Marketing is hard and it’s getting harder all the time.

Creating marketing that resonates and captures the spotlight is a challenge.

How do you get people to pay attention to your marketing in an always-on, information overload world? How does your marketing stand out from the crowd?

As marketers, we diligently create case studies, blog posts, videos, infographics, and sales sheets. Then, we try to get people to notice them through influencers, advertising, newsletters, email lists, and social media.

marketing noiseIt explains why there’s so much digital marketing noise. Everyone’s talking, hoping that someone will listen.

To me, a lot of digital marketing looks like people going through the motions. Everyone feels obligated to do it, even though they’re not entirely sure it’s actually working.

Brands are afraid, for example, to stop using Twitter or Facebook because it would make them look bad. 

I recently talked to a B2B company that was told by its marketing agency to use social media but it was reluctant to push back, even though social media wasn’t generating ROI.

Lots of tactical execution but how much impact?

Many marketers are more focused on tactical execution than their prospects and customers. There’s a lot of activity but how much of it makes an impact?

Meanwhile, prospects are overwhelmed. So many brands are promising better results, amazing benefits, and ROI, and they are inundated with email campaigns, cold email and cold calling.

But prospects are time-strapped and not willing or unable to give anything their full attention.

Between doing their work, checking their smartphones, updating social media, and immersed in their inboxes, how much time are prospects spending looking at a company’s marketing? I would suspect little to none.

And to make matters even worse, ads aren’t working anymore. Consumers are using ad-blockers, binge-watching on NetFlix, or changing the channel when an ad appears.

b2b marketersFor marketers, getting anyone to pay attention – even for a short period of time – is their number one challenge, more so than attracting leads and sales.

I think the predicament facing many B2B marketers is they’re stuck. Their toolboxes include social media, content marketing, and inbound marketing but they have hit a wall.

In a recent blog post, PathFactory’s Elle Woulfe said: “the big gains from the digital era have reached a new plateau”.

“One thing is clear: the answer can no longer be what it’s been for the last five years: “More content!” And, if recent research data is right, it certainly isn’t going to be “More budget!,” she wrote, adding that prospects have moved on while marketers have stayed in the same place.

If you’re a marketer, Woulfe’s perspective is downright troubling, if not scary.

“Zero-Day Growth Exploits”

At a conference recently, Alistair Croll talked about the difficulties of living in a world with an “abundance of information”.

Croll contends that companies need to focus on how to capture people’s attention rather than creating more content.

That sounds like a great approach but how do you capture people’s attention when there’s so much competition?

And, at the same time, people are so busy, you have to ask how much time they spend online looking for solutions to their problems.

Croll mentioned an intriguing concept: how companies need to discover a “zero-day growth exploit”: an idea, campaign, piece of content or promotion that allows a company to become the belle of the ball.

It’s a vulnerability, he said, in the system that lets companies transform attention into profitable demand.

farmvilleFor example, Farmville found a way to “hack” Facebook. When someone registered to play the game, Farmville automatically sent a message to their friends, asking if they wanted to join as well. The hack worked until Facebook decided it was offside.

In its early days, Airbnb found a way to hack Craigslist using a bot that generated a new listing, even though it violated Craiglist’s terms of use.

And, of course, Hotmail super-charged its growth by inserting a simple tagline at the bottom of emails sent by its users: “P.S. I love you. Get Your Free Email at Hotmail”.

These “zero-day growth exploits” are impressive but they involve creativity, ingenuity, and, of course, luck. 

Brute Force

Another way to gain attention is straightforward: brute force.

Look at the buzz that Tim Horton’s created with a documentary, The Away Game. It features a hockey team from Kenya (the only hockey team in Kenya!) that came to Canada to play its first game.

tim horton'sThe documentary features NHL superstars Sidney Crosby and Nathan McKinnon. It’s heart-warming and a great story that resonates with hockey fans. So far, the video has 1.9 million views on YouTube.

Tim Horton’s made a hefty investment to create the documentary. But the company has a huge marketing budget so a documentary is a different and creative way to connect with customers in an ultra-competitive market.

You can also apply brute force (aka spend a lot of money) to attract web traffic through advertising on Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn.

If your brand and message are seen by enough people, you can capture the spotlight. But, again, that is an expensive proposition.

But as a small brand, how do you be extraordinary without deploying brute force?

How do you stand out from the crowd? How does your marketing actually work?

I think B2B marketers need to stop thinking that technology and automation are the answers. They’re making marketers lazy.

Marketing is not about sending a never-ending email campaign designed to make someone capitulate to your demand for a demo, trial or “free” content offer.

Instead, successful marketing is driven by creativity and out of the box thinking. 

As important, marketers have to take risks, be willing to go against the grain and be open to experimentation.

I think the pendulum is swinging back to personal marketing. Instead of clicks, you’ll have handshakes.

A “connection” is a relationship rather than a button. Marketers will attend events, conferences, meetups and user groups. They’ll host dinners for customers, meet them for coffee, and hold Webinars.

Brands also need to connect with customers and prospects in non-digital ways. They need to move beyond email, social media, videos and blogs to capture people’s attention in new and creative ways.

In a recent blog post, Adam Brummitt explored the appeal of “tangible marketing”. He talked about “analog” marketing such as sending high-quality and creative promotional material or personal letters to prospects.

Brummitt suggests that tangible marketing is effective because many people are ignoring digital marketing.

The average person, for example, receives about 130 email a day but how many of them are opened and read? I suspect many are deleted. The same goes for updates on Twitter and Facebook. Brands are dutifully pounding out updates but most are ignored and quickly disappear into the ether.

If B2B marketers want to connect with prospects and customers, they need to stop thinking all digital all the time. They need to be willing to swim upstream, even though it is much easier to float downstream.

They need to be bold, innovative and creative. There are risks but the alternative is doing the same thing as everyone else. While it is safe to run with the pack, what if the pack decides to run over the edge of a cliff?

Here’s my advice to brands using digital marketing: Take a long, hard look at your digital marketing activities to see how they are performing.

How much engagement is really happening? Are people reading your case studies? Are they loving your social media updates? How many leads and sales are generated? Are you getting ROI?

Then, take a look at your non-digital marketing. How much of it are you doing? How’s it performing? Does it generate different results from your digital marketing? Are you able to connect with customers in different ways?

Armed with insight about your overall marketing activities, determine the right mix between digital and non-digital. Make sure not all your eggs are in one basket. Look at engaging and connecting with customers and prospects in different ways.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a series of blog posts looking at the different options that brands can explore to create marketing that makes an impact and encourages people to pay attention.

If you have ideas or examples of brands whose marketing captures the spotlight, please leave a comment or send me an email:

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