Chameleon marketing – why it sometimes pays to blend in

Conventional wisdom has been that marketing activity needs to be big, bold and bright to stand out and get noticed.

This is still true to some extent in the offline world.

Billboards, for example, are most effective when they have eye-catching images and simple copy.

They are generally competing with busy roads or an urban landscape to get our attention, rather than other advertising, and usually have one clear, message.

Online, on social media or in magazines it’s a completely different story.

We are bombarded by adverts on every screen of our laptop or mobile phone. We see so many promotional messages they stop standing out and gain no attention at all.

To spark any interest and get us to respond, they need to strike a chord or trigger an emotion. Clever re-targeting can have some effect, but to get noticed and achieve a real connection with an audience you need to think differently.

It’s not just that there are thousands of adverts all competing for attention, adverts have lost a certain amount of credibility.

The rise of social media has meant it is much more difficult for an organisation to cover up a problem.

Within minutes’ news about it can be spread around the world. From tax avoidance and treating employees unfairly to corruption and false claims we know a lot more about companies and their dirty laundry.

All this has added to the general cynicism around the corporate world and a reluctance to take promotional messages at face value.

So how can these barriers be overcome?

Marketers need to think differently about their audience and how they get their message across.

Rather than being direct and pushing their agenda on to their prospective customers, they need to think about being subtle. They should understand how the people they are trying to reach will think and react.

-What are the issues they are trying to find answers to?

-Is there information you can provide that can help give them solutions?

At the moment, this same level of scepticism doesn’t exist around editorial copy. There is an expectation that it comes from a more impartial stand point and has a certain amount of balance. Marketers need to think about how they can make their content look more editorial to take advantage of this.

Here are three examples where taking this approach can work.

Email marketing

How many promotional emails do you get a day?

20, 30, or more?

How many do you actually click on? The answer is probably not many.

The more designed and elaborate they look, the more it feels like you’re being sold to.

Your inbox is a very personal thing and receiving messages in this way can feel overbearing, especially from a company trying to push their brand and agenda when there’s a tight deadline to meet.

The more designed they are, the more valuable space they take up in your inbox too, meaning that they are more likely to be deleted without being opened.

Putting together an email that uses plain text, without graphics and images, may initially feel the wrong thing to do, a little bear and uninviting.

However, it will look to your audience far less corporate and more like an email from a trusted source. In my experience, emails that were sent without graphics significantly out-performed those that had them.

As well as design, it’s also important to consider the email content.

There must be some value to the reader.

Providing useful information like a useful insight or some valuable tips alongside your messaging, will provoke a fair greater level of interest and begin to build a relationship with that reader that goes beyond a simple, transactional deal.

This means that the next email sent is more likely to be opened and read because the reader knows there is some benefit to doing so.

Display advertising

In a digital world, where online adverts can provide so much data on how the audience interacts with them, display advertising and print itself is on the decline.

Often adverts are placed not because there is a huge desire to do so, but more to keep up with competitors and show willing.

In my opinion, a straight, traditional advert with a promotional message had little value.

The reader is likely to skip over it and move on to the next interesting story, paying it little or no attention.

However, in my experience, using this promotional space for an infographic, that presents useful information in an interesting way and looks far more like editorial, can be very effective.

The visual content draws in the attention of the reader and if based on something relevant and informative it can provide greater depth than the traditional, more superficial advert.

Taking the time to understand what content might be most appealing and developing graphics that tell a story, can show you brand takes its audience seriously and has something useful to offer.

Advertorials on news alerts

Many organisations now send out regular news alerts that can be subscribed to.

As these have been selected by the audience, unlike unsolicited emails, they have been invited into the reader’s inbox and have that extra level of acceptance which comes with that.

If the reader is busy, they may not read each one, but it is likely that most of them will receive a cursory glance.

While many of these alerts offer advertising and sponsorship opportunities, the real value comes from placing content on these alerts.

Far more can be achieved through providing useful information that your target audience will take the time to read than simply pushing a marketing message and a logo.

If you choose the right alert and get your content right, these can be produce staggering results, and be highly cost-effective.

To be successful in a world full of advertising and promotional messages all screaming for attention, marketers need to take a step back and think much more about their content than ever before.

A piece that is relevant, well-researched and engagingly presented may take a little time and effort to produce, but can be highly effective and have a long shelf life.

Brands should think far beyond their visual identity and aim to build relationships with their audience through adding value.

Sometimes that means blending in far more with their surroundings, fitting in with what their audience needs and expects in a certain situation and not being afraid to drop the corporate look and feel.

Elissa Dennis

I've enjoyed a successful career in marketing & PR, across many different industries, countries & languages. I know how to plan and execute an integrated marketing strategy & how to get results.

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