Rising Above the Noise -- For Real!!  

I do beg your forgiveness for that title. It doesn’t escape me that the phrase “above the noise” has been used to death since the 1990s web explosion. We’ve seen it in the titles of white papers, books, articles, and blog posts. Heck, it was probably even the name of a band at some time or other.

Despite all that, the phrase keeps on being used. Businesses, brands and enterprises keep on seeking ways to “rise above that noise”, hoping to propel their message like a bullet through a densely noisy marketplace and land it squarely between the ears of ideal prospects.

It was because of this that I decided to clarify this whole issue for everyone, and get to the core of what “rising above the noise” really means.

 The Right Message?

I’ve stood by and watched companies spend millions formulating that precisely right message, in search of the next “Just Do It.” They generally evolve one that makes their boardrooms just go nuts with enthusiasm, but when it’s released to the public…crickets.

On the other hand, I’ve seen half-hearted messages pull down so much business that the company couldn’t even keep up with it.


How many books have been written about improving the quality of content? Just do a search—I’m sure it’s in the hundreds if not thousands. Citing million-dollar studies, many of these books assert that it’s the style that will carry your message clearly through the din.

I’m not arguing against style—it will certainly go a long way. Take a look at Malcolm Gladwell, who could likely write a detailed treatise on plastic bags, and have it climb to the top of the New York Times bestseller list just on the strength of his incredible wordsmithing.

Yet you won’t have to search far to find some poor marketing department who has frustratingly crammed every single possible style droplet into every aspect of their messaging—and still ended up with a paltry 100 LinkedIn readers, or a few thousand visitors to their web site. All this while their competitors, with a fraction of that style, draw 10 times the traffic.

Paid Advertising?  

Behavioral retargeting! AdWords! Banner ads! We have to pay to get our message out there!

Yeah. I wish I had a dollar for every company I’ve watched practically bankrupt themselves paying for all those services, while still not pulling down the traffic of others spending half that money. 

 Okay, Okay…It’s Got to Be SEO!

And, we can really go to town with that one. Let’s hire a high expensive specialist to precisely hone in on the right keywords. Spend a few thousand more create an exact URL. Hire the same SEO specialist—or another one—to tweak that meta description. Take a few marketing employees off whatever they were doing and get them busy creating backlinks. Then, having someone watching hour traffic like a hawk, and be prepared to make instant changes.

Yet again, I’ve seen companies thrash madly about like a salmon in the shallows trying desperately to create that perfect SEO formula…and then disappear forever.


It’s true that, in the 21st century, we’re living in a visual world. You can’t create an article without embellishing it with a ton of clever graphics and photos, and expect decent readership.

Or, so they say.

First of all, I know that’s not true because people have been reading me for years, and much of my most-read, most-shared and most-praised work has not been lavishly decorated with illustrations and photos.

And second, I’ve seen content soar right to the top of the noise heap without an iota of graphic assistance.

Oh, Duh! The Marketing Mix!  

Just as companies used to purchase (as we saw in Mad Men) a mix of TV advertising and print media, it makes sense today to reach buyers using as many channels as possible. Now it would be TV, radio, YouTube, social media, and anywhere a prospect might notice your message.

But even so, many VC-fueled startups have gone completely nuts with a “great marketing mix”, hit the stratosphere and then crashed right into the ocean with the next slight economic downturn.

Oh, I Know! The Most Modern Media! Right?

And, we shell out another few thousand or tens of thousands from the marketing budget, and go sailing off to the video studio, because video is the only thing attracting potential buyers today.

Once more, I’ve watched companies struggle like mad, issuing forth whole video campaigns, and reap marginal (or no) improvement in lead quantity or quality.

And then there’s podcasts—yes, yes, we must do podcasts! They’re not as expensive as videos, but I’ve seen companies go crazy with podcasts, too without not improving their business lot at all.

Okay, We Give Up! What’s the Answer?  

All right, so here is what I have observed from my 30 or so years in and around marketing. It is the one thing that will shoot a company up above that noise, every time.

First of all, all of the above points are valid:

  • Your messaging must be as keen and effective as you can get it, if you want people to notice you.  
  • You must have decent style that it carries your messaging and your written content cleverly and smoothly across to your potential buyers.  
  • Paid advertising, especially Adwords, is almost a must-have in today’s marketing landscape, if you really want to create a bang.  
  • If you’ve got a site and you’re not properly SEOing it, the chances of someone finding you on the web are slim to none, unless you get extremely lucky and are profiled on the 11 o’clock news or something, people see it and come flocking to your site.  
  • Yes, correctly used graphics and photos can greatly improve the reading experience of a blog post, web page or other content. 
  • Of course you must use as diverse a marketing mix as your budget will allow, and reach as many prospects as possible on every possible channel. 
  • And it’s true—video and podcasts are very important as modern, slick means of getting your messaging out there.

But what’s underneath all of that? What’s at the very bottom, the very foundation—the thing that’s going to make or break all of your marketing efforts big or small?

Before messaging, before style, before Adwords, before SEO, before graphics, before the marketing mix, before the most modern media…you’ve got to have a product or service that consumers are really going to want.

Am I being too simplistic? Too obvious, maybe?

This Will Bring It Home

Okay, so here’s a crude but effective example I have used many times in bringing this point home to clients throughout the years—especially ones that drove themselves into frothing frenzies trying to tweak their messaging or the like to get to the top, and failing miserably.

You could have the clumsiest, most amateur, most badly designed promotional effort ever. But if the offer was, “Free Sex”—I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to get response to it. Witness the number of people that “respond” to spam emails that make exactly such promises, or who “friend” hot women on Facebook just on the outside chance they might get, y’know, lucky. Imagine the results if someone made such an offer and it was for real. It wouldn’t matter how ridiculously fashioned your marketing was, people would break down your door.

All right, now I’ll move onto a non-crude example from real life. I have a friend who, years back, noticed that an incredible number of people wanted a particular feature out of a particular computer operating system, that the developers of that operating system flatly refused to develop.

He went off and, with a partner, did a total bang-up job of programming that functionality. With one press release, his phone rang off the hook for months on end. The demand was so overwhelming that within a few short years he went from a single phone line in his living room to over 100 staff occupying two stories of a prime office building in Glendale, California, with branch offices and distribution throughout the world. This was in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the company is still around today.

Just so I don’t leave everyone with a mystery, the operating system was Digital Equipment Corporation’s VAX/VMS, and the feature that users were clamoring for was a way to keep files on VAX hard drives from fragmenting into hundreds of tiny pieces and slowing computer performance to a near-standstill.

My friend’s name is Craig Jensen, and the product he developed was called Diskeeper. Later developed for Windows, the product is still around, and so is Craig’s company

Once the product got roaring along, Craig got very clever and engaged in slick advertising and all the other types of things I mentioned earlier. But it was that product that got him and his company launched into the stratosphere—and if he hadn’t developed such a product, I guarantee you no amount of messaging, style, SEO, graphics, modern media or anything else would have put him over the top the way that Diskeeper did.

So before you go crazy spending hard-won money on messaging, style, paid advertising, SEO, graphics, marketing mix, or the very latest in modern media…make sure your product or service is something that buyers really want. If you don’t know, invest in some market research and find out (Craig did). Go ask some potential users or buyers.

When you’ve really got it, you’ll know. You’ll be very happy you took the time make sure.

And trust me…you’ll rise above the noise. 

Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash