It's hard to cut through the clutter.
Even as customers are constantly bombarded with advertising messages, they are getting progressively better at tuning out the endless stream of come-ons. Companies then typically up the ante and try to out-shout their competitors to draw attention. All of which just leads to more shouting, and everybody is drowned out.
So, what can a company do to get noticed?
Here are five questions marketers should ask themselves as they craft new strategies to capture customers' attention in an increasingly noisy marketplace.
Can the marketing stimulus be delivered at a time when the customer has few other distractions?
Marketing messages should target customers at times when they are unoccupied, perhaps even actively seeking some sort of information to process. Consider, for example, an airplane on the landing path into an airport. Sitting upright, with in-flight entertainment and electronic devices switched off, passengers have little to do but to look out of the window and wait for the aircraft to land.
Seeking to capitalize on this opportunity, London-based Ad-Air Group PLC places advertisements flat on the ground over an area as large as five acres alongside flight paths in and out of the world's busiest airports. Depending on their landing approach, passengers are provided with an unrestricted view of an ad for more than 10 seconds.
Can the marketing message be designed to pique the customer's curiosity?
Piquing customers' curiosity can be more effective than inundating them with information. Stimuli that are carefully placed, so that they are encountered in sequence, can be particularly successful at this task.
Consider a series of billboards along a busy interstate proclaiming the approach of a business, but not really saying what the business does. To find out what the business is all about, travelers have to take an exit off the highway. While some may be disappointed with what they find and may not plan a second visit, there are always millions more of the uninitiated coming down the highway. This technique has been used to good effect by South of the Border, a Mexican-themed shopping and food cluster on I-95 near the border of the Carolinas.
Can the marketing message piggyback on another brand?
With television and newsprint media being increasingly saturated, marketers need to seek out new and interesting formats and media for their messages.
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., for example, has teamed with Adidas AG on a range of motorsport-inspired driving and sports shoes. The soles of these shoes are made of rubber with tread patterns designed by Goodyear. If customers viewed the shoe purely as an Adidas product, Goodyear's contribution would remain unnoticed. However, the Goodyear brand is prominently displayed on the outsoles of the shoes. The result is that every person wearing the shoes is now a messenger for the Goodyear brand.
Can the product or service occupy a piece of the physical environment that the customer frequently interfaces with?
Consumers today tend to spend inordinate amounts of time interfacing with just a few objects -- for many, it is their computer screen at work. Marketers must consider how they can capture the customer's attention when they interface with these objects. Customers, however, guard access to these objects zealously.
Southwest Airlines Co. has figured out how to do this, using a small software application called DING! This application, which customers can download, occupies a space on the icon bar of a desktop computer. Limited-time offers and news from Southwest are announced with a sound and highlighted by an envelope that displays over the icon. Customers can react to the offers by booking trips to their favorite destinations.
Can your company build into its messaging a consistent stimulus that affects one or more of the five physical senses?
Successful marketing messages excite customers not only when they first encounter them -- they ingrain themselves into the customers' permanent memory. Once a message is embedded, customer resistance to processing it drops when it is encountered in the future.
Cough-drop maker Ricola AG, which uses herbs cultivated in the Swiss Alpine regions for its products, invokes the image of the Alpine mountains and meadows in its advertising, which often features herders who harmoniously sing out the word "Ricola" into open, echoing meadows. The singing is accompanied by the blowing of an alpenhorn -- a long, curved wooden wind instrument with a distinctive, booming sound that was used by Swiss herders to call their cows from the pastures. The company has employed the sound and the imagery with such remarkable consistency that today, for many people, the sound of the horn alone is sufficient to invoke the rich imagery and heritage associated with the brand.
Not each of these five questions will necessarily generate a great idea for every company. But they do provide a common language for comparing, debating and improving managers' proposals.—Dr. Balasubramanian and Dr. Bhardwaj are professors of marketing at the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School in Chapel Hill, N.C. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.