Every Wednesday, I corral and try to get the attention of five excitable, boisterous and uncouth millennials for four to five hours. Contrary to your first thought, I don’t do this because I hate myself; it’s actually for a game. Dungeons and Dragons, usually abbreviated to D&D, is a group role-playing game in which everyone works together to tell a story. I won’t go into great detail about the concepts and mechanics of D&D; all you need to know for our purposes is there is one person, affectionally dubbed the Dungeon Master, who is essentially in charge of the game.
That person, who happens to be me, is in charge of general storytelling—and also has to make sure everyone stays on track, knows what’s going on and, most notably, pays attention. There is a limit to the parallels that can be drawn between marketing and D&D, but both demand the capture and retention of the audience’s attention.
With that in mind, here are a few things I have learned about captivating an audience over the years.
Don’t Just Copy What Works
We all consume a great deal of all sorts of information, and much of it tends to be rather repetitive. Consider how many movies have the same base premise or how many advertisements have similar layouts and tactics. We see these things over and over and, while they may indeed have been effective originally, over time we become bored and that efficacy begins to wane. When something works well everyone starts doing it, it gets run into the ground, and people roll their eyes and look the other way. It pays to be different. It doesn’t need to be some earth-shattering or revolutionary new concept every single time, but some minor element of individuality is needed to stand out from the pack and grab an audience’s attention.
Know Your Audience
It’s been said before, but saying the right things to the wrong people is not a productive use of time. From running a D&D game, I’ve learned that everyone is different and each is drawn to different things. Some people want a simple story full of action, others prefer it to be intricate and slower-paced. The same thing can be applied to marketing audiences.
There will always be outliers, but generally, it is safe to make some assumptions based on demographics. Assumptions can be dangerous on an individual level but, if done correctly, they are effective when working with groups. If you can gain an accurate understanding of what works with your target demographic, it will make the rest of your job much easier and much more successful.
Produce Layered Content
Getting an audience’s attention is important, but it won’t do any good if you can’t keep it. It is a two-step process. In storytelling, it pays to have action and exiting lively characters to draw people in. It is also essential to have depth, so that once the initial excitement wears off people still want more.
Similarly, having a good layout with attractive colors can draw someone’s eye. Once they actually look, it falls to the content to keep them interested. Drawing attention is hard. We all see countless advertisements every day and have become conditioned to just look through them. It takes hard work to develop something that gets through that initial barrier and once you do, it’s a feat to be proud of—but don’t forget to think about what you need to do afterward.
At the end of the day, marketing, like storytelling, is not an exact science. There is no fool-proof formula that will guarantee results and, if anyone does guarantee results, they probably are not being very honest. While you can’t ensure success, you can absolutely improve your chances. Understand your target audience, stand out, make the right kind of content—and you might still fail—but there’s a solid chance that you won’t and at the very least you can say you marketed like a master.
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