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BLOGCutting Through the Digital Clutter

by Randall CraigFiled in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Marketing, StrategyTagged as: , , ,

How much spam do you get in your email box each day?  Probably too much.  How many Social Media “updates” do you read each day?  Probably too many.  And how relevant are they?  Not.

In the past, the challenge that marketers faced – cutting through the clutter – was solved by shouting louder, and shouting in more places.  If only you noticed their message, and did so often, the more likely you would act on it.

The promise of digital marketing was simple: deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right time.  This was achieved through four main strategies:

1) Search Engine Marketing meant that the message would only appear in context.  If you were searching for widgets, then only advertisements related to widgets would appear. The ads would not be intrusive, and, so the theory went, they would be welcomed.

2) Social Media Marketing meant that the message would arrive with validation from your connections.  Your trusted circle would like or share a commercial message that resonated with them, and you would be more open to it because of this.  You would appreciate the heads up, and view the message (or brand) positively.

3) Content Marketing meant that the message would arrive, either via email or on the web, as stealth “branded content”.  Supposedly educational, this content would contain seeds of bias – or sometimes even a blatant marketing message near the end of the article.  Because these generally sought to educate or entertain, you would view the brand as positive.  That is, however, if you didn’t feel used or cheated by the hidden motives behind the content.

4) Exceptionally low execution cost.  Compared with a TV ad campaign, sending an email or posting online is practically free.  And at the same time, user behavior can be tracked, resulting in exceptionally powerful “big data” that can later be mined.

It seems as if technology has gone wild: just because a marketer can do something, they feel compelled to do it.  As a result of these factors, individuals again face the problem digital marketing was supposed to fix: too much clutter and intrusive “shouting” by marketers.  Users have become numb.

Is there a solution?  Perhaps digital marketers need to reconsider the “old”, precisely because it can cut through the digital clutter.  This can mean anything from brochures, to radio spots, personalized direct mail, or product sampling.  And it means actually picking up the phone and reaching out to prospective clients directly – not through an offshore call center.  The power of Social Media is in the relationships, not in the technology, and certainly not the campaign.  But the power of other channels is in the relationship too.


Is your organization competing in a digital marketing shouting contest?  Reconsider how adding back real-world marketing activities can cut through the clutter.  Look back at your marketing plans from ten years ago: how did you reach your audience?  What channels did you use?  And what campaigns were the most effective?  Sometimes, what is old, becomes new again.

Marketing insight:  We need not travel 10 or 20 years to the past for the best marketing ideas; in fact, rekindling the old without taking into account today’s possibilities (and technology) seems a bit silly.  Consider your old campaigns, and ask how digital marketing can amplify their effectiveness.  Then consider today’s real-world touchpoints, and ask how digital might be integrated.  Some examples:

  • A real-world event where the conversation continues online afterwards.
  • Twitter-based customer service that is empowered to solve problems, not just empathize online.
  • Social Media discounts that drive real-world transactions.
  • Location-based text messages that give personalized marketing offers.

It isn’t a question of digital vs traditional, but rather how each can leverage and extend the other to achieve your marketing goals.

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