You know, in lots of ways traditional marketing is dead (businesses don’t always seem to accept that and still spend $3 billion for a Super Bowl ad) and traditional media concepts often don’t work in social marketing. If you want to see how traditional marketing is different from social marketing, check out this earlier post.

Some traditional marketing concepts and tactics just don’t work in the age of social marketing — such as talking at your audience rather than engaging them in 2-way conversations.

In other ways, traditional marketing has a lot to offer social marketing, if we’d only listen. Instead, we often recreate what we knew worked in traditional marketing, but only after a lot of trial and error learning — mostly because those doing social marketing often don’t come from traditional marketing backgrounds and the two groups just don’t talk much. That’s too bad because many traditional marketing concepts are adaptable to today’s social marketing world.

Traditional marketing: selective attention

A perennial problem in social marketing is getting traction with SO much content out there — which is especially challenging after Facebook nearly wiped out organic reach last October. If you notice the lengths folks go to trying to get noticed on social networks, you’ll see many ignore traditional marketing tools that might help. So, let’s look at a few.

Do you hear the air conditioner/ heater in the room? Likely not. That’s because it doesn’t really matter to you — you’re busy reading my post. That’s the notion of selective attention, a psychological principles used extensively in marketing and advertising. According to the theory, people can only effectively pay attention to 1 thing at a time. And, frankly, the air conditioner/ heater doesn’t really matter to us right now. We simply take its working for granted.

To break through selective attention, you need something that breaks in. If that something breaking in also hits something in our primal core suggesting danger, we’re more likely to respond. Hence, the phone ringing gets us to drop everything — ringings, alarms, and bells too often mean danger so we’re trained to pay attention to these signals.

Traditional marketing hack

Traditional marketing capitalizes on selective attention by raising the noise level when programming gets to the commercial and liberal use of red in print advertising — they make ads stand out from the rest of the content.

Our sense of smell is particularly acute. Burger King uses this knowledge when building their restaurants to spread the aroma of broiling hamburgers into their local environment. Yum, I’m hungry!

How can social marketing use the concept of selective attention? Recognize you need to stand out from the crowd someway. And, that’s harder on social networks, according to new studies showing the amount of content, the variety of content, and the speed at which new content appears all make our selective attention mechanisms work badly.

Getting attention in social networks means you have to up the ante to stand out from the crowd. Social marketing often just becomes another tree in the forest. For instance, immediately following Robin Williams’ tragic death, thousands of posts appeared, many sharing the exact same facts. A few posts got massive attention, but most languished among the forest (plus many simply exploited the pain of the Williams family).

The same is happening now with the ice bucket challenge. In fact, the ice bucket challenge is so effective at raising funds for ALS, that other charitable groups want to start their own campaigns. Epic fail — you’re another tree in the forest.

To break through the clutter means you have to exceed the “Just Noticeable Difference” (JND). Creating a quirky image

Take a look at 2 images I pulled from my Facebook newsfeed (corporate, not personal):

Traditional Marketing Hacks for Social Marketing image poor selective attention

Traditional Marketing Hacks for Social Marketing image better selective attention

Which one of these would stand out in your newsfeed? If you said the one on the right, you got it.

First, it’s bright, which contrasts well with the black and white of my newsfeed. Second, the image itself gives me important information I need — a cheap housekeeper.

The image on the left probably did well in traditional media, but there’s a LOT less clutter in a magazine than in my newsfeed.

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