Can You Cut Through Noise
A Tactical Framework to Improve Digital Marketing Campaigns
Hey Everyone! Dez here from All Things Venture. I would like to pose this question, with two variations for anyone who is running a startup, or running marketing for a startup :
“Can you cut through noise?”
And when I say “you” I mean two things. I mean can “you”, your product/service, itself cut through noise. Or can “you”, your marketing approach/strategy, cut through noise?
I ask this question because I firmly believe that early stage companies breakout because of one of two things, either they have an incredible product or they have incredible distribution. Ideally you have both, and ideally you have both at the same time but that’s MUCH easier said than done. So, if we know at some point we’ll want to have great distribution, let me return to the initial question, “can you cut through noise?” The remainder of this article will be a reflection of my thoughts on how you can cut through noise from a marketing perspective, and provide a brief framework for how to thing about tactically doing so. Cutting through noise on the product/service side is much closer to a product/market fit (PMF) discussion, which there is ample literature out there on. See this article from a16z on a great overview of PMF, and see this article from Bessemer for a great article on how to embed features into your product/service that inherently cut through noise and contribute to distribution/conversion.
Alright, let’s dive in.
I spend on average, 5 hours and 41 minutes looking at my phone per day. (Holy shit lmao). Even as I write that out, I think that’s an absurd amount of time devoted to looking at anything, but such is life in the information economy. Anyways, here’s the breakdown of my top apps by usage:
Nearly 50% of my time on my phone is spent looking at the likes of TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc. (*Makes quick personal note to cut this time down*) This is nothing new or revolutionary, but it is important, and I bring it up for the following reason. If you are marketing your product, and if you want to build distribution for your product, you’ll need to attract a lot of eyeballs. More likely than not, a lot of those eyeballs are spent on social media. In the mindless scrolling that occurs on these apps (we’re all guilty of it) I would argue that, especially for consumer companies (and even for B2B) companies, you should be asking yourself, “how can I cut through the noise inherent to these platforms?” Let’s use Instagram as a quick case study. I follow 861 people on Instagram, and on average I spend around ~30 minutes on the app. Everyday, I am, like we all are, inundated with updates from a percentage of the people I follow. Today I opened the app and saw:
Posts from: Aime Leon Dore, Sports Illustrated, Complex, ESPN
Ads from: Crate & Barrel, The Container Store, Disney Plus, Le Labo
Comments aside from my range as a consumer (hell yeah I’m looking for organizational furniture and fancy soap) this is the noise on social media. They are the mundane, routine updates we consume, and they overwhelmingly come from companies trying to sell us stuff. Now, this just my n of 1. Someone could have a feed that is filled with more updates from celebrities or politicians or media outlets, but by and large I’d argue that the majority of the updates you’ll see on an app like Instagram are for commercial purposes, not personal purposes. Knowing this, regardless of if it’s a commercially or personally purposed post, a lot of these posts can still be useless noise. Here’s how I think about what is categorized as noise:
We all have differing perspectives on what will categorize as noise, but here’s my attempt to define noise on social media broadly:
Social Media Noise consists of the posts and updates that do not provide the end viewer with an emotional reaction, thought provoking information, compelling monetary benefit, or a sense of curiosity
At the end of the day, we all live in our own bubbles. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are the centers of our own universe. If you are attempting to cut through the noise with your product - I think it’s critical to keep that in mind. You’re going to want to center your marketing around your customer, their values, their needs and you’re going to want to communicate those same values and needs in a visually compelling, concise, emotive way. So if we know what is loosely categorized as noise, what can we do to cut through it? Well, here are three ways that I think about how to cut through noise - with concrete and conceptual examples
Create a conversation/discussion that is newsworthy
Tap into our inherent curiosity as people
Incentivize people to do the marketing for you
1) Create a conversation/discussion that is newsworthy
Awhile ago I came across this great Q&A with Jay Rosen, a media critic and professor at NYU, that provided great perspective on what is deemed “newsworthy” by journalists.
“There’s a code that tells journalists what’s newsworthy. You won’t see it written down except maybe in a journalism professor’s research. But it includes timeliness, conflict, anything totally unexpected, anything seemingly consequential, anything that involves a charismatic person whose human interest looms large in the news, and so on.”
