Crush Marketing Habituation with Disruption

How to break through the marketing clutter with innovation

Innovation has never been more front and center in our culture, especially our business culture. The rise (or depending on your age, the resurgence) of the billion-dollar unicorn is awesome to watch. Not to mention the coming proliferation of driverless cars, gene editing therapies, tissue printing, virtual reality shopping, cloud-connected stethoscopes, programmable toys, and three-hour DNA amplifiers.

Combine all this disruptive innovation with the explosion of media and social channels out there, and it's clear that there has never been a stronger need for companies to stand out and be noticed. If you're an innovation-driven company, the imperative would seem obvious. Innovation is who you are. Your compound or subscription management software are shaking up your market. Why not find the most innovation-driven ways to get the word out about them?

Nearly 15 years ago, during the first online boom, our agency used to position itself while standing before prospects by saying, “Your marketing should be as innovative as your products.” Then and now, we urged clients to embrace counter-category communications to discourage what you could call Marketing Habituation.

In nature, of course, habituation is what happens when an organism slows in responding (or completely stops responding) to a stimulus after repeated exposure to it. If it no longer feels biologically relevant, the organism just ignores it.

In much the same way, Marketing Habituation occurs when prospects quickly tune out a company's – or even a whole category's – way of marketing, providing it is repeated often enough. A cheetah may have elicited a pause and an interested engagement about a DNA sequencer once or twice, but after 30 or 40 companies chose the same symbol to signify speed it ceased to interest anyone.

Luckily for the marketer, there have never been so many ways to stand out and disrupt the marketing givens in a category. One Fortune 500 company we know well has adopted a 'string of pearls' approach to marketing. If one pearl falls off the string and doesn't hit with prospects, the third or fifth or eighth approach is still worth trying. They have used everything from TV and radio podcast creation to Instagram and Snapchat promotion to break out of the industrial pack.

Our client Red Hat has taken a similar approach. Their open source software platform unleashes enormous innovation and disruption on the world (think Pixar, NYSE, E*TRADE, and Bayer), so we created a content platform about open source and other kinds of IT innovation that mirrors the innovation their software enables. Today it receives 100,000 high-value unique visits per month and has appeared on an MBA program syllabus.

Remember, the point of marketing is to stand out. If your message and tactics are like everyone else's, you're simply promoting the category at your own expense rather than your company at the expense of more conventional competitors.

Three best practices to tamp down Marketing Habituation:

1. Be brave. Reflect on what's great about your company and shout about it. That doesn’t have to cost a fortune in 2016, because your advocates are likely to be in very specific places.

2. Be dynamic. You don’t have to bat 1.000, or even .500, across the enormous range of channels out there today. To be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, .335 is fine. Again, many of these channels are designed to be low-cost.

3. Be unignorable. Speak from your heart. Express your DNA. There has to be passion in your past and your founding, so why hide it?

Clients may not realize it, but agencies do their best work when they let us bring innovative ideas. And let's face it, given the choice between adding to information overload and standing out from it, it's far preferable to stamp out some Marketing Habituation. I recently heard someone noting that "nobody goes home at night and logs into a different internet." I've rarely heard a better case for companies to be surprising, creative, and completely relevant. In other words, to be as innovative as their products.