I was speaking at a conference a few weeks ago, and just before I was ready to take the platform to give my talk, I was going over a few things with the host and tech people.  As we were having our relatively important conversation (at least at that moment), a perfectly nice young guy walked up to me, and over the top of the person I was talking with, said: "I was hoping I'd find you here, I was wondering if you could look over my marketing materials and give me some feedback."



I thought to myself "this guy is asking me for a favor, and he's doing it while I'm in the middle of something else... seriously?"  That's not exactly what I said out loud, but it's exactly what I was thinking.   You know who does that?  Children.

I have 3 children under the age of 6, and I'm pretty familiar with having my conversations interrupted by them.  It's rare that my wife and I are able to have much of a conversation while they are around, without one of them interrupting.  It isn't that I don't care about what my kids have to say - it's just that interrupting someone isn't the best way to get their attention and earn their affection.  I'm sure that whatever they want to ask me is really important to them, but at that moment - let's be honest - it's mostly just irritating.

Amazingly, that's exactly what companies spend billions of dollars doing every year.  They pay a ton of money, to try and show up where their customer is, and interrupt whatever it was they were doing (watching a tv show, listening to the radio, reading a newspaper, visiting a website) with their message.  Clearly, this "interruption advertising," as Seth Godin calls it, isn't going anywhere.  But you have to ask yourself whether there might not be a better way to earn people's attention.

Your customers (and potential customers) are busy people.  They have jobs, and families, and lives.  They spend most of their time thinking about things other than your company and/or product.  Instead of focusing on interrupting your potential customers, here are 3 ways to earn their attention, and turn potential customers into customers for life.

1. Be EXACTLY what your customer is looking for.  This also means don't be anything else.  Don't try to be what everyone is looking for - that doesn't work.  Focus on being just what your customer is looking for.   You can try to be all things to everyone, but you'll end up being nothing to anyone, and your ideal customer won't want anything to do with you. 

When you focus on who you should "be," you create a compelling reason for customers to find you.  When you are the very best solution to their problem, you are able to attract the right type of customers, and those customers tell their friends - who become customers.  This means understanding the value you really bring to a customer, and amplifying that.  It also means resisting the temptation to try and be a little bit of everything.

2. Create value by solving their problem.

The problem with most "interruption marketing," is that it is focused on inserting yourself into the customers life, so that you can talk about yourself.  It's focused on you.  The entire goal is to blitz your customer with enough messages, that when they are in the market for whatever it is that you sell, they think about you.  The problem is, you risk of alienating the very customer you want to serve, because you've intruded on their life without permission.

Instead, focus on how you can create opportunities to solve problems.  An effective way is by creating value through freely shared content.  If you're a hardware store, maybe you offer free DIY classes.  If you're a bank, maybe you provide an educational series of videos about financial planning or managing credit.  Not only do you help your customers solve small problems with no strings attached - generating goodwill - you also position yourself as the expert in your field.  When customers are ready to solve their bigger problems, you're both generous, and the expert.

3. Cultivate affection, not just attention.

You may be able to capture my attention for a moment if you interrupt me, but the cost of my attention is that it's unlikely I'll have any affection for you or your company.  In fact, if you interrupt me, the only thing I'm thinking about is how quickly can I get back to what I was doing.  On the other hand, people don't quickly turn away from those for whom they have real affection.  

Think about creating marketing that builds genuine affection among your audience, instead of simply trying to grab their attention.  One of our clients has a habit of tweeting out a screenshot of their Starbucks app, with money preloaded on the card, and letting their audience have a drink on them.  They spend about $100 each time, but the affection they build among their target goes far beyond that.