Sounds dead on to me. One of the best recent examples of this occurring was Visa’s purchase of a CryptoPunk. This move by Visa had nearly all of the core tenets that Rosen talks about. There was the timeliness of it, piggy backing off of the frenzy around NFTs. It was totally unexpected, no blue chip company like Visa had made any similar purchase. It was seemingly consequential, a nearly ~$500B company with ubiquitous brand recognition jumped into the foray and wild west of NFTs. To me there isn’t a ton of conflict, nor can I argue that Visa “looms large in the news” but at the end of the day Visa is a MASSIVE company and they do have a financial interest in maintaining their dominance in payments, which crypto directly challenges. At the end of the day, Visa was able to suck all of the oxygen out of the news cycle, and cut through the noise.
2) Tap into our inherent curiosity as people
I passively consume things on social media all the time, especially if they are individual perspectives or updates. Posts like these are generally consumable bits of information that I take in, quickly process, and just move on from. I don’t think there’s a specific term for this online behavior so I’ll just call it “Pacmaning” Oh Janice C. from my undergrad macroeconomics class went to Casablanca last Friday night? Pacman. Oh ESPN thinks James Harden is the best scorer in the NBA? Pacman. These posts have just enough to be consumed, but not enough for me to really care or engage. That being said, when there are multiple individual perspective engaging about the same topic, we, as a society, tend to take notice. Large scale social movements with real world impact (The #MeToo Movement and #BlackLivesMatter), either began or breakout, online, and a major reason for that is because thousands to millions of people are able to have concurrent dialogue around them. Now to be clear, I don’t think every marketing campaign needs or should attempt to agitate for social change - my point is that when multiple people are talking about or posting about the same thing, we tend to take notice. We tend to subconsciously ask ourselves, “well what is that?” and “well, if my friends are aware of it/supporting it, shouldn’t I?” We naturally become curious. And I don’t mean to be cynical here but the same thing occurs with products/services. Curiosity, in my mind, is created through two strategies Flooding for Curiosity or Gating for Curiosity. When you are “Flooding for Curiosity”, you are creating curiosity for your product by having your product/service consistently displayed in areas your consumer operates. Examples of this are the JOKR ads on Citi Bike racks throughout the city, the PFP trends for NFTs (i.e setting your NFT as your profile picture), and the social movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. “Gating for Curiosity” is when you are creating curiosity for your product by creating some sort of barrier to access. Luxury goods do this all of the time, and it contributes to a perceived sense of scarcity for people that makes your product more attractive. Gating for Curiosity is probably a bit harder to pull off, and excites a certain type of consumer, but I still think it’s an effective way to gain eyeballs.
3) Incentivize people to do the marketing for you
My last point goes in tandem with curiosity, but it adds another layer to it by introducing incentives. At our core, we’re all motivated by incentives. If there’s something that we want, and that want can be accessed with very minimal/little effort odds are some percentage of people are willing to do it. Generally, I think about incentive systems along two axis. Reward and Effort. In my opinion, the most effective incentivize systems provide a reward that is perceived by the individual as high, can be accessed with very minimal effort, and is comparatively lower cost for the company. A good example of this is Venmo’s $500 giveaway earlier this year. All a user had to do, to potentially win $500, was share an Instagram post or retweet a tweet. It was brilliant because the required effort was so low, and perceived reward was so high that all of a sudden people’s Instagram’s were flooded with stories of the Venmo giveaway. Now in reality, do I know anyone who actually received the $500? No, but Venmo was momentarily able to cut through the noise on Instagram by incentivizing people to post about them on their behalf. I think the main mistake that people make with incentive systems is that they mismatch the reward and effort. People are busy, people are impatient, and people don’t care about your product until you give them a reason to. If the reward is too low , people won’t care. If the effort is too high, people won’t do it, simple as that.
At the end of the day, cutting through the noise is hard. But it’s important keep in mind that the noise exists. Nearly $350B dollars was spent on digital advertising in 2020, and that number is only likely to increase as more businesses adopt digital first formats. As more companies seek to compete for attention online, then the amount of noise in front of all of us will only increase. There is no silver bullet to cut through the noise, but I do believe that the above strategies can contribute to more effective digital ad spend. Even as new distribution platforms are built, once they reach scale, the same problems we see today will occur. The above perspective/analysis is by no means comprehensive but I do hope that it’s a helpful framework for anyone who is thinking through how to drive growth for their company. If you takeaway anything from this article, takeaway this, if you are trying to grow your product/service but struggling to market the product effectively and breakout from your early adopters. Constantly ask yourself,
“Can we cut through the noise?”
That’s it for this week everyone. I hope you all enjoyed the article!
Let us know what you think in the comments, or shoot me a note directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheers everyone!