Why Invasive Marketing Will Come Back To Bite You

Marketing is becoming more and more pervasive, both via mobile and on physical structures—but ultimately, it will only annoy your customers. Here's how to do it better.

There was a time not too long ago when invasive advertising meant static one-dimensional roadside billboards, awkward product placement in television and movies, and a handful of junk mail. Now thanks to Big Data, smartphones, and eager advertisers, things are about to get a lot more up close and personal.

The allure of invasive marketing is always the same. Find new ways and new technologies that allow you to get in front of prospective customers and you’ll build brand awareness, sell more stuff, and beat your competition to the punch. It sounds simple enough until the advertising starts to get annoying.

Take for example what’s playing out in Pittsburgh. If all goes according to plan, city-owned property such as public works uniforms, parking meters, park pavilions, and vehicles could become prime real estate for advertisements from private companies. I don’t know about you, but the idea of advertisements on uniforms and parking meters seems a bit much. I understand a lot of municipalities need money and companies want to reach more customers—but I’m sure there are better ways than turning more city-property into moving billboards.

Along with invasive signage and digital displays, location-based marketing companies continue to look for new ways to push advertisements to anyone within earshot. Although the idea of receiving valuable discounts and coupons might seem tempting at the time, are current and prospective customers really going to want to turn their smartphones into repositories for dozens of unwanted promotions just to save a few bucks? As a consumer, it’s already annoying enough to “x” out of pop-up ads on mobile sites that hijack my display for five or so seconds without having my smartphone targeted by opportunistic retailers. As a small business owner, I know I don’t want to be “that” marketer.

Here’s the thing: if you saturate and over-stimulate customers with messaging, they are going to reach a point where it all becomes white noise. It happened to direct mail (now referred to universally as “junk mail”), it’s happening to social media, and if history repeats itself, it will soon happen with invasive marketing.

People don’t want to be pitched to around the clock. There’s a time and a place for advertising and that’s usually not the time when I’m forking over money to pay for parking or walking by a random business. If you try and force your message it’s going to feel forced and, at some point, people will start to tune you out.

I know it can be tempting to embrace the latest technologies to get your business and your products and services in front of more customers. But if you’re going to be successful, the messaging and the method have to make sense. If not, you’re just creating more spam for people to ignore—a point echoed by Mike Volpe, CMO of inbound marketing juggernaut HubSpot.

"Consumers have significantly more options to block out spammy advertising, whether by using Priority Inbox on their Gmail or fast forwarding through commercials on their favorite shows," Volpe writes. "The reaction of many brands has been to seek out new, louder, and more invasive mediums for marketing messages, but we believe the marketing that will win the hearts and minds of customers is inbound marketing, which leverages remarkable content and personalized offers to create marketing that's relevant, targeted, and intersects with the customers needs and lifestyles instead of interrupting it."

You don’t have to be an inbound marketing expert to “get it.” If you want to create non-invasive marketing campaigns that are interesting and relevant, just talk to your customers. What types of information/advertisements/deals/promotions are they typically drawn to? What is it about them that piques their interest? How frequently would they like to be contacted? Once you’re able to gain actionable insights from your target audience, you can map out your marketing strategy without having to worry about being totally annoying and ineffective.

—Shawn Graham is a marketing and brand strategist for startups and small businesses. Find Shawn at shawngraham.me or continue the conversation on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Michele Molinari]

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