The lifespan of every communication medium follows the same pattern. You answer when the phone rings because someone wants to speak with you. One day, you receive a call from someone trying to sell you something.
The first call is fine, you may even buy from them. The next week you get two sales calls, then three. Now you start screening calls. You start to recognise the click sound when you answer the phone from a telesales operative (the click when one of the dozens of lines autodialled has just answered).
You don’t hear the sales person out any more because you don’t have the time or energy to filter through the calls for the good stuff. It’s easier to just hang up or end the conversation as soon as you figure out it’s someone trying to sell you something.
Same happens with email. When you first start using email in the 90s, you open everything you receive, because it’s either come from a friend, a colleague, or a newsletter you requested. But, over time, you start receiving more and more messages that you didn’t ask for. You get to a point where you don’t open anything that you didn’t ask for, and even things you subscribed to don’t get opened because they’re lost amongst the rubbish.
This pattern happens with every single medium invented. Marketers figure out the opportunity, mediums where you’re not receiving many messages, and they target them. Because the mailbox in the new medium hasn’t been burned yet, and because we’re not used to being inundated with sales messages, marketer after marketer sends you messages through that medium until it stops working.
We do like being sold to when we’re ready to buy
It’s not that we don’t like being sold to. We do like being sold to when the moment is right for us. If you go to John Lewis to buy a new jacket, you want to be sold to. You want a sales assistant to approach you and advise on the best offers and jackets that meet your requirements. We went to John Lewis because we wanted to buy, and that experience is best when we ‘dance’ with someone eager to sell in a generous way.
Marketing is about all of the contact points and value that you deliver to someone before they’re ready to buy, during purchase, and then after. You don’t send mass emails to people on the off chance they’re looking to buy a jacket right now. Neither should you send a blog post covering the latest trends in jacket fashion to an email list that you bought. Nobody is going to care or notice because they’re tired of receiving unsolicited messages via that medium, and your message looks like any other unsolicited message.
Laziness is in-built
As Daniel Kahneman puts it in Thinking Fast and Slow, “laziness is built deep into our nature” and humans generally look to expend the least amount of effort, whether physical or cognitive, to achieve any given task. When I start receiving unsolicited junk email mail, I’m not going to make the effort to read each piece or even read each subject line. I’ll make a snap decision with minimal effort.
The more noisy the channel, the more effort it takes to filter the messages we’re receiving to identify those which we’re interested in. We won’t make that extra effort, it’s not in our nature. Instead we take the easier option, which is pay less and less attention to the messages coming in. If we receive hundreds of emails per day, the only ones we’ll even consider reading are those from senders we recognise or those with a subject line which surprises and intrigues us.
How do you earn attention in a noisy channel?
If possible, the best solution for marketers is to avoid noisy channels and seek out the channels with less competition. That’s a tough ask in a modern World where marketers bombard consumers with more and more advertising messages than ever before. Most channels available are noisy.
Another option is to target channels where the recipient is truly engaged. For example, when I listen to the latest Malcolm Gladwell Podcast, I focus my attention on the content of that Podcast.
Then there’s messages through unexpected channels. A LinkedIn message is more unexpected than email, although less so than a few years back as we receive more and more unsolicited messages. Instagram messages are infrequent, so I’d pay more attention to an Instagram message than a Twitter DM.
Arguably, the best way to earn attention in a noisy world is to make something that people choose to spend their attention on. This is slow and organic, but it works. Think of the blogs you subscribe to and read, or the podcasts. It’s not that the blogging or podcast channel earns the attention, it’s the blog or podcast itself providing the content.
We don’t want to be sold to unless it’s on our own terms, but we do want to enrich our day reading, watching or listening to content that we enjoy. Long term, the most successful way of earning attention and trust is by consistently creating creating something worth of it.
Along the way, you’ll earn the permission to occasionally sell your products through the trust you’ve collected in the bank.