Friday, April 25, 2008

Are You Cutting Through the Clutter?

As consumers, we are in sensory overload. From the time we wake up until we go to bed, we are bombarded with marketing messages. You hear ads on the radio or TV as you get ready for work. You read the promotion on the back of your cereal box. You see more ads as you flip through the morning paper. Then it’s billboards and signage on public transportation. Next come e-mails, banners, magazines, telemarketing calls, more TV…

Consumers are overwhelmed. We have too many options, too many choices to make, and too much information. Grocery stores in the 1970s stocked about 7,000 items. Now we have 30,000 items to choose from. In the 70s, we were exposed to 300 to 500 ads a day. Now it’s somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 a day.

Confusion and complexity are your enemy. Too many benefits are confusing. Complex explanations are, well, complicated. Simplicity works. Keep in mind that some of the best campaigns have simple messages. A Timex is reliable. Campbell’s Soup is good. Crest fights cavities. Read The Wall Street Journal, and you will be successful.

Simplicity works at every stage. Simple strategy. The best strategies are based on a single concept that can be summarized in a few words. Simple creative. Copy that is short, sweet, and easy to read. Clean graphics that support the message. A simple, compelling offer. Make it easy to respond. And, most importantly, make sure you follow through on what you promise.

Whether you’re talking to consumers or businesses, the first challenge is to get noticed. Here are some ideas to help you cut through the clutter:

Try a new format.
Industries often get stuck in a rut thinking that they are supposed to use a certain format. If you typically send home equity offers in a #10 envelope, try a different envelope size. If you are targeting businesses, experiment with dimensionals. They stand out in the mail and often get past the gatekeeper.

Stay relevant.
Attitudes change quickly. What used to motivate customers and prospects last year — or even last month — may not work now. Your message needs to ring true with your audience. Businesses that were motivated by containing costs may be more interested in results. Consumers may be interested in saving time. By saying something that speaks to their needs or concerns at the moment, you can cut through the clutter.

Be personal.
Part of making your message relevant is making it personal. To be more personal, you may need to segment your audience by message, offer, or location. For instance, you may find that business prospects in different industries have different needs. A software company may use your product or service differently than a financial services firm. You may have customers that are sensitive to price and want to know when they can get a bargain and others who want what is trendy or want high quality. Knowing how to talk to your customers and prospects on a personal level can help them pick you out of the crowd.

Make sure you listen.
Listen to your best customers. You can cut through the clutter by finding out what they want. Learn how they want you to communicate with them. You may find that business customers would like a separate section on your Web site that supports their needs and helps answer questions. Customers may like to receive e-mails with special offers.

Make customers feel special.
Send customers a special thank you for purchasing from you with an incentive to buy again. If customers feel a special connection with your organization, they will look for your communications.

Have a great offer.
The offer is still the most important part of a good direct marketing effort. It needs to appeal to your audience. If you’re reaching businesses, it may be a free trial, guarantee, or reward for listening to your sales pitch. If you want to intrigue consumers, you need to stand out from the competition. Try something new. The right appeal will grab their attention.

Get specific.
If you generalize, you may lose them. People want to know what they’re getting, what it will do for them, how much it will cost, and when they can get it. Be as specific as possible with your message and offer. Quote facts and figures of past success to business customers. Use testimonials or demonstrations to show consumers what they’ll get. The faster customers and prospects can understand your message and offer, the closer you are to capturing their interest and making the sale.

Keep it simple.
We need to say it again. Today’s consumers are busy. They need to understand what you can do for them right away. If they can recognize your company or organization and make a quick connection, that’s even better. Business customers will learn to recognize you as reliable, fast, or affordable. Customers will like the quality of your products, your great customer service, or how well you know them.

Even through the clutter, consumers continue to respond to marketing offers. They respond to the ones that move them. They respond to simple messages and great offers from organizations they trust. Make sure that every communication you have with your customers and prospects counts.

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