Why doesn’t it work?’ I hear you cry. There’s a pretty simple answer to that: in the 21st century age of digital communication, most consumers want to find you, not for your to find them.
The move from push marketing (direct calls, big advertising campaigns and short-term wins) to pull marketing (building a social media following, focusing on the customer experience and building long-term customer relationships) has happened in the main because your average consumer is a LOT more tech-savvy, and a lot more able to source their own purchases.
The modern consumer doesn’t want you harassing them with unwanted emails.
They want to find your brand online, or through referrals from a friend, or through following you on social media and reading about other people’s experience of your business.
In essence, the consumer wants to be in control of the relationship. They will pursue you, not the other way around. And constant marketing white noise appearing in their inbox is not going to bring your brand closer to their heart – in fact, it’s likely to turn them off your business completely.
And, as a side note, when it’s SO easy to get on Twitter and start talking about how annoying your business’s marketing is (and why people shouldn’t do business with you) you really don’t want to annoy your customers!
Less can be more, when it comes to direct marketing
So, don’t get caught in the trap of creating marketing white noise.
- If you’re sending out a direct marketing email to a general audience, ask yourself ‘Is this content really relevant to the people I’m sending it to?’. If it’s not, don’t send it.
- Make sure the email you’re sending is relevant to the person you’re sending it to – break down your email lists into specific niches and customer groups and tailor your content so it’s bespoke and targeted to these niches.
- Don’t bombard customers with hundreds of follow-up emails or sales emails. Make what you send is relevant, helpful and tailored to their needs.
- Give customers something useful – old-school sales messaging doesn’t cut it anymore: give people a genuine reason to bother opening your email. Whether it’s a free download, or a guide to getting more from your product, make sure it’s not just a hard sell.
- Keep your direct emails to a minimum – remember that less = more. The more emails you send out, the more your customer sees your emails as spam – and the more you decrease the potential impact of your messaging.