Play Real Good

The violin’s heavy vibrato found my ear through the chaos of the subway.

Being a music junkie, the stuff tends to get my attention. Hearing a well-played violin in a crowded underground tunnel filled with thousands of rush-hour commuters was a miracle. That it held me for a brief moment was regrettably common.

We learned in Communications 101 that there are three factors in passing along info – the transmitter, the receiver and the noise in between. Transmitters, be they buskers or marketers, have to confront noise in order for their product to even be perceived. Like the subway scene in which an aspiring violinist struggled to be heard, marketers have only the tiniest moments of relative quiet to connect.

But noise is growing.

The ability of people to tune out is positively Darwinian. With promotional messages now coming via radio, TV, billboards, browsers, embedded in apps and on nearly every bumper, people are improving their filtering capabilities. In our modern environment where noise is the predominate substance, people are successfully ignoring everything. Marketing people aren’t helping, adding to the noise more than they add value.

If I could figure out a good way of selling silence, I’d get into that business tomorrow.

The bad news is that cutting through the noise isn’t even your most horrific problem. In our interconnected, 24×7 world, people’s capacity to care is stretched dangerously thin. Living in very televised times, we are bombarded with an endless stream of issues that are all urgent, even the ones that are not (David Brinkley, one of the last real journalist, correctly observed “The one function TV news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you with the same emphasis as if there were.”) People are growing immune to caring about the world in front of them because of the new world around them.

Much like the violin player, whose tip jar was empty aide from the few bucks he dropped in to prime the pump. Subway passengers had other things on their mind.

Your job as marketers is desperate. Being heard above the noise and making people care is a Sisyphean pursuit. This is one of the many reasons social media has become non-objectively popular. It has the tendency, as does most permission-based marketing, to skip noise and indifference in one tactic. By itself it is insufficient, but it works better than blaring billboards and inane television commercials.

One key is clarity. Like that single sustained note from the violin that wove past a thousand other ears and found the one music lover who would stop for a minute, the clarity of your communications is important. If you are generating noise, it will be lost in all the other noise. If you play a resonate chord, it might catch a buyer’s momentary attention until the stuff called life drags them past. If you touch them with a single, sweet note, they may stop long enough to hear you.

Speaking of music, Joni Mitchell once sang:

Nobody stopped to hear him
Though he played so sweet and high
They knew he had never been on their T.V.
So they passed his music by


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