How to Cut Through the Noise and Get Heard

 In branding, marketing

Your customers will be more distracted this year than any other year in history. With the average American experiencing over 5000 brand messages a day, the ability to keep your brand top-of-mind — let alone getting heard — is becoming increasingly difficult.

So how do you get your message heard when your customers have their eyes on their phones, their ears plugged into a podcast and their attention spans on overload?

The Noise is Louder than Ever

Picture this:

It’s 6 AM.

Your customer opens his eyes to the tone of a Timex alarm clock, turns on Good Morning America, slips into his Eddie Bauer slippers and enters the bathroom.

He brushes his teeth with Colgate toothpaste and an Oral B toothbrush, rinses with Listerine, and steps into the shower.

He squeezes out Irish Spring body wash, shaves with Barbasol shaving cream and a Gillette razor, and lathers the hair with Every Day Jack shampoo and Suave conditioner.

He gets out of the shower, applies Old Spice deodorant and Nautica cologne, fixes his hair with American Crew pomade, and applies Nivea face lotion.

Next, he slips on his Calvin Klein underwear, Tommy Hilfiger socks, Hanes undershirt, Guess jeans, Kenneth Cole dress shirt, Banana Republic tie, Aldo shoes, and a belt from Brooks Brothers.

Good Morning America is on commercial break: Ford F150, the new Star Wars movie, Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats.

He walks to his nightstand and picks up his iPhone, Volvo key’s, and his wallet — which contains his membership cards to Costco, Lifetime Fitness, CVS, RiteAid, Walgreens, and Kroger, as well as his Visa, Mastercard and Chase debit card.

He shuts off the TV, walks into the kitchen and opens the fridge: Heinz, Coke, Muscle Milk, Hellman’s, Vlasic, Silk, Borden’s, Kraft, Daisy, Dannon, Oscar Mayer, Imperial, Jimmy Dean.

He grabs the Smuckers jelly and puts it on a slice of Aunt Millie’s multigrain bread and pours his Seattle’s Best coffee from his Hamilton Beach coffee maker into his Starbucks travel mug.

His iPhone makes a notification sound — he has a new Gmail message — it’s an email blast from Sports Illustrated about the NBA draft and a special offer from Nike.

He closes it out and notices his remaining notifications — Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, RSS, YouTube, Skype, GoToMeeting, Slack, and Dropbox.

It’s 7 am.

Your customer hasn’t even left the house yet, and he’s experienced more brands than you and I could ever remember.

So in this ever-growing sea of noise, how are you planning to get your message heard?

The only way to cut through all of the noise is for your brand to stand for something that matters to the customer and for your message to be crystal clear and emotionally compelling.

Cutting through the noise and getting heard

With these thousands of brand messages aggressively pursuing your potential customer, it’s vital to your survival that your message cuts through the noise.

To be heard and understood by your audience, the answer is not to get loud like everyone else. It’s to get clear about who you are, what you do, and who you do it for.

Put in simple terms, your brand needs clarity on five core levels:

  1. Your Beliefs
  2. Your Customer
  3. The Challenge
  4. Your Solution
  5. Your Message

Your beliefs must be defined internally, so they can attract externally.

Why do you get up in the morning and do what you do? What drives you? What better world are you aiming to contribute to? What do you stand for? What values do you operate out of?

The clarification of your brand pillars will help you and your team to stay passionate, inspired and consistent while attracting like-minded customers. Whole Foods, Tom’s Shoes, and Starbucks are great examples to look at.

Your customer must be specifically defined.

Zig Ziglar famously said “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” This quote alone could actually transform your business.

Most leaders struggle to get clear on who their customer actually is. Many believe that their customer is “everybody”, or at least “everybody in a certain subculture”. This is fundamentally incorrect thinking for any company on the planet.

If I asked who drinks bottled water, most would quickly respond “everybody” right?

But who buys bottled water?

Do 5-year-olds buy bottled water? No.

Do they drink it? Yes.

Should we market to 5-year-olds? Probably not.

There is a specific person in the household making purchasing decisions for the groceries entering the home. This person is of a certain age, has specific responsibilities, fears, interests, pressures, desires, and emotions that all tie-in to the purchasing decision.

By defining in detail our customer demographics and understanding the customer on a deep empathetic level, you will able to pinpoint exactly the right audience to craft your marketing message to.

