Tracy Crevar Warren
Tracy Crevar Warren

Is Your Marketing Message Lost in the Clutter?

Six secrets to a break-through makeover.

October 12, 2010
by Tracy Crevar Warren

The average person is bombarded with 2,000 to 3,000 marketing messages each day. Yes, you read that correctly. Here’s how.

Think about it, the mayhem begins when your alarm clock sounds — “this traffic watch was brought to you by … ,” You flip on the TV to hear “the weather was sponsored by … ,” then you check your BlackBerry to find your inbox loaded with marketing messages, pitching everything imaginable to make your life easier. All that and you haven’t even left the house. Then there’s the morning commute … where you see all those billboards whether you travel on foot, rail, boat or car. Your brain is on overload, yet you have not reached the office.

Grabbing Attention When the Brain Is on Tilt

Realize it or not, your brain is forced to deal with massive amounts of stimuli, including marketing messages, while guiding you safely through each day. Unfortunately, most people’s brains are over-stimulated, so they tag much of this new information as clutter and simply tune it out.

“Eighty-five percent of the time our brains are on autopilot,”according to Martin Lindstrom, author of The New York Times Bestseller, Buy-ology, thatreveals fascinatingnew research based on studies of the brain and why people buy. “Point is, our brains are constantly busy collecting and filtering information. Some bits of information will make it into our memory, but most will become extraneous clutter, dispensed into oblivion. The process is unconscious and instantaneous, but it is going on every second of every minute of every day.”

So what is a professional services firm to do to gain the attention of its target audience in this noisy marketplace?

“It’s a tough battle to win attention these days,” said Alan Vitberg, director of marketing for Rochester, New York-based The Bonadio Group. “For starters you must keep your message fresh and that requires regular marketing makeovers. In fact, we target a new push at least every 18 months to two years.”

It’s Not Just a Numbers Game

As practitioners, CPAs tend to focus on facts and bottom lines when they are trying to encourage new behavior. After all, that is what drives decisions, right?

Lindstrom’s neuromarketing research confirms what some of you have known for years. “Because emotions are the way in which our brains encode things of value, a brand that engages us emotionally — think Apple, Harley Davidson, Hallmark — will win every single time.” In other words, buying decisions are driven by emotion, versus a rational thought process driven by numbers and facts.

Grant Thornton gets it. In fact, their latest ad campaign is all about emotion. Just take one look at the tagline: People who love what they do — could anything symbolize passion more than the red rose they incorporate into these ads?

“At Bonadio, we have learned that to get people to notice us, we must do something that has stopping power,” added Vitberg. “And to do that, we must touch people’s emotions. Numbers, facts and technical terms just don’t cut it. That’s often a hard concept to get your hands around for folks who live and breathe numbers.”

Take the Litmus Test

Here’s a quick test to know if it’s time to consider a marketing makeover.

  • Have you been using the same message in the marketplace for more than three years?
  • Does your marketing contain vague messages such as “we provide quality service” that fail to differentiate you or offer solutions?
  • Does your message touch any emotional nerves or just stick to the facts?
  • If you removed your firm’s name from your marketing messages would the reader, viewer or listener know it was you?  
  • Does your marketing contain compelling messages that cause the phone to ring due to their attention-grabbing power?

If the answer is “no” to any of these, it’s time for a change.

Six Secrets to a Successful Marketing Makeover

Here are six keys to your marketing makeover success:

  1. Focus on Your Target Audience — Make sure your message is focused on your audience, not your firm. Yes, it sounds incredibly basic, but you would be amazed at how many firms skip this essential step.

    Vitberg’s firm’s new campaign “Bonadio & You” does a brilliant job. It’s interesting to note that “You” refers to many different audiences — both inside the firm and out. Check it out for yourself.
  2. Develop a Clear, Simple Message — If your message is not simple, it’s impossible to break through the noise. Alka-Seltzer ran one of the most memorable campaigns when I was a child. I can still hear it. Maybe you remember it too “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.”
  3. Offer Hope No matter who your audience is, chances are they want one thing – Hope. Put another way, can you help make my life easier because you can do one or both of the following?

    • Solve your client’s problems
    • Help your client achieve their goals

    Going back to the Alka-Seltzer ad for a minute, you’ll note that it was not only simple and easy to remember, but also offered a solution. Make sure your firm’s message offers up that same level of solution.
  4. Align the Message With Your Firm’s Strategic Direction — There are millions of cleaver ads out there. Unfortunately, many of them fail to produce desired results because the message is not in alignment with the organization’s goals. If the two are misaligned, you will waste valuable resources.

    “The whole firm is excited about the new marketing campaign,” said Tom Bonadio, managing partner of The Bonadio Group, “I’ve heard comments like ‘cool’ and ‘awesome’, but what I really like is the behind the scenes work that’s been done to make sure that our messaging reaches the right people at the right time.”
  5. Convert “Eyeballs to Sales” In an era in which conversion strategies and accountability are taking center stage, success in breaking through the clutter ultimately needs to result in sales. It’s one thing to have breakthrough creative messages. But without the right infrastructure in place to convert the people looking at you into buyers, you won’t be able to capitalize upon the great work you’ve done.
  6. Be Different — Research shows that our brains generally do not notice things that are the norm, the same. So if you look like every other professional services firm, you will be considered like every other professional services firm. Result: You will go unnoticed for what makes you unique.

    One rule of thumb Vitberg offers for firms fearing to be different is “Stay true to your firm’s brand and values, but don’t be afraid to push the envelope. For example, in this new campaign we introduced video and storytelling. What a wonderful new way for our partners to share real life examples of how they helped clients achieve success. Not only is it compelling, but it is easy for site visitors to relate. Our folks had a great time sharing their experiences too.”

From Turning Heads to Generating Leads

Bonadio’s latest attempt to grab attention is already turning heads.

“In just a short time, we’re already making a splash on college campuses, as we enter prime-time recruiting season. It’s too early to know if ‘Bonadio & You’ will help generate the new business leads we are looking for. Hopefully we have hit on another winner. Now is the time to follow through.”


Maybe it’s time for a marketing makeover for your firm. Take the litmus test. Start today. Otherwise your marketing messages may be extraneous clutter that is dispensed into oblivion.

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Tracy Crevar Warren, founder of The Crevar Group, helps professional services firms win more new business and build more profitable practices. A sought-after consultant, facilitator, author and speaker, she advises clients on practice growth through marketing, sales and client service. With a proven track record and positive high-energy style, she inspires and empowers local, regional, national and international groups to do more of the work they love. She has just finished working on her first book Bull's-Eye! The Ultimate How-to Marketing & Sales Guide for CPAs produced by the AICPA and AAM. You can reach her at 336-889-GROW (4769) or www.thecrevargroup.com.If you are looking for more practical tips to help build your practice — visit her new blog — The Practice Growth Architect.