Because they’re plugged in all the time, today’s consumers are bombarded with digital clutter—a stream of never-ending marketing messages across dozens of devices and platforms.
Understandably, we process most of this as useless noise.
Audiences likely consider each message for less than a second before deciding to toss it away.
In reality, digital clutter is just another example of good old-fashioned information overload.
Think of it this way.
If you travel over a highway overpass, you see everything from noisy tractor-trailers to flashy sports cars flying by.
But how many of those vehicles do you remember the next day?
Storing and recalling all that information would be incredibly taxing for the human brain.
It’s the same with social media.
You might like something on Instagram or Twitter, but after seeing hundreds of those posts every day, your brain is just skimming through them.
There’s barely any emotional connection with most of those posts.
When Content Falls Through the Cracks
According to the “Meaningful Brands” study, 58% of consumers find brand content is “poor, irrelevant, or fails to deliver.”
There’s an unfortunate reason why clickbait soared into popularity.
You have to disrupt people to get their attention.
The brain wants dopamine-fueling experiences—something enjoyable and entertaining.
Something most brands don’t provide.
And when they do, they usually aren’t long-lasting or catchy enough to get people to act on the message and purchase a product.
This is because brands fail to explain the product’s actual impact on people’s lives.
Since the Great Recession, which caused marketers to lose much of their budgets, companies have been running to social media because it’s cheap and seemingly effective.
But social media campaigns are just like those cars on the highway.
They pass by at 70 miles per hour, and we don’t pay attention to most of them unless we’re given a good reason.
Sometimes simple, straightforward messages that consumers can process quickly provide the best way to cut through all the digital clutter.
How Real-World Experiences Slice Through Digital Clutter
Although some might say the decline of brick-and-mortar stores could indicate consumers don’t care about physical experiences, the facts tell a different story.
Consumers are evolving, and they spend more on entertainment and recreation than they did two decades ago.
Because they can buy virtually anything online, customers are finding in-store experiences that much more memorable.
The most successful brands create signature moments aligned with their offerings.
Just consider the off-brand retailers giving people the thrill of uncovering luxury items at bargain-basement discounts.
Baskin-Robbins, for example, enlisted 70 stores in the Southern California area to execute its “31-Cent Scoop Night” campaign to benefit the children’s hospital in San Diego.
The campaign was later adopted across all the U.S. franchise locations.
Although Baskin-Robbins is a national brand, the physical campaign helped the chain get back to its roots, engage with the community, and capture that old-school neighborhood ice-cream shop feel.
Experiences are Memorable, Digital Clutter—Not So Much
When you go to a concert, you take in the band, the people in the stands, and everything else within that environment.
I can still remember a show I went to when I was 18 because my friends and I had an incredible time jamming to our favorite bands.
Yet I can’t recall tweets I saw yesterday.
Concerts aren’t the only kind of memorable event, though.
There’s a reason sports games, concerts, fairs, and festivals sell out—and why we all want to see our children walk across a stage and receive their diplomas.
Humans crave experiences, and we feel a high when we have a really great one.
We categorize that memory, and it remains fresh in our minds for many years and even decades afterward.
Becoming More Than Just a Brand
Although you can watch a live event on TV or stream it on YouTube, it’s never the same.
If digital initiatives could drive a reliable return on investment, concerts, and sporting events might disappear.
But they can’t—and that’s why brands need to take advantage of their ability to create immersive experiences.
The 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study found that consumers want to support brands that align with their beliefs and provide immersive experiences.
Two-thirds of people across the globe buy products and services based on trust with earned media.
Forward-thinking brands are investing in experiences that allow customers to interact rather than passively watch.
Social media branding, for instance, can be easily paired with brand experiences and interactive tools (such as touchscreens or in-store kiosks) to achieve this effect.
Apparel brand Bonobos kept this in mind by creating nontraditional physical retail stores that allowed customers to touch the products that previously were only for sale online.
However, the brand kept the operations of its store true to its e-commerce roots.
They fostered the experiences consumers wanted and used that to build their brand.
Three Ways Brands Can Cut Through Digital Clutter
Know Your Audience
First, go where your audience lives, works, plays, and shops.
Audiences are open to marketing messages in unconventional places.
This includes parks, fairs, and even other businesses.
If you meet them in real life, consumers can opt-in.
Those who do are more open to your message and interacting with you.
Increasingly, brands base campaigns on statistical insights and metrics.
Hard data produces facts, guaranteeing solid ROI.
When you know your target audiences, you can do some sleuthing to figure out what drives members.
Use that to create content that resonates with them on an individual level.
Be focused on their frame of mind, too.
Don’t try to sell cable services at a grocery store.
Consumers are there to shop for food.
This might sound obvious, but you should also know your product inside and out.
In three sentences, you should be able to easily describe the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your offering.
The Five Senses
Second, bring in all five senses. This is a great way to stand out from the rest of the digital clutter.
As humans, we’re programmed to gradually stop responding to stimuli after regular exposure.
This desensitization is called habituation.
That’s the act of seeing but without the processing and mental acknowledgment.
To break through this obstacle, think about the five human senses.
If you can create experiences that evoke those senses, consumers are more likely to stop and take action.
This sensory marketing adds an extra psychological edge to your efforts.
Let’s think about kettle corn for a minute.
Its pleasant smell triggers customers to grab a bag after they get a whiff of it at a mall or local fair.
Depending on what you’re selling, consider which of the five senses aligns most with your branding.
If music works best to entice your audience, carefully review the tracks you’ll play that you want customers to associate with your brand.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Finally, develop a corporate social responsibility program.
CSR isn’t just a great way to give back.
It proves to your audience members that you care about more than turning a profit.
As a bonus, it helps you stand out from the rest of the digital clutter and stay on their radar.
For instance, Target and KaBOOM!, an organization that provides playground equipment to underserved communities, paired up for a program to encourage safe, rewarding play for kids in four major cities.
But Target did more than just fund the partnership.
It sent out store personnel to help build immersive experiences and engage with parents.
Families undoubtedly noticed and appreciated the role Target played in building a better community for their kids.
This was an excellent way to show Target’s audience how much it cares about locals’ well-being.
No matter what kind of CSR program you have in mind, be sure you’re actually giving back instead of using it as a thinly veiled plug.
Consumers can easily sniff out inauthenticity, and you never want to be on the receiving end of that kind of criticism.
Bringing It All Together With Social Media
In a digital world, it might seem like people are growing further and further apart as they rely on their devices and screens to interact.
In reality, the opposite is true.
People crave authentic, meaningful connections more than ever, even if it means having to navigate through digital clutter.
And when your brand proves it cares enough to give that to them, they’ll reward you with their undivided attention.
Does your company create experiences online and off? Share your stories in the comments.