You'll Reach More Consumers When You Slow Down and Think

Marketers Forced to Present Ideas in a Nanosecond May Assume That Customers Also Have No Time for a Quality Message

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I'd just shared a new idea for marketers with a consulting friend when he told me why it might be a hard sell to them.

"Remember, most CMOs can't give you more than 5 minutes of their time."

Five minutes? Chimps have longer attention spans, especially when they're enamored with a particularly fetching twig. Babies spend more time contemplating their toes. Most ideas of any substance take a lot longer than five minutes to comprehend, let alone communicate.

This unwritten rule requiring us to formulate, express, receive and assess ideas in the blink of an eye creates serious problems. It keeps us from making thoughtful decisions. And an agency that is used to getting just a nanosecond of the CMO's attention could start to assume that this much is all they can hope to get attention-wise from consumers. Could this be why so often we swap meaningful interaction with a brand for quick, unmemorable hits?

When we do it to consumers, we use buzz words like "engagement" and "community" to describe activities better labeled "drive-bys" and "target lists." We define marketing as creating "content" -- bits of entertaining information, usually -- instead of giving customers reasons to buy our stuff. We demand less brand engagement from consumers and get less in response.

Why did consumers in the Dark Ages -- you know, the 1950s -- have far more internalized and committed relationships with brands than they do today? For all its shortcomings, one-way communication still had a two-way effect: People cared, and they believed in the information we shared with them, dependably so, and it wasn't because they were dumb, naive or needy. We marketers gave them stuff worth thinking and caring about. Developing it took time.

But, back to you. Today's CMO has no time to spare. There's an endless list of meetings to attend and an infinite number of e-mails, texts and Tweets to read. Anything that gets your attention must be brief. Has it occurred to you that you are distracted? If nothing prompts you to take pause and slow down to experience and assess it, could you be culpable of creating the same circumstances for your customers? They're no more vested in your brand than you are. And that 's not a good thing.

People have always thought they were busy, and every generation thinks the last one had things easier. It's not worse now as much as different, and to accept that being distracted and uninterested are unalterable forces of nature is simply wrong. We all have something better to do, and always did. Presuming that customers have time only for little blips of stuff, and that the stuff needs to be devoid of anything that might smack of an honest sales message, isn't new marketing. It's non-marketing.

Would your quick decisions become better decisions if you demanded better or more thoughtful explanations from your agency or consulting partners? Why couldn't you entertain a conflicting viewpoint at risk of extending your contemplation time? As with your consumers, the quickest conclusion may be the easiest but not necessarily the best or most compelling. If you could figure out how to slow down, at least at times, maybe you could determine how to get your consumers to do so, too. That might buy you a more substantive, meaningful relationship with them.

But I've asked for too much of your time already, and I didn't even get a chance to pitch to you my idea. You're late for that next meeting, and your phone just chirped again . . .

JONATHAN SALEM BASKIN is a global brand strategist, author and speaker. Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter: @jonathansalem.
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