Whenever you scan your email inbox or social feeds in the morning, you have some things that you instantly read: work emails, industry news, and links sent out by your favorite influencer. While doing this, you also ignore the rest. Some you don’t see at all.
Marketers sometimes call this “inbox blindness,” but since it works in many more contexts than email, let’s use the scientific term for it: “selective attention.” It was famously brought to light by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in an experiment known as “The Invisible Gorilla.” In it, they asked people to watch a film and count how many times a group of people threw a basketball. People watching it become so focused on counting the passes that most of them fail to notice that a gorilla walks onto the screen and starts beating its chest.
Some marketers are aware of selective attention, but their discussions of it typically focus on improving the quality of communications. They talk about writing better subject lines or personalizing content. They believe that if you execute better, you’ll break through. Unfortunately, that goes against the basic idea of blindness. If your audience is truly blind, they won’t bother with the content, no matter how good it is.
The real culprit here is not execution, but strategy. Whenever a brand communicates in too many ways that don’t provide value, it trains its customers to ignore everything it does—regardless of what it is.
This frequently happens in organizations with entrenched siloes. If the sales, product, marketing, and customer service teams are all speaking to customers independently, they tend to overlap and overwhelm. While each thing they do may be good in itself, the volume and redundancy sink the brand.
To get around this, we need to regain control of our communications. While we have many ways to do this, almost all of them contain the following five steps.
Perform a communications audit
Brands can begin by aggregating their communications and consolidating them into a single document. That way, they’ll get a customer’s view of the real cadence and quality of the content they’re creating.
Identify the proper channels and content types
Next, determine which channels your customers prefer. Today, too many brands have an email-centric view of CRM. As a result, many forward-thinking brands are ditching spam for progressive social outreach or location-based marketing. It all depends of brand and category of course, but if you’re not thinking about the entire universe of possibilities, you’re probably missing something.
Build a consistent, continuous story
You should then remove overlap and create one centralized CRM story, with one strategy and one creative direction. To do this, you’ll need to bring disparate teams together and make them see the communications through the customer’s eyes. Then, coordinate every type of outreach holistically, so an interaction that starts as a location data point, such as a visit to a car dealership, might transition into content that leads to a higher conversion rate.
Whenever you speak out without providing value, you are training your audience to ignore you. One quality message always beats a high volume of junk. And remember: you can always split your communications into clearly distinguished types—you can provide one kind of value on Snapchat and another via Twitter. That way your audience will learn which it finds valuable, rather than ignoring everything you do en masse.
Personalize your stories
As a final point, you’ll want to stop looking at your customers as a single group and broadcasting everything to everyone. They are different, and those differences should have a significant impact on your outreach efforts. Make it your goal to learn what matters to them. After all, CRM is a relationship, not a channel, and relationships require listening.
Of course, getting control over all of this is not easy. Whenever my agency proposes an audit to a client, we often hear a collective groan. It sounds like one more layer of bureaucracy, one more barrier to effective communication, and one more unneeded hassle. But it doesn’t work out that way. A strategic approach almost always streamlines communications and removes redundancies—making teams more efficient. That way, brands provide a better experience, can be more agile with opportunities, and ultimately do more for less.
Selective attention is a real and overlooked problem. To defeat it, we need to step back and think in a broad way about how customers are experiencing our brands. If we cut down on volume and deliver value at every step, they will start paying attention again.
After all, if everything we say is worth hearing, much more will get heard.