Is your brand story being heard? How to make meaningful connections in an attention-deficit world.


Mark Waite

Co-founder, and longest-standing Cohesive bod | Figures out how to cut through 'heard' immunity | Public Relations specialist | Stories, family, golf | [ he/him ]

Humans in various poses, refusing to listen to what ever it is you have to say. A 'talk to the hand' moment mostly guaranteed to prevent any meaningful connections

Customers are no longer listening to sales-driven propositions and are looking instead for guidance, knowledge and insight to help them in their decision making. So how can you make meaningful connections?  | updated May 24 |

Shouting your story as loudly as you can in the hope your customers and prospects will listen and engage no longer works. In fact, it could have the opposite effect. So, while you may think you’re having a conversation with the market, the chances are you’re not even being heard.

We live in a world of infinite information, where everyone has the power to publish. The advent of marketing technology has given rise to a ‘martech’ generation, blessed with platforms and tools to do things cheaper, faster and at scale.

"Your customers have built immunity against being sold to."

Mark Waite

Unfortunately, many brands have adopted and adapted to this new era of marketing innovation and opportunity while clinging to old habits and bad practices. They continue to fixate on pushing sales propositions to saturated databases of faceless job titles, relying on vanity metrics to claim successful engagement. The effect of which is to dehumanise marketing.

And the trends don’t look too good either. Explore any marketing platform in 2024, and you’ll be bombarded with prompts to ‘write with Gen AI’. To let it improve your headlines, polish your pitches, soup up your summaries. How’s that going for you? We’re fans of Gen AI in some settings. But Chat GPT has yet to come up with a single idea of its own. In this context, AI is amplifying the ‘noise with no substance’ approach.

Now that anyone can instantly generate copycat content in a double-click, it’s harder than ever to get your brand heard, known, understood and valued

Ongoing research by Professor Gloria Mark and team at UC Irvine found that between 2004 and 2020, our attention spans when reading online shrank from an average of 150 seconds per page to just 47. The decline maps neatly onto the growth of our social media habit over the same time span. It’s not just driven by algorithms either. It turns out that a lot of the time we interrupt ourselves by checking in with other platforms and running down digital rabbit holes.

Attention Deficit Disorder

To counter this information fuelled Attention Deficit Disorder and break through the noise of nothingness, consider a more human, creative and perhaps counterintuitive approach. Attraction marketing embraces empathy to engage in a way that adds value and minimises interruption. Attraction marketing relies on insightful, helpful and relevant content that builds, rather than erodes, trust.  

What does that mean in practice? It means taking a different route from the rest. It means putting yourself in the shoes of your customer and understanding what they’re looking for rather than what you want to sell to them. Less is more when it comes to taking a human centred approach. Try embracing the power of one to win at selling

The Spartacus Syndrome

A lot of brands communicate from a position of ‘what’ they do. The challenge here is that there are many companies that do what they do, and many, many more that will claim they do. We call this the ‘Spartacus Syndrome’. This often results in a battle of the ‘what and how’ as competitors make claims and counterclaims.

When a brand is trapped in the Spartacus Syndrome, it will feel a strong inclination to mirror the actions and claims of its nearest competitors, to win the war of escalating claim and counterclaim, to squeeze ahead in the race to the top right corner of the most recent Magic Quadrant or <insert your favourite market analyst here>. But out in the real world, no one is taking any of that seriously.

Make meaningful connections

The way to flatten the hype curve is to reduce dependency on what you do and how you do it. Instead, focus on why you do what you do, and why it matters.

A ‘why’ will not only safeguard against ‘Spartacus Syndrome’, it will engage an audience in a deeper, more meaningful way. It will attract the people who believe in what you believe. Those people that see the world as you see it. While others focus on convincing minds with their ‘what’ and ‘how’, your ‘why’ will win hearts and emotions. 

If you want help finding your Why, take a look at questions to help shape your Vision and Mission

"We make big decisions with our hearts and then justify them with our heads"

Kevin Roberts, formerly CEO Saatchi&Saatchi

Communicating your ‘why’ will attract the people that want to do business with you based upon a much deeper, more meaningful relationship. You’ll be more relatable, a company of people with values and ideas. It will differentiate you from competitors focused more on transactional relationships.

You will matter more to your audience and in doing so be more relevant. And the greater your relevancy and relatability, the more your brand story will spread, from one person to another to create genuine influence.

Create a story that people feel compelled to personally share, and it will get seen by more people. We listen to our friends more closely than we do to faceless brands.

RoI on your ‘Why’

So what’s the RoI on your ‘why’ I hear you shout? Ahhh, that great marketing benchmark. The holy grail of successful campaign measurement.

Here’s the thing. ‘Return on Investment’ is predominately used to measure the success of activation marketing. Tactical lead generation campaigns where there’s a cost associated with creating a campaign and a return based on the value of the opportunities or deals generated.

"What we're really discussing is a Return on Influence - earning the right to make an activation proposition"

Mark Waite

Communicate your authenticity and purpose. It’s what earns your brand the right to make activation propositions. This is measured as a ‘Return on Influence’.

You influence by offering guidance, knowledge and insight, rather than self promotion. Authentic, value driven content that connects with people on an emotional level is what will get you heard in a sea of noise. Campaigns that speak to head and heart resonate more deeply than shouting about your features and benefits, or your latest industry win. 

The Science of Stories on Purpose

The combination of purpose, content and great storytelling is a powerful marketing remedy. In fact, purposeful storytelling has been scientifically proven to have a positive effect on the way we think and behave.

In their book ‘The Laws of Brand Storytelling’, Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio explore the impact of stories when used in a business context:

Stories are more memorable.

Research by Stanford Graduate School of Business found that stories are 22 times more memorable than facts and figures

Our neural activity increases 5x when listening to a story.

Stories can spark our emotions and when you listen to a story that interests you it actually lights up your brain activity

Stories increase our likelihood to purchase

Stories have the power to sell. Research by Headstream found that if people love a brand story, 55% are more likely to buy in future, while 15% will buy immediately

These examples clearly demonstrate the power of purpose in brand storytelling to develop a more meaningful and emotional relationship with your audience, leading to positive behaviour.

So, if you think your brand is suffering from ‘Heard Immunity’ there are a few more helpful articles below.



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