There’s a certain feeling I get, and I’m sure we all get, when I answer the telephone and am greeted by a telemarketer. There are a few feelings, actually. Sort of like the five stages of grief.
First, I feel a bit foolish, as if I’d been tricked into picking up the phone. This is especially true when it’s a number I don’t recognize yet I answer anyway on the off chance that it’s an emergency. From there I get impatient. I have no idea how long this person wants to keep me on the phone and I immediately start thinking about all the other things I have to do instead of listen to their sales pitch. Surprisingly, I then feel empathetic, since I too am a marketer (albeit one with a very different approach to sales) and wouldn’t want someone hanging up on me while I’m just doing my job. It isn’t long before I become angry, having been interrupted by an unwelcomed marketer of a product I surely don’t need. If they won’t let me get a word in edgewise, after trying to politely say “Thanks but no thanks” I will hang up.
That’s one end of the spectrum—the absolute worst way to be sold a product or service.
Why does interruptive marketing and selling make our blood boil? If you answered “Because it wastes our time,” you’d be wrong (or at least not totally right). While that is definitely true, it’s not what makes us angry, because wasting time isn’t something that intrinsically upsets us. I’ll be the first to admit that at times I get lost down black holes filled with listicles, cat-befriending-dog stories (read without a tissue at your own risk) and “what we should call me” GIFs, and the only redeeming quality of that content is that it makes me happy.
Telemarketers and the like drive us crazy because of one thing: their agenda.
There is no story. They just want our money, and that’s not something we are generally eager to part with in exchange for what we didn’t go looking for in the first place (we’ll happily part with it if we’re just “browsing” in the aisles of Target). Inherently, we don’t want to be “sold.” We feel we’re being tricked. That’s why we avoid the people with clipboards standing in the street and the kiosk people who stare us down in the mall.
Telling a Great Brand Story
On the other end of the spectrum stand the brands that have rich stories and tell them through unique, entertaining content and engagement. I truly believe that this is one reason dogs and cats are so successful and shareable in social media. Aside from how damned cute they are, we know they have no agenda (and that includes our wallets). Ninja Kitty won’t sneak up on you and try to sell you something. Grumpy Cat is grumpy for reasons other than slumping revenue figures. The German shepherd jumping on his shadow is doing so because he feels like it, and he doesn’t care whether you share, Like or comment on the video or not.
Of course, you’re not competing against cats and dogs when it comes to business, so it’s not a fair comparison. But if you market a spirits brand, you’re competing against Newcastle, which features a brutally honest voice on its Facebook page and throughout its #NoBollocks campaign. If you market a nonprofit, Invisible Children, Charity:Water and Movember have raised the brand storytelling bar pretty far with their brilliant videos and social media savvy. Even if you sell chocolate milk, OAK, a little-known brand from Australia, just upped the ante with its crazy “Reverse Robbery” campaign.
I’m not trying to praise the brands that hide their agendas the best, nor am I foolish enough to think that a business could exist without one. It’s not about hiding an agenda. Newcastle sells beer, OAK sells chocolate milk, and nonprofits raise money for specific causes. That’s obvious. Effective brand storytelling is about persuading an audience that a brand is worth opening a wallet or purse for, and that’s what these campaigns help accomplish. Brands doing post-advertising right are those that provide audiences with content that makes them feel that consuming said content is worth their time.
Every bit of marketing helps tell your brand’s story and will evoke feelings in your audience. Being on the other end of the computer screen isn’t much different from being on the other end of the telephone. What story are you telling your audience? Or, more important, how is each connection making them feel? Are you reaching them organically or interrupting their dinner?
A brand’s marketing activities will fall in various places along the spectrum from interruptive to engaging (opt-in). Aiming for all your brand’s marketing to fall on the “engaging” side of the spectrum is unrealistic (and not a sound strategy), but I can assure you that the more interruptive it becomes, the more certain failure becomes in the post-advertising age.