Signal Versus Noise

Today we all live in a marketplace that never closes and is never quiet. Everyone clamors for our attention by every means available – digital, analog, and everything in between.

Signal Versus Noise
Capital Thinking | Signal Versus Noise

Capital Thinking • Issue #22 • View online

For business, the phrase is sometimes used to express the problem of how to "cut through" the clutter of a noisy marketplace to make a favorable impression.

Simple, right?

Some folks may think this is is a new phenomenon and fondly recall a time when consumers didn't have so many choices. That day is long over.

Competition has never been more fierce for the mind of the consumer as well as for her pocketbook. As the number of “channels” increased so did the volume and determination of vendors hawking their wares.

Today we all live in a marketplace that never closes and is never quiet. Everyone clamors for our attention by every means available – digital, analog, and everything in between.

So, back to the question: How do we break through and make sure our clients and customers get a chance to hear what we have to say?

Innovation is a good place to begin. Innovation in the way we design and build product, in the manner in which serve our customer, and in the way we reach out to those same customers. Here's a recent comment by a poster on the 37 signals website:

You break expectations by changing what someone’s already used to. You change expectations by giving them something new. Understanding the difference is key (to product design).”

Yeah. Something like that.

The Prince of Print Speaks

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Years ago, the self-proclaimed “Prince of Print”, Gary Halbert, guaranteed to improve the number and quality of calls generated by the standard everyday Yellow Pages ad. Hey, you know this advice has to be old when the subject is the Yellow Pages.

What made his claim truly interesting is that he didn't offer to make incremental improvements in your response rate. Nope, he guaranteed to improve your results by a minimum of 400 percent. That's not a typo.

What's more important is that his advice, written so many years ago, is still as relevant today as ever. The medium may have changed but the goal and the game have not. Your ad's job is still to make your phone ring today, tomorrow, and for as long as you need it to do so.

What does this have to do with marketing products or services today? In the world of cell phones, web sites, and call centers?

A lot, actually.

Marketers using the Yellow Pages – back in the day – faced exactly the same issue we do now. Each Yellow Page ad needed to stand out on a page filled from edge to edge and top to bottom with display ads featuring artwork, details, and offers from competing businesses.

Halbert noted that two things were true when people used the Yellow Pages to select a vendor:

1. They needed the product or service now (or in the very immediate future); and

2. They don't know who to use.

Nothing Really Changes

Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

Isn't that more or less the way prospective clients and customers approach our web sites? They obviously have a need or they wouldn't bother endlessly surfing the 'net trying to find a solution to their problem. And just like those folks in the Yellow Pages example, they have no idea who they want to use.

Halbert's solution was to make the ad stand out by being something totally different than what prospective customers expected when they thumbed their way to the proper Yellow Page section.

How did he do that?

Instead of the normal display ad complete with logos, artwork, and the like – each trying to be larger and more colorful than the next – he suggested writing a fairly long narrative with nothing but text. No art of any kind. Rather than trying to be larger, he said you could do better by being more persuasive as well as informative.

Today, most accept this as fact, but when he first proposed being informative as opposed to being larger, louder, or both, it was pretty close to heresy (for the ad biz, anyway).

His favorite method was to provide a list of the most important things to consider when choosing a vendor or service. A ten point list, perhaps. Or something like this:

The four most important things you need to know before you: choose a dentist, have a fence built, get your roof repaired – whatever.

The point was to inform and then persuade. After all, it's not called "salesmanship in print" for nothing.

Stop Asking for Permission

I think web sites should work the same way. Ok, maybe not all of them. But those sites designed to attract (collect?) clients in the real estate field, for example, should definitely lean more toward the persuasive end of the spectrum.

Most Realtors have web sites designed by professionals. They look good, the type is readable, and they usually do a great job of collecting information from prospective clients.

Signal Verus Noise 2

What they don't do well is stand out from the competition.

How could they? Everybody went to the same graphic design schools and attended the same professional seminars. Maybe I'm being too hard on the designers because if you don't have a client who is willing to take a chance, ... all things being equal, you'll end up with a site that looks more or less like every other site in your sector.

Perhaps your's will be more colorful or use the newest typeface, but it's easy to see that we've come right back to the Yellow Pages problem, haven't we?

Larger and louder combined with endless repetition do not a marketing strategy make. Not a successful one anyway. Hey, the big guys have the dollars to waste on that nonsense, you probably do not. But since the "big guys" do it that way, it must be right. Right?

And so we're back. Again. Where almost every site looks alike and they all say the same thing. You know, like “Use us because we're great”, “We have XX years of experience”, “We care most about our customers”, and other such fluff.

That's what everybody does. And you expect your clients to find you in an ocean of web sites all saying the same thing?

The Prescription

Here's the deal: If you want to stand out, then you need to be prepared do something different. Really different. As the girl at the bottom of the post says:

“If you want to achieve greatness, stop asking for permission”.

What are you waiting for?

Stop Asking for Permission

*first appeared in Capital Thinking - November 5, 2011