What marketers can learn from the Kardashians

The same obsessive behavior that drives adulation of celebrities can help your organization attract and retain devotees-and cultivate that affinity into sales and even brand advocacy.

Your customers are probably ignoring you.

Sure, there is a large number of YouTube commercials, product placements, sponsored blog content and other messages thrown online by companies trying to get brand attention, but are their target audiences really seeing all those marketing messages?

Despite the massive amount of money spent on online marketing every year, a 2013 study confirmed that a shocking 86 percent of consumers suffer from banner blindness, or the tendency to be oblivious to online advertisements. With the rise of ad blockers, those numbers are getting worse.

To be fair, such data are specific to conventional digital advertising. Since then, tactics such as native advertising, social media branding and robust content marketing have provided access to customers that those banner ads could never offer.

Even with these tools at our disposal, businesses are still fighting an uphill battle. After all, the average internet user’s attention span these days is shorter than that of a goldfish.

Social psychology to the rescue

So how do you get the fishies to stick around? According to psychologists Horton and Wohl, the answer lies in para-social interactions.

Initially seen as a social abnormality, Horton and Wohl chalked up para-social interactions to lonesome people who wanted to feel that media figures were their friends. However, upon further examination of popular media figures and media consumers, the psychologists realized that the celebrities had created para-social relationships with the consumers, giving them the illusion of being in a close relationship.

Their paper on para-social interactions details this illusion:

One of the striking characteristics of the new mass media – radio, television, and the movies – is that they give the illusion of face-to-face relationship with the performer. The conditions of response to the performer are analogous to those in a primary group. The most remote and illustrious men are met as if they were in the circle of one’s peers; the same is true of a character in a story who comes to life in these media in an especially vivid and arresting way. We propose to call this seeming face-to-face relationship between spectator and performer a para-social relationship.

We mostly see these para-social interactions in marketing on the social media pages of influencial users, whether it’s a mainstream celebrity or a celebrity for a small niche group of people. Whether it’s reality TV star Kim Kardashian (@KimKardashian) or tech expert Michael Stevens (@tweetsauce), the future (and present) of marketing is falling more firmly into their hands.

They’re making money from product placements and gaining Twitter followers by the minute. Notables such as Stevens or Kardashian connect with their audience and open themselves up in a selective way so that it seems people know their personal lives.

For example, in a tweet on May 23, 2016, Stevens reveals a video of a hike taken with his family. This tweet doesn’t advertise anything. There’s no call to action. It’s not helping him or any company. He’s not getting paid.

Still, it’s gaining him a reputation of relatability, so the next time he recommends a product or a video, people are more likely to click and watch it because it seems like a recommendation from a friend.

How that approach applies to marketing

But I need to sell something, you might be thinking. How do mountaintop selfies help me do that? Sure, para-social relationships help celebrities, but how could it work for little old me?

Really, the answer goes back to rather conventional sales thinking. Ask any salesperson worth their salt how they manage to generate top-tier results, and they’ll tell you that it’s all about the relationships they cultivate with their clients. That relationship building fosters the trust and affinity that help them close the deal, and that same tactic can be used in your marketing strategy.

Give your brand an authentic personality with which your audience can engage, and they’re far more likely to be receptive when you talk about what you bring to the table.

So, go ahead. Post a picture on Instagram of yourself making a face behind your sleeping employee. Tweet out the funny cat video that started your morning off with a fit of giggles. Send out a snap of the team singing karaoke in the office.

Let your hair down, and give the Kardashians a run for their money. Your brand will thank you later.

A version of this article first appeared on the Crowdspring blog. Crowdspring helps the world’s best entrepreneurs, business, agencies and nonprofits with affordable and risk-free custom logo design, web design, company naming and other creative services.

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