Inbound-Permission Marketing Office

2 September 2013

Interrupt Already: Because Most Of Us Aren’t Too Sexy To Advertise

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + No Relation To Right Said Fred…

Inbound and permission marketers must be the sexiest people on earth.

(Mis)led by their guru, Seth Godin, they abhor ads and other marketing promos that “interrupt” consumers. Rather, they simply build websites and social media profiles, then passively wait for customers to find them and give them “permission” to do marketing. Makes you all hot and bothered just thinking about it, huh?

Here’s what’s really amazing: their strict allegiance to inbound and permission marketing also means they never apply for jobs or ask anyone out on dates — they simply wait for emails and phone calls from suitors. Even at networking events, they just stand and wait for others to approach. Talk about animal magnetism!

The rest of us, alas, have to occasionally go out and initiate conversations. (The horror, the horror…) The way we see it, if no one knows we exist, why would they look us up in the first place? Even if we’re known by everyone, we can’t afford to bet our careers, businesses, and procreation on sitting and waiting.

Case In Point 1: Turning Off The Tap

I met a guy who runs a hardware store in a small town where everyone already knows him and likes him. To promote his store, he’s run radio ads for years. One day he decided to save money by canceling the ads, and soon discovered “it was like turning off the water faucet.” His cash flow dwindled to a trickle.

No, people didn’t forget he existed; they just had other things to do and think about. His radio ads had simply reminded them about hardware: “you know, I should fix that front gate…” or “the rain gutter does need replacing before winter…” Sure, his ads interrupted their music or news or whatever they were listening to, but the ads worked. So the guy resumed his radio campaign and his sales returned to normal.

(BTW, to determine whether your ads are working, simply turn them off and on at various intervals, while carefully measuring sales for a few weeks before and after.)

Case In Point 2: But We Tweeted And Facebooked It

A local college student organization recently tried to stage a concert. The group helps its members embrace and celebrate their ethnic identity and culture, so they booked a pop star from the old country to perform in L.A. Being young and inexperienced marketers, the students did what comes naturally: they promoted the concert ONLY on their social media accounts. Since the singer was a celebrity in their ethnic community, word of mouth would do the trick, right?

Not so much.

The deadline for ticket sales passed, with way too many tickets left unsold, so the group announced a sales extension “due to popular demand” — but again used social media only to do so. Still very few takers. Indeed, most people in their community still hadn’t heard about the event. The result: a total bust.

Case In Point 3: Bowie Hit By Ch-Ch-Changes

Hmmm, given the album cover, maybe he didn't want anyone to find him.

Hmmm, given the album cover, maybe he didn’t want anyone to find him.

Sticking with entertainment but on a much higher level, odds are you’ve heard of David Bowie — you know, musician, actor, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. Bowie recently released his first new album in a decade, “The Next Day,” and while it made a huge splash on entry, its ripples quickly subsided.

The reason, according to the L.A. Times story Pop Culture Dominance Is A Fickle Thing, Even For Bowie And Kanye, is a lack of continuous marketing:

When “The Next Day” hit stores on March 8, many critics called the album one of the singer’s best, helping it along to an impressive debut at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The man once known as Ziggy Stardust, it seemed, had risen once again.

Or had he?

Less than six months after its release, “The Next Day” — with a title that suggests moving ever forward into the future — seems almost to have disappeared. Last week the record was nowhere to be found on the iTunes album chart. It hasn’t really taken hold on the radio. And though a music video for the album’s lead single, “Where Are We Now?,” quickly racked up millions of views online, more recent clips from the record have made smaller impressions. For the week ending Aug. 3, Google Trends rated Bowie’s worldwide search interest at 19 on a scale of 0 to 100, well below youngsters like Miley Cyrus and Skrillex as well as peers such as Bruce Springsteen.

The problem: a saturated 24/7 media market. The article points out that other entertainers, such as Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake, “keep pounding the message” with TV show appearances, concerts, even ads; “Bowie, by contrast, has done virtually nothing beyond his music videos to promote ‘The Next Day.'”

