The future of the Invisible Marketer

The decreasing success of interruptive marketing

For many years now, marketers have attempted to gain customer attention by inserting their business messaging into the customer’s attention path. Print ads are designed to interrupt the reading flow of magazine or newspaper readers. Billboard ads are designed to steer the driver’s attention (but hopefully not their car!) away from the road and onto the advertisement. Radio ads interrupt the listening pleasure of the customer. TV ads interrupt the viewer’s attention (often cutting to a commercial at the most suspenseful or climactic part of the show). 

Many of the digital marketing vehicles today also maintain this interruptive nature. Email campaigns insert themselves into the customer’s inbox, interrupting business and/or personal communications. Web banner ads are strategically placed on high-traffic websites to steal customer attention away, at least temporarily, from their intended website content.

Becoming the Invisible Marketer

Stealing away the attention of customers is an increasingly challenged goal, partly because the customer (the information consumer) has:

  • An ever-expanding number of choices to place their attention 
  • An expanding array of new (and increasingly effective) tools to customize what they want to see – and block everything else 
  • A rapidly decreasing attention span *
  • Greater savvy and a much higher awareness of when he/she is being “marketed to”

It’s a rapidly changing paradigm. Leading-edge marketers are creating less visible, more organic engagements with customers – interactions that are not based on today’s interruptive approach, but are, rather, the natural byproduct of the customer’s desire to fulfill both personal and business needs. Similarly, content marketers strategically place their content into the conversation path of the customer in a natural, meaningful way that doesn’t “feel like marketing.”

So, what does “invisible” look like?

A good example of invisible marketing is when an executive attends an industry conference and hears one of your customers present a case study about how they solved a key business problem. In this presentation, your customer mentions that your solution was key to helping them solve this challenge. The executive relates to the customer’s business problem as a similar challenge his/her company faces, and then engages in a conversation with your customer. During this engagement, your customer suggests that the executive contact you to learn more about how your solution could potentially help their business solve its similar problem.

Your marketing staff may have spent months planning this initiative, searching for a customer willing to speak, making all the arrangements for your customer to speak at that event (including paying a sponsorship fee for the speaking slot), writing and designing the presentation, coaching the customer on how to present it, and even paying for his/her time and travel. But all that effort is invisible to the executive attendee who sees none of the complex marketing engine that led him/her to you.

Zen and the art of invisible marketing

While 100% invisible marketing may never be fully achievable, it begins with the effort to build marketing initiatives that blend seamlessly into (versus interrupting) the customer’s normal conversation path, encouraging an engagement that feels more natural and organic—and less processed through the marketing machinery.

*A 2013 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the U.S. National Library of Medicine revealed that the average attention span of Americans had shrunk 33% since the year 2000.