We’ve got some bad news. Your customers are probably ignoring you.
Sure, there are an infinite number of YouTube commercials, product placements, sponsored blog content, and a whole cacophony of other messages being thrown into the interwebs by companies trying to get some brand attention on the daily, but is their target audience really seeing all of these marketing messages?
Despite the massive amount of money spent on online marketing every year, a 2013 study confirmed that a shocking 86% of consumers suffer from banner blindness, or the tendency to be oblivious to traditional advertisements. With the rise of adblockers, those numbers are getting worse. To be entirely fair, such data is pretty specific to what’s now considered conventional digital advertising. Since then, tactics like native advertising, social branding, and robust content marketing have provided access to customers that those banner ads could never offer. But even with these tools at our disposal, businesses are still fighting an uphill battle. After all, the average internet user’s attention span these days is quite literally shorter than that of a goldfish.
So how do you get the fishies to stick around? According to psychologists Horton and Wohl, the answer lies in parasocial interactions.
Initially seen as a social abnormality, Horton and Wohl chalked up parasocial interactions to lonesome people who wanted media figures to feel like their friends. However, upon further examination of popular media figures and media consumers, the psychologists realized that the celebrities created parasocial relationships with the consumers, giving them the illusion of being in a seemingly face-to-face relationship. Their paper on parasocial interactions details this illusion:
One of the striking characteristics of the new mass media – radio, television, and the movies – is that they give the illusion of face-to-face relationship with the performer. The conditions of response to the performer are analogous to those in a primary group. The most remote and illustrious men are met as if they were in the circle of one’s peers; the same is true of a character in a story who comes to life in these media in an especially vivid and arresting way. We propose to call this seeming face-to-face relationship between spectator and performer a para-social relationship.
We mostly see these parasocial interactions in marketing on the social media pages of influencers, whether it’s a mainstream celebrity or a celebrity for a small niche group of people. Whether it’s reality TV star Kim Kardashian (@KimKardashian) or tech influencer Michael Stevens (@tweetsauce), the future (and present) of marketing is falling deeper and deeper into their hands. They’re making money from product placements and are gaining Twitter followers by the minute. What influencers such as Stevens or Kardashian do is make a connection with their audience, and open them up in a selective way so that it looks as though people know their personal lives.
For example, in a tweet on May 23, 2016, Stevens reveals a video of a hike taken with his family. This tweet doesn’t advertise anything. There’s no call to action or ask. It’s not helping him, or any company. He’s not getting paid. But it’s gaining him a reputation of relatability, so the next time he recommends a product or a video, people are more likely to click and watch it because they think it’s a recommendation from a friend.
The view from behind the Hollywood Sign. My mom, sister, and I hiked Mount Lee last night. So cool! pic.twitter.com/eZHZbvg6xs
— Vsauce (@tweetsauce) May 23, 2016
But I need to sell something, you might be thinking. How do mountaintop selfies help me do that? Sure, parasocial relationships help celebrities, but how could it work for little old me?
Really, the answer goes back to rather conventional sales thinking. Ask any salesperson worth their salt how they manage to generate top tier results, and they’ll tell you that it’s all about the relationships they cultivate with their clients. That relationship building fosters the trust and affinity that helps them close the deal, and that same type of tactic can be leveraged in your marketing strategy. Give your brand an authentic personality with which your audience can engage, and they’re far more likely to be receptive to you when you want to talk about what you bring to the table.
So go ahead. Post a picture on Instagram of you making a face behind your sleeping employee. Tweet out the funny cat video that is starting your morning out with a fit of giggles. Send out a snap of the team singing karaoke in the office. Let your hair down and give the Kardashians a run for their money. Your brand will thank you later.
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