If you run a small business, you know how difficult it can be to catch the attention of your customer. You jump on the latest social media bandwagon or you ask an employee to dress up like a giant cupcake and dance in the road. But here’s the rub. Every time you disrupt your customer for attention, you are essentially ‘withdrawing’ from what I’ll call their “Attention Bank” and risk losing their trust.
The problem is every time you ask for attention from a customer or prospect you need to give them a real value for their time. Messages need to be composed with intent. Whether it’s to educate or build trust, there has to be a reason for them to take a minute from their oversaturated day. If you don’t respect this exchange of attention for value, you will erode your relationship.
People are bombarded with 1,000’s of new messages every single day. We become numb to it and if you bother us enough we’ll hit the spam button on our email or drive by your giant cupcake and feel sorry for the guy standing outside ensconced in polyester on a hot summer day.
For the past few weeks, I’ve received countless requests to vote for companies and organizations for the Chase/Living Social campaign. Companies have to get 250 likes before they can apply for a small business grant. To me, these organizations are interrupting my day to beg for a like. I don’t see anything productive as a result. If anything I wonder how successful these businesses are that they would panhandle for $250,000. It’s like seeing my favorite uncle selling oranges on the corner in an Armani suit. I’ve seen some of my favorite people asking for my vote and it made me a little sad.
I did vote for a few of these, but each time it felt like a pity vote rather than the intended “Hey, these guys are awesome and deserve to get the grant.” I think it was because I smelled desperation rather than a true value. Some of these people never interacted with me before or follow me in any way, yet they asked for my vote. I’m just a number to those people: #225 on the way to #250.
Somehow it didn’t feel right and I’m thinking a lot of other people feel the same way. Seth Godin wrote an excellent post called “All we need is 250 votes…” about this campaign and called it “cruel marketing.” He explains it’s basically ‘crying wolf’ to trade your credibility for some votes. Again, the idea that you are reaching out to your audience to do something that is essentially unproductive. He also introduced the perspective that getting 250 likes was not hard to do. What’s the value of participating if there isn’t a real gate? Anyone can do it. There was no other qualifying, no vetting. I think of CNN Heroes and other campaigns worth promoting. At least in that commercially sponsored competition, the result is global visibility for a humanitarian cause.
It seems that people would rather vote for someone who will receive an award of recognition directly and know that I made a difference. Even voting for someone to present at SXSW gets me more excited.
Christopher Penn also commented on this lackluster campaign in his post “Stop Begging and Start Marketing.” He points out that it’s sad to see so many companies working so hard to promote a bank that recently testified in Congress about their mishandling of finances. Right on! Seriously, what has Chase and Living Social done for the world of small business lately?
Ok, so back to the idea of an “Attention Bank”. Your customers and prospects have only so much bandwidth to pay attention to your message. Treat that attention with respect. Give your people a valid reason to stop and trade their time and approval. Every time you make a withdrawal without some sort of deposit, you are going into the red. You move toward the spam folder, the ‘unlike’ and the ‘unsubscribe’. Withdraw carefully. Give value and be of service to people. A little respect can go a long way to building trust and people who will champion for your organization when the time is right.