Increasing Your Signal to Noise Ratio


Article by C.J. HaydenYou can learn a lot about marketing by listening to the radio. And you can learn even more by noticing when you’re not listening. A clear signal and music or talk you like to hear will keep you tuned in to a particular station. But too much static, too many ads, or programming not to your taste will overwhelm the signal, and all you’ll hear is noise. That’s when you’ll tune out. Which is pretty much the same way that our prospects react to our marketing messages.

Driving around your local area, you may have several broadcast stations programmed into your car radio. Even if one station is your favorite, when you hear a song you don’t like, or too many commercials in a row, you’ll switch stations. Often, you won’t bother to switch back until the next station also displeases you. If you don’t find any music you like, or hear too many ads everywhere, you’ll play a CD or MP3 and forego radio listening altogether.

You can broadcast marketing messages in a wide variety of ways: email, newsletters, blogs, social media, websites, phone calls, postal mail, print media, etc. But regardless of your medium, a broadcast made up of nothing but noise will chase listeners away, and fail to attract new ones.

Here’s what noise sounds like in marketing messages:

  • Buy from me, buy from me, that’s all, just buy from me.
  • I’m the best and here are all the reasons why.
  • Don’t buy from the other folks; they are no good.
  • Here are all the fabulous things happening in my world that have no relevance to you.
  • I promise I can solve all your problems with absolutely no effort on your part.
  • Here are all the exciting features I offer, which you never expressed any interest in.

Your radio listening behavior on a long car trip can teach you even more about marketing. When you find a new station that suits you, you’ll listen to it as long as possible. It’s so much easier to listen to a trusted source than to go hunting for a new one. If the signal starts to get noisy, you’ll put up with
it for a while, especially if there’s a song playing that you enjoy. But when the noise gets to be too much, you’ll tune out, no mater how much you like the station.

So a signal with a bit of noise can hold listeners for quite some time when the signal itself is to their liking. When you give prospects something useful with a string or two attached, make them an offer that adds value, or throw out suggestions that just might be helpful, they’ll often stay tuned as long as there’s something in it for them. Here’s what a not-yet-too-noisy signal might sound like in marketing:

  • Here’s some useful, relevant information, tools, or resources you can have if you’ll listen to my promotional messages.
  • Here’s a promotional message wrapped in a clever or entertaining package.
  • I have a special offer which will save you money or provide extra value if you act now.
  • Here is how I can help you achieve a goal or solve a problem that I suspect you might have.
  • Here are some ways that other people have achieved goals or solved problems by working with me.

To keep prospects listening despite some level of promotional noise, your signal must be compelling. Prospects want to hear messages that are directly relevant, immediately useful or entertaining, or provide value in the message itself. Here’s what a compelling, almost-noise-free signal sounds like:

  • Here’s some useful, relevant information, tools, or resources that you can have with no strings attached.
  • Here is a clever, entertaining message with no promotion included.
  • Here is how I can help you achieve a goal or solve a problem that you’ve already told me you have, and would like my help with.
  • Here are some ways that you can achieve your goal or solve your problem, even if we never work together.

It might seem, then, that broadcasting a completely noise-free signal in your marketing would be the way to go. After all, that’s what will attract the maximum number of listeners and keep them tuned to your station. But in practice, that’s not always the most effective approach.

If you’ve ever tried placing follow-up calls where you don’t ask for the business, publishing a newsletter or social media profile where you never tell people how they can work with you, or sending direct mail or email without including an offer that prospects can act on, you’ve already discovered that a completely noise-free approach doesn’t quite do the trick.

No, the real key is not to eliminate promotion entirely, but to increase the ratio of signal to noise in your marketing. Add more direct value, make your messages more relevant, include more entertainment, or provide your prospects with more immediate help.

If you give away all your information, resources, or time without ever asking prospects to buy, you’ll go out of business. But if you broadcast too much promotional noise and not enough useful signal, your prospects will simply stop listening.

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