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Should We Be Saying Less In Digital Marketing?

Austin Helton is CEO and Founder of Tally and Mass, a digital marketing consultancy in San Diego, CA. 

A friend once told me, “In 2016 [at the time], every company needs to be a software company …” In many ways, I think every company in 2021 feels a pull toward being a digital marketing company. To be fair, being a marketer in today’s world is at least partially a digital endeavor. We have tracking codes, lists, and if we are lucky, a defined audience with intentional messaging. 

While digital may be the way of the marketing world, it feels as though something about the scale and reach of digital advertising has convinced us to throw things against the wall and see what sticks as a way of life (and at full scale). Do it quickly. Hopefully, we learn something. 

This can be useful, and I am certainly comfortable with how to do it effectively. But more and more, I am starting to question what happens to a brand (and our brains) when 80% of its messaging is wrong, and 90% of its impressions are from the wrong people … and is it possible that as we consider the fail-fast-and-learn model as our way of life, we may conclude that we are just spending money and making purposeless noise much of the time?

I understand that the economics of this model can scale, and if it works, so be it … but I have real questions about the depth of our marketing. There is just so much noise.

My grandfather (like many others, I am sure) was a man of few words, but when he said something, people listened. He cut through the noise. There was a weight to the words. He wasn’t tweeting and he certainly was not speaking to a global audience, but his messaging was certainly amplified by the fact that we hadn’t been conditioned to ignore him. (If amplification of the value prop isn’t marketing, what is?)

I think Grandpa’s trick was that when he wasn’t speaking, he was listening. His words were not what he had planned to say in advance, but they were in perfect resonance with what needed to be said.

If we are all companies yelling in a conference room, all yelling louder than the others, yelling multiple times at certain people and offering yelling white papers or yelling meetings to people who look a certain way when they enter the room … is it even possible to have a conversation in that room, even with an ideal client persona?

If we say that marketing is about amplification, generating demand, supporting sales and even defining the brand, how can we do these things while saying less to fewer people — but to more of the right people? How do we listen more as marketers?

One of my goals for this year is to figure out how to say less, make less noise and be more intentional about messaging, audiences, targeting, and if nothing else, how to listen better as a marketer. We should make our words count. We should spend less and engage more.

I would encourage us to consider that digital need not be a philosophy for cheap attempts at global marketing. Digital can be a mode of transportation for thoughtful, selective and purposeful connection — and maybe even listening.

Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?