for brands on a mission
Respecting Your Audience in Brand Communications

A Crowded World

People’s attention seems to be the number one battleground for brands these days. It is increasingly becoming their sole tactic, too. 

The public are relentlessly bombarded by ads every day. Everywhere they go. Take your normal walk to the train station. You’ll pass physical billboards, digital billboards, ads on buses, ads on bus stops, ads on taxis, ads in shop windows. Hell, recently they even installed ad screens in my local train station bathrooms.

Or perhaps you saw none of them because you were too busy looking at the ads on your phone. Facebook, twitter, Instagram, reddit and YouTube are all in a never ending battle trying to find the line of how many ads you will tolerate before you want to throw your phone against a wall. 

Beyond social media, you’ll find ads throughout search engines, video streamers, news outlets, games and podcasts. The entire digital ecosystem is pretty well powered by ads. We, the consumer, are the target of all of it. It’s amazing how incredibly normal it has become to have most things in our life brought to us by ads. 

It is estimated that if you live in a modern city, you’re getting exposed to up to 10,000 ads every day. It’s reached the point where we honestly barely even notice them, and the more we get served, the more we mentally tune them out. 

No wonder we now get served ads asking us how well we remember which ads we’ve been served. As Imi discussed in last week’s blog, the internet has completely overwhelmed our short term memory, we’re so ceaselessly stimulated that it is affecting our ability to properly process new information into long-term memories.

Therefore, trying to stand out and be remembered in the current age of advertising appears to be a catch 22. With the sheer volume of ads in circulation, it feels more important than ever to get your brand’s messages into the mix to ensure you don’t miss out. But in doing so, you are further contributing to the noise and it all grows exponentially bigger and bigger until blokes like me can’t even take a piss without hearing about the latest drive-away deal on the Suzuki Swift.

Running a Different Race

Now, while this all sounds very dystopian and doomy-gloomy, I promise I am getting to a point. 

With the sheer volume of content and communications being pumped into the world every single day by brands, simply getting your ad seen is worth less and less. As advertisers, we can’t keep competing by trying to buy the most eyeballs. You’re never going to make a real difference if you’re always competing in a race to be seen. A race that has more competitors joining every day. Year on year, individual ads are steadily devaluing in salience as exposure increases with platforms focusing on delivering bulk impressions. Therefore, I believe the real challenge for brands is not visibility, but creating value. Not only value in your products, but value in your communications. 

Any communication a brand sends out into the world should carry a value for the person who it is ultimately destined to consume it. That value can come in a few different flavours, but ultimately it’s worth thinking about it as a trade. If you want to earn people’s attention above the thousand other brands they will hear from that day, you need to offer them something worth paying attention to. Humour, inspiration, knowledge, kindness and good old fashioned entertainment are all ways to earn people’s attention, ways to reward them for listening to you. 

This week, my 88 year old grandma literally cried with laughter recounting to me a particularly funny bank ad she had seen on TV. That kind of value is what separates it from the no doubt hundreds of other ads that also played alongside her beloved Antiques Roadshow. It wasn’t that she liked that bank more than any other, but she absolutely remembered which bank it was (no mean feat at her age). Creating value is what moves an audience from passively absorbing, to actively engaging. And if you can provide value with every piece of brand comms that you send out into the world, that’s a powerful weapon in building a strong relationship with your audience. I hate to flippantly reference Pavlov’s dogs, but realistically, reward-based behaviours are a core part of human psychology. With thousands of pieces of brand communications in front of us every day, we’re naturally going to gravitate towards the ones that offer up some kind of value to us. 

Who Does it Serve?

With any content, ad, or communication, there is a simple way to think about it. 

Is it designed to serve the author, or the audience? 

While you may not consciously think about it in those terms, the vast majority of brand communications sent out into the world are always serving the author, and audiences absolutely feel it. 

As marketers, it seems like the logical thing to do. We pay money to get our message in front of the people we want to see it – that’s the trade. It’s the model we’ve been hammering for a long time now. While it’s a good way to force people’s attention, it is far from the way to win over people’s minds, let alone affect how your brand makes them feel (arguably the most powerful behaviour driver). 

You can apply the exact same logic to the posts that fill your social media feed. Next time you are scrolling through, consider which posts you enjoy, and which ones annoy you. Then for each one, ask yourself who that post is designed to serve. Did the person post it to serve their own ego, interests and agenda? Or did they post it for the benefit of those who will see it? I suspect you’ll start to see a trend pretty quickly. 

I guess what I am trying to say is, when you think about communicating, try to be generous, not selfish. I think there is incredible power in offering up something of value, before you try and ask for it in return. 

Because once people like you, that's got to be the biggest battle won.

Words by Senior Content Specialist James Manning