Whether Bowie even cares about album sales or wants to be a richer man is beside the point; the takeaway here is that even legends can’t sit back on their solid gold laurels. That may have worked twenty or thirty years ago, but look out you rock n’ rollers, the world ain’t what it used to be.

7 Reasons To Make Some Noise, Rock Stars

Fortunately, most professional marketers understand passive marketing isn’t enough. Despite all the delusions of inbound and permission marketers, even universally popular brands know that advertising and other outbound tactics are a necessity. Here’s why…

1. To establish top-of-mind awareness for impulse decisions.

So you’re famous and sexy, but will your customers think of you FIRST when under pressure? For example, when a bartender in a crowded joint asks a patron what they want to drink, many say the first brand that comes to mind: “a Bud” or “a Coke.”

Note that this top-of-mind standing can change rapidly. [intlink id=”3242″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]The Pepsi Refresh case is an example[/intlink]: by shifting their marketing budget from TV to social media, Pepsi ceded market share to Coke, which had happily maintained their TV advertising.

Wherever consumers have a lot of choices and little time to research and deliberate — a multiplex cinema, a voting booth, a trade show with hundreds of vendors, a supermarket coffee aisle, or a busy shopping district (“Where do you want to go for dinner?” “Hmmm, how about that one. I’ve heard about it…”) — just a bit more brand awareness than the competition can make all the difference.

2. To command higher prices.

Advertising creates familiarity, familiarity creates trust, and trust creates willingness to pay. This is especially true if your product contains an element of risk, such as condoms, tires, banks, dentists, medicines, or any food or beverage. Consumers generally pay more for brands they know and trust.

Don’t let the small numbers of anti-mass-market elitists and hipsters fool you. The big brands still rule most of the market. For example, all bottled water is essentially the same, but some brands command higher prices. That’s aggressive marketing at work — not just some pretty website or Facebook page.

3. To create awareness among potential investors, partners, and other professionals.

Why do some business-to-business companies run expensive TV commercials? They don’t sell anything directly to consumers — except for shares in their company.

In the United States, it’s illegal for a company to tout its own stock, but an expensive TV commercial says, “Hey, we’re a big strong company, so remember our name the next time you’re on eTrade…” (Indeed, this was a key motivation behind many of the TV commercials during the first dotcom bubble.)

Other non-consumer targets may include potential employees (“wouldn’t it be fun to work for a company this solid and fun?”) and potential partners (“hey, we’re on a roll — let’s get together and get it on”).

4. To force your competitors to spend money.

Google Billboard Ad

Yes, even the gods of inbound marketing must occasionally advertise in really old media.

Even if a company is well known, they’ll advertise in response to competitor ads — or to force their competitors to advertise. Even Google, the God of Inbound Marketing, ran old media ads once Bing started doing so.

In politics, the top candidates and parties spend immensely to force their rivals to keep up. Ever wonder why there are no viable third parties in the United States? The answer begins with a $.

In the U.S. cola wars, Coke and Pepsi have crushed the #3 brand, R.C. Cola, and when Virgin Cola tried to enter the U.S. market, Coca-Cola doubled its promotion budget, stating that “We take all competition seriously.” This told Virgin what it would cost to compete. Virgin gave up.

5. To get the news media to cover you.

Professional news organizations have been brutally downsized (a tragedy for our society, but that’s [intlink id=”2393″ type=”post” target=”_blank”]another blogpost[/intlink]). They don’t have the time, money, people, air time, or column inches to cover every brand on the market.

So whether you’re selling headphones, music albums, or candidates for city council, the major news media usually focus on those brands most likely to make an impact, and that means those with substantial marketing budgets — not necessarily those with the best product.

Note: I’m not saying you have to advertise on those media outlets to get coverage (which would be wrong). I’m saying that you have to show significance and staying power, and your website or social network profile alone won’t cut it.

