Why the Best Marketing Doesn’t Feel Like Marketing

Why the Best Marketing Doesn’t Feel Like Marketing

“The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.”

I stumbled upon this quote a few weeks ago, and it struck a chord. Its author, Tom Fishburne, is a successful marketing cartoonist, which goes to show that any two seemingly unrelated jobs can, in fact, be mushed into one strange career.

Anyway, back to marketing. Modern consumers know that marketing is everywhere, influencing our activities, purchases, choices and lifestyles. A lot of it is obvious, but some of the best marketing is invisible, meaning that the Average Joe probably doesn’t even realize it when he sees it. Why is this type of marketing so valuable?

Invisible marketing is impactful.

Consumers receive thousands of marketing messages every day, so standing out from the crowd is essential. Businesses have to consider how they’ll attract customers and how to retain them, often in over-saturated markets.

A few months ago, I stopped by Trader Joe’s on my way home after a particularly exhