There’s no magic to being Signal instead of Noise

The concept of a signal to noise ratio is a fundamental one in electrical engineering. My first real exposure to it was buying my first stereo system in college and getting the pitch from the sales guy on why all the dweebezaarb’s and flipper-flappers on the more expensive receiver, speakers, cables improved the signal-to-noise ratio. Better signal and less noise was, of course, good. Good in stereo’s, radio’s, cordless phones, video systems, whatever systems where frequency strength (and minimized noise) is a good thing.

Every where I turn today I see people struggling with how to get their signal (i.e., value proposition, marketing message, sales pitch) out to those tuned to receive it when these same people are being bombarded by so much signal from others that the combined signals are creating incredible amounts of noise.

Email marketing (to prospects at least) is pretty much dead. Direct mail, in a sort of surprising twist vs. where everyone seems to be focused now (internet marketing), is growing at 7-8% per year. In the same way that people leapt on email marketing when the internet took off, everyone seems to now be buzzing about viral marketing as though there is now some new, free, magic method of creating demand and selling goods and services.

Like anything else, there isn’t a magic bullet, secret sauce or effortless way of reaching, persuading, and touching people with your value proposition. Clients hire me expecting I have all the answers, can point them to the perfect technology or can whip out the mythical Top Ten List they could follow to ensure that if their signal is high, maybe the highest, that fast growth will ensue.

If it were only so.

The chaos being generated by the rapid and profound shifts of attention away from traditional media sources is causing advertisers to
ring their hands and look around to see what everyone else is doing…

…and everyone is doing alot. So everyone else does alot too, tries the same things that worked for others, and the noise is deafening!

DON’T DO THE SAME THING AS OTHERS IN YOUR INDUSTRY SINCE IT CREATES MORE NOISE AND NO ONE WILL CARE WHAT YOU’RE DOING ANYWAY. Like Wayne Gretzky once famously said (when asked why he was such a great hockey player) “I
don’t skate to where the puck is…I skate to where the puck is going to be.
So DON’T skate to where the puck is today and create more noise. Instead discover where the puck will be, say, in 12-24 months and determine how what you’re doing or saying to those you’re trying to reach will create signal for them vs. more noise.

Here are a handful of non-magic, high signal suggestions that seem so simple and yet so few follow:

  • Set your intention and make certain it’s not focused on you. What are you trying to accomplish? To say? Remember, when you go after a prospect, current customer or client, or even employer (if you’re a job seeker), you’re not the only one trying to get their attention. If your intention is all about you and not them (*I* want to sell them something vs. I have something that will help you) then you’ll immediately think about pushing something in their face and it will be noise to them.

The above isn’t some happy-assed, utopian approach. Just like my old defensive football coach who drilled us on how to make a lineman move in a certain direction by making their head move first (your body moves in the same direction as your head), so goes your intention. If your head isn’t focused on how what you do serves THEM, your actions will follow that negative intention and what you do won’t work.

  • Ask your customers what they want, where their attention is being invested, how they want to hear your message, etc.. Send out a survey; call a statistically random sampling (and make as many calls YOURSELF as possible) or find another fun way to engage them in a feedback loop. Listen, listen, listen…they’ll tell you how to give them the signal and how they want it delivered.

A friend of mine discovered that nearly 100% of their marketing and sales effort was focused on what I describe as “front door tactics”. Banging on the CIO’s or other senior executives door trying to get an audience and it was failing miserably (as most enterprise sales tactics are these days). He asked a CIO who’d acquired millions worth of his solution (recommended by others in his organization), “What could I have said or done to get in to see you and show you this solution?” The CIO replied, “Absolutely nothing. Hell, even your champion — my I.T. guy — had to ping me 10 times before I responded.

It turned out that one of the functionary I.T. administrator types (employed by the dozens in every one of my friends’ company targets) had ALL THE PAIN, were their CHAMPIONS and were most often the CATALYSTS of bringing in my friend’s solution to their CIO’s demanding their company buy it. Where do you think his marketing and sales efforts ought to be focused? Who should he ask about providing signal…and what should that signal be comprised of?

  • Hang out where your customers hang out and use what they use. If you cater to the 18-34 year old demographic and want to connect with thought leaders and early adopters, go to clubs, engage in MySpace, blog and podcast, partner with companies offering hosted Web applications. In short, do as your customers and prospects do and you’ll develop an intuitive feel for what’s going on, what works and what doesn’t.
  • Be authentic. No scams, no bullshit, no manipulation, no magic (black or white). If you have either a personal or business brand that you care about, then expect that — with today’s new levels of transparency and watchdog capability of bloggers, podcasters, vloggers — that non-authentic behavior and actions will be found out and called out. Have pricing, policies, messages, and tactics that care, feed and nurture your brand instead of putting it into jeopardy. Don’t offer a “freemium” version of your product that appears useful but isn’t…in the hope that people will register and then step themselves up to a paid, premium version. Don’t inflate your resume, your accomplishments or your competencies.
  • Try things before the world shifts beneath your industry or YOU. Most organizations have strategic planning functions with scenario planning methodologies in place. These can be extremely effective but remember Bill Gates’ May 26, 1995 memo “The Internet Tidal Wave” (PDF) which caused Microsoft to make a HUGE course change.

Hey…if a multi-billionaire with enormous resources at his disposal can miss something as huge as the internet — directly in his own industry, I might add — then how can you or your organization see it all and fit it inside of a neat, packaged strategic plan?

So start to blog for all the right reasons. Do a podcast. Put out a fun video. Package up your messages in a delightful way.

Every single thing I’m involved in right now from the people I’m meeting, the clients I have, the information I’m receiving and the expertise I’ve rapidly gained stem from ONE decision: in December of 2004, I started this blog. I intended to get in-the-game, understand it by getting my fingernails dirty, and have invested over ONE FULL WORKING YEAR WORTH OF DAYS building my blog with all its posts. An additional ONE MONTH OF FULL WORKING DAYS has been invested in my podcast.

Has it been worth it? Absolutely. Do I have an intuitive understanding? No question and I see and am aware of things that I NEVER would’ve seen otherwise. Lots yet to learn? What…are you joking? But the net-net is that what worked yesterday isn’t necessarily going to work today so even I have to stay aware and keep feeding my brain with input. You’ll have to use what’s worked before as ways to inform what you do…but you’ll have to figure out where YOUR puck is going to be and skate toward it as fast as possible.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Connecting the Dots Podcast

Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.