6. To sway the undecided or lazy.

Your biggest competitor isn’t the company that sells an identical product in your marketplace. It’s human inertia and apathy. As we all know just before April 15th of every year, overcoming laziness and procrastination is extremely difficult.

If your product has a deadline — an event, a sales level, or an election campaign — overcoming inertia is even more critical. If people are lazy or in a rut, they won’t come searching for you — or for anything at all.

For example, we Americans go on and on about “freedom” and “democracy” and “rights,” but most Americans don’t vote outside of Presidential elections. Even though voting usually takes less time than getting a latte at Starbucks, we’re more likely to stand in line for our yuppie-caffeine fix. That’s why it takes expensive “get out the vote” campaigns, with commercials and flyers and people knocking on doors, just to make Americans even remember election day. Imagine a candidate for public office, or a “please recycle” campaign, that did nothing but build a website and set up some social media profiles.

The way to fight passivity isn’t more passivity. If you want people to get out of the house, set the example and go first.

7. To make people search for you.

Finally, if you want all your websites and social profiles to actually get traffic, awareness marketing matters. For example, studies have shown that TV ads increase search results.

In other words, if you want inbound, go outbound.

A Final Word (But Not Of Mouth)

Your outbound marketing doesn’t have to be an ad. It can be PR and other influencer outreach, in-store activities, speaking engagements (which Seth Godin does a lot), or participation in social-media discussions beyond your own Facebook page. Ads just offer the widest immediate reach and the greatest amount of control over the message, the placement, and the timing.

Someone I used to follow on Twitter once tweeted this nonsense from the Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (aka, Naifs-R-Us): “Advertising is the tax you pay for a boring product.” Hmmm, apparently Apple and Harley-Davidson and Porsche and Jack Daniels and Victoria’s Secret and the NFL and Game of Thrones and the Las Vegas tourism bureau didn’t get the memo. They should stop making boring products.

While inbound marketing does have value (or I wouldn’t be blogging here), it must be part of a nutritionally balanced integrated marketing campaign, with multiple tactics and media, all working together to serve a common goal.

Never assume the world cares to look you up or even knows who you are. Even rock stars can no longer afford to be passive. Interrupt already and create that critical awareness. While some people claim “ignorance is bliss,” they probably don’t have anything to sell — or they’re just too damn sexy.

Inbound-Permission Marketing Office

Call Me… Maybe… Not: After waiting all day for the phone to ring, the inbound-permission marketers realize that they hadn’t given anyone their number.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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Sandy B (fromBC - that's in Canada eh!)
Sandy B (fromBC - that's in Canada eh!)
10 years ago

Excellent points as always Freddy!

The coolest thing about SM as a marketer from my point of view is helping to stay top of mind… SM may well be PART of the marketing/advertising/sales mix for me or my clients…but giving up or focusing exclusively on one communication medium, in my experience, can be a serious mistake….just as you suggest.

Making strategic, research based decisions to determine where you should should best spend your budget and time requires dilligent review…

I’m talking about looking at your target audience, perhaps segmenting as one size all rarely fits, and customizing to meet them where they are at…vs where you ass-u-me they are at…

Doing your homework on your target audience and there preferences in terms of communication channels is not the ‘funnest’ part of my job BUT it is the most rewarding in terms of ROI when done right!

I’m working on a marketing plan right now for a client and you’ve reminded me of some of the key principles…and a self-indulgent binge on Right Said Fred? Well – I’m having flashbacks of me and my crew ‘disco dancing’ and of course we were totally too sexy!!!

Thanks for putting a smile on my face…and a few thoughts in my head!

Mark Armstrong
5 years ago

Great line: “The way to fight passivity isn’t more passivity. If you want people to get out of the house, set the example and go first.”

‘Tis bitter medicine, but true: you’ve got to be proactive. Brands have to prioritize getting noticed; otherwise, all their efforts will be in vain.


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