The challenge must be clearly understood.

People don’t buy products or services. They buy solutions to challenges.

I am going to assume that you already know that, and that you already are providing a solution to a challenge.

The question is: are you clearly communicating it?

Start with empathy.

Empathy is foundational in building trust — as well as being vital in understanding how to discover and connect with your audience.

The fastest way to get your audiences attention is to clearly describe a pain-point that they are struggling with.

Describing the challenge hooks their attention. I’ll use a weight loss product as an example:

[marketing message] Are you tired of feeling tired?

[customer thought] Totally…I’m always tired 

[marketing message] Is your figure causing insecurity in the workplace?

[customer thought] I haven’t felt confident in a while

[marketing message] Do you lack the energy to enjoy your friends and family?

[customer thought] I feel so sluggish when my kids want to play. I feel guilty.

Now we are locked in.

We’ve identified three real challenges that the audience is struggling with both physically and emotionally. Our understanding of their challenge helps us communicate it in a way that gets their full attention. Now we can lead them to our solution.

Your solution (product/service) must solve a real problem and be easy to understand.

Your solution must be easily understandable from start-to-finish. Your audience has a limited attention span and does not want to figure things out.

By providing a simple explanation, a simple process, and a painless experience, you will have a strategic edge over your competition.

Your message (marketing) needs to be simple and compelling.

Effective marketing messages are not about how great your solution is or how credible your organization is — It’s about identifying your customer’s pain-point and providing them with the hope that you can help them overcome.

That’s it.

Take Nike for example. Their core message is not about how special their shoes are, their message is that you can overcome your athletic challenge if you JUST DO IT.

They’re not selling shoes — they’re selling inspiration. Likewise, their message is not about them — it’s about you.

As you become more clear and focused you become more potent.

Stevia is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. To sweeten your coffee, you might add a tablespoon of sugar — while you would only require a tiny drop of stevia to get the same result. Stevia is potent.

In business, branding and marketing are much like stevia and sugar. One is more concentrated and potent while the other requires heavy doses to achieve the same effect.

Full disclosure: I’d be lying to you if I claimed that branding is quick and easy. Branding is not a quick one-and-done process. For branding to be effective, it requires digging deep into the soul of your organization, then consistently applying your findings year after year.

Marketing, on the other hand, can be executed in minutes. The difference, again, is in its overall potency. A marketing campaign can be forgotten in minutes, but an effective brand experience can last a lifetime.

Your Marketing Needs a Foundation

As a brand consultant, I often pick on marketing, but the truth is that I am a firm believer in it.

The catch is, I believe that every marketing campaign that is not formed from a strong brand foundation is a complete waste of money.

Many years ago, I served as Creative Director for a national brand that sold consumer goods in major retail stores. During my time with the company, I worked with a variety of advertising agencies on countless marketing campaigns.

We threw hundreds of thousands of dollars at campaigns for radio, television, events and social media. The typical result: frustration.

How is it possible that we could hire reputable advertising agencies, come up with clever and beautiful ad campaigns, be seen by millions of people, and see little to no ROI?

It was a hard lesson to learn, but ultimately, we recognized the problem:

We had a great product, great marketing, and a neglected brand.

We didn’t stand for anything, we hadn’t identified our core audience, and we had an unclear message about the problem we were solving for our customers.

In retrospect, failing to clarify these areas likely cost the company tens of millions of dollars.

Because we neglected to invest in branding ourselves, the audiences blew us off as noise and ignored our advertising campaigns.

The only way to benefit from advertising is to build your campaigns out of the foundation of effective branding.

2018 is Your Year to Get Clear

Companies who prioritize, monitor and nurture their brand consistently outperform their competitors. When you think about any given category, only one or two brands tend to come to mind, yet they may have 10, 20, even hundreds of competitors.

In 2018, your branding has the potential to move your brand into top-of-mind positioning and become the Nike, Apple or Coca-Cola in your category.

It requires some hard work and an honest audit of your organization, but the end result is a greater position in the mind of your audience and a more beloved brand.



Richard EnsleyRichard Ensley is the founder of Detroit-based Priest & King, a brand strategy consultancy focused on clarifying brand messaging to attract customers.

Connect with Richard on LinkedIn for daily insights, tips, and hacks to grow your business.


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