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Warning: Your Marketing Message Is Falling On Deaf Ears

How much of what you think you are saying to your customers are they actually hearing?

After all these years in the consumer electronics industry, I am still surprised to hear way too many retailers and manufacturers talk about how they “reach” their target audience, generally, with budgets too small to accomplish much of anything. I was guilty of that at one point. I was a senior VP of marketing and sales for a physical fitness equipment company, and in a 3-month period spent just over $300,000 in “national” ads “blanketing” consumer consciousness. Or so I thought.

I put “national” in quotes to make the distinction between what I assumed would happen as opposed to what did, because while the money did go to publications with national readership, the $300,000 made little if any impression, national or otherwise because it simply was not enough, with little or no focus.

We got nothing for that expenditure because it was too little attempting to reach too many with too complicated a message, and to the extent that was a problem then, it is even more so today, 17 years later. Moreover, we could have spent $3 million during the same period with likely no better result, or at least nothing to justify a ten-fold increase in ad spending.

There simply is no way to over estimate the “message clutter” that assaults your customers each and every day of their lives, and as a result they have evolved an ability to tune out the overwhelming majority of what you think you are saying to them. Just as people who live near the ocean ultimately hear the waves less in comparison to someone who’s just visiting the shore, consumers, including those you think you speak to, are hearing less and less of what you are saying.

If you think this is only a problem for those with what you consider to be small budgets, think again. There are numerous brand and ad tracking studies all saying the same thing, which is that your message is not getting through.

One of the most recent studies, conducted by a company called Emergence, found that only six of 22 of the tag lines of the country’s biggest marketing spenders were recognized by more than 10 percent of the target population. And this for companies spending more than $100 million each year in advertising! How much will you spend and what impact do you think it will have, given that total advertising expenditures in the United States are estimated to exceed $250 billion next year?

For many companies — retailers and manufacturers alike — the problem begins by not defining goals for whatever it is you have to spend. Are you trying to build brand awareness, drive floor traffic, sell something, or worse, sell a lot of different somethings? Or worse still, all of the above?

All too often it would appear to be the latter, particularly judging by the Sunday newspaper supplements. They’re filled with page after page of “me too” ads with small product line art, two or three copy bullets and a price, one indistinguishable from the next touting everything from $19 phones to $9,999 HDTV.

I realize that you will sell a ton of $19 things to some price shoppers, but do you honestly think that is a good way to sell most anything else? It’s not, and worse still, it hurts the image of both the retailer and the manufacturer whose brand is cheapened by such tactics, just as the brand image of most car dealers were destroyed long ago having done essentially the same thing.

The CE industry has sufficient communication budgets to get the right message to the right consumer, but that won’t happen as long as things stay as they are. The retailers among you won’t appreciate this, but a move in the right direction would be manufacturers saying they will no longer provide marketing funds that are used solely or largely for newspaper supplement price ads.

Instead, they should partner with retailers who understand the need to first build demand for the product, along with the retailer and manufacturer brands, before talking about price.

Less than 10 percent awareness for a tag line for six of 22 companies each spending $100 million in advertising. What a waste.