Is your marketing annoying?

On my way to the cafe where I’m sitting now, writing this column, some guy on the street with a clipboard and an obvious agenda approached me with a “Hey, how are you?” to which I immediately replied: “No, thanks.” What I really meant is, “Please leave me the f*** alone.”

Maybe I’m just a self-centered asshole who doesn’t want to give strangers the time of day. In fact, I’m sure this guy had a decent agenda, trying to better the environment or help kids in a third-world country. But my instincts drove me to respond the way I did, automatically dismissing him as an interruption on my way to this cafe.

Which got me thinking: This same dynamic happens all the time in marketing, where businesses come out of no where to sell whatever they’re selling, without any preface, awareness or familiarity on behalf of the people to whom they’re marketing. It’s what us marketing nerds call interruption marketing.

We see it all of the time on social media: businesses shamelessly or subliminally promoting themselves and their products, or trying to disguise a rather obvious agenda within a blog post, or slapping their logo on EVERY SINGLE Facebook post.

Unless you’re Coca-Cola, Apple or another mega brand with instant awareness and a multimillion dollar marketing budget, interruption marketing is, in fact, annoying and intrusive.

There are some businesses willing to annoy and intrude upon the majority of people so long as a few of them will go after their bait. But what these businesses don’t understand is that interruption marketing doesn’t just bother people; it also detracts them (and potentially their friends) from becoming a new or repeat customer.

Certainly, some of us think our product or service is so special, so different, that with a heavy dose of marketing and advertising, we can’t possibly imagine how anyone could resist to buy our amazing novelty.

In fact, I recently met with the number two executive of a publicly traded U.S. company, who is so infatuated with his new product, that he admittedly is more than willing to shove it down people’s throats because, as he said, “there is no competition.”

What he doesn’t realize is that today’s competition isn’t just product versus product or business versus business. Today’s competition is about getting and keeping people’s attention, which is being pulled in so many different directions by so many different forces. Just on social media, we as businesses aren’t only competing with other businesses or industries; we’re competing with everyone’s friends, family members, colleagues, stupid YouTube videos, obnoxious memes and the general phenomenon of content overload.

So Mr. Executive, despite your decade’s worth of marketing experience, if you’re reading this, no matter how special or game-changing your new product is, the level of competition today is stronger and more far-reaching than at any previous time in modern history.

But don’t worry — not all is lost. There are plenty of opportunities to become or remain relevant in people’s lives, so long as you stop interrupting and annoying them. As I wrote in one of my recent columns: The businesses that will survive and thrive in today’s global, interconnected economy are the ones that ask not what their customers can do for them, but what they can do for their customers.

What added value can you provide to your customers? (Sure, your product or service may be of value, but what value can you add on top of it?)

How can you help your customers become more informed, more educated, more aware, more entertained, more successful, smarter, happier, more interesting, more productive, more of whatever it is they want?

Yes, these are hard questions to answer — questions that require an analysis of your customers’ psychographics and an outside-of-the-box approach that is far more difficult than self-promotion, which comes easy to most of us.

So perhaps the first question you should answer is: How can you not be annoying?

Josh Hoffman (better known as Social Media Josh) is an international social media consultant, instructor and speaker, as well as the creator of The Social Media Freelancer. Connect with Josh on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, and sign up to receive his weekly column.