With the International Beard Growing charity event in full swing I reflected upon a personal observation. Being a bearded man for the remaining 11 months of the year, I was alerted to a phenomenon, and I could not help but draw comparisons with the digital marketing world. As those around me adopt the fuzz, it appears I am becoming less visible to my would be suitors. The fact is, when everyone is trying to stand out in the same way, no-one does. So maybe it’s time for a Kansas City Shuffle...
In a paper published by The Royal Society titled “Negative frequency-dependent preferences and variation in male facial hair” scientists reported that attractiveness increased as an appearance became more rare. If there are an abundance of beards, attractiveness of clean-shaven guys increases, and bearded guys, well, we’re left fighting over the shaver. Why the story? It reminded me specifically of a few things I read and heard recently about the evolution of digital marketing, the very definition of a “trend” and making your message speak to the customer.
We all want to stand out, don’t we?
As business owners, managers, business development professionals and marketers in small businesses and SMEs we’re trying really hard to stand out. We are basing this on the founded assumption that if we stand out, our customers will be attracted to us and will want to do business with us (not “The” business, by the way).
We are constantly reminded that we need to “Differentiate ourselves from our competitors”, but what does this mean? Quality, Service, Timeliness - these are not points of differentiation, they are expectations. You may well have the very same machines, materials, MRP systems as your competitors, so these don’t differentiate you.
We want to turn heads in the marketplace.
So how do we go about turning heads?
Most marketers will tell you it’s through your marketing messages on digital marketing. I’m talking about your website. If you have them, your social media accounts and company pages etc.
The problem with marketers though, is they can be their own worst enemy. They get a sniff of something that works and they go crazy for it. So as a client you get the latest and greatest method, toolbox, formula or message structure.
As engineers and manufacturers we’re no stranger to change or development, however the marketing beast plays by different rules. Best practice is actually Mr Average in disguise.
Marketing Tactics and methods have a cycle
Actually it’s more of a downward spiral. You see, as with the decreasing appeal of my beard throughout the month of November, marketing tactics can suffer the same fate. As customers, when a tactic becomes prevalent and everyone is doing it, no-one really stands out.
A perfect example of this over time has been the compulsion not to “look to the right” on your computer screen. You won’t be consciously doing this like an unwanted neck tick. I’m talking about the subconscious avoidance of the right hand column of a screen. We’ve been conditioned as computer users to know that’s where ads and other unwanted junk appear. Once upon a time, when this tactic was new it probably drew attention. Not now.
This ability to get hold of, analyse and systemise the life out of a method or tool by marketers is quite amazing. Gary Vaynerchuk, who is a master of identifying front-of-curve trends in the digital world, spoke at Hamburg this year articulating exactly this. He calls this the attention graph, as more noise appears, attention decreases.
Here’s the Keynote from Gary
"More than I know that the sun will come up tomorrow, I know one thing...Marketers ruin everything"
The same can be said for messages pulled together with a “proven formula” taking another example; Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers pointed out in a podcast with Foundr just the other day. Everyone has been told they need a “simple message” on their landing pages, home pages, Ads and marketing materials. The result of this spread of best practice is that no-one stands out, there is no differentiation. Each marketing message on it’s own well crafted, but in a sea of other messages crafted in the same way it’s become neutralised.
Listen to the Joanna on the Foundr Podcast here (29:00 mins in)
This is what the cycle looks like [INFOGRAPHIC]
1. Unexpected Attraction
This is what users experience when a new tactic or platform, or message formula is used. It’s the equivalent of growing that beard in a currently beardless world. These waves aren’t created easily, quickly or by accident. Front-of-curve marketing professionals at the top of their game are always on the lookout for these game changers.
2. Mass Adoption
This is where the marketers start taking hold. The data shows signs of great success, conversion rates, click through rates, return on investment all heading for the skies. As a user being marketed to, you’re seeing novelty. As a business your marketing is working, you’re standing out.
This could also be called infiltration. The success gained by prior deployments of the tactic or platform start spreading down through to the part time marketers and the DIYers of the online space. Users start to feel the groundhog day effect. Trawling from one website to another, seeing the same messages. The once novel and high impact channels become filled with noise that the user has to fight their way through.
4. User Immunisation
Eventually the user evolves. They become immune to the noise, the sense of novelty is replaced with selective blindness. Many a marketer has withered away riding a once seen wave of success, convinced it will return. Significantly better results can now be achieved through other marketing tactics.
This is where the Kansas City Shuffle comes in. While everyone’s looking left, the front-of-curve marketers are busy diving right. And the cycle starts again.
You should very quickly see that the return or mileage you get from any tactic or platform will all depend on when you get on board the wave. The later you join, the shorter the ride. As a DIYer you’ll have to put in significant levels of effort to compete with the noise. Even if you employ an expert who can get you on the wave a little sooner, the wave will eventually run out.
The key takeaway here:
Marketing tactics are transient. There is no “one-time fix” as with many things in business as well as life.
Beating the Cycle
Don’t be afraid to try something different. Take in what you see around you, check out the competitors, get clued up on best practice, but that doesn't mean you have to go with the flow.
But if your handlebar moustache really isn't taking off, don't stick with it too long!
Remember this: the DIY manufacturing marketer can experiment and get away with a lot more than the marketing agency who need to prove what they're selling works. The most important thing of all though, take control and do something today.
This is what I want you to do: Let me know how you plan on making your business stand out in the comments below, and then in a little while report back on your results. We can all benefit from a bit of shared inspiration and ingenuity, but no copying!
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