Tripping Customers

My father was too fond of the old joke about a farmer and his mule. The punch line of the joke was that the farmer would whack the mule in its forehead with a two-by-four, saying “First you have to get his attention.”

Customers are like that, though I don’t advocate felonious assault as a promotional tactic.

Modern life is complicated to the point that we can only be distracted. Thus, distraction is the first act of promotion. If you cannot pry your prospects’ attention away from their work, smartphones, Facebook and on-demand videos, then you cannot possibly move them toward buying. Long gone are the sad old days of advertising when spokesmodels pointing to refrigerators with a disembodied droning voice pitching platitudes about the appliance.

Customers are mules and have to be coaxed with similar bluntness.

This is not new, though the chain of advertising practice is oddly convoluted and occasionally criminal. When television and magazines ruled American media, some advertisers caught-on to tripping people’s subconscious using subtle and unscrupulous stimuli (a 1974 book titled Subliminal Seduction chronicled many ways in which advertisers used salacious hidden images to connect your base instincts to their products). Later came the comedy-in-advertising revolution lead by an octogenarian hamburger peddler shouting “Where’s the beef?” In very different ways these methods tripped our attention and led us to product affinity.

These are not commonly viable for B2B marketing.

That’s not entirely true. Most means for arresting human attention spans for five seconds can be leveraged even for business sales. Some of the common approaches include:

Keywords/concepts of importance: Despite life getting in the way of consumption, B2B buyers are constantly scanning for things important to their jobs. Selecting current, precise, shared memes for keywords or conceptual connections are valid. Just be sure the keyword and concept actually match what your product delivers – no use starting a sale with a lie.

Jaw droppers: “Step right up and see the Ugandan Snake Woman!” got a lot of people’s attention at the carnival. Lurid posters of a half woman, half snake were statements of the unbelievable and caused even old cynics to drop a buck on the off chance of seeing something unique. Making people gasp is one way to get them to stop and ponder if you have something worth stopping for.

Longing: We all long for the seemingly unobtainable, be it true love or winning lottery tickets. Apple’s dancing silhouettes were a play to the longing in our souls for emotional liberation. Given how noisy our world has become, it might be the next big advertising fad – selling silence.

The marketing lesson is that you have to trip every buyer first. Only after they are on the ground can you tie them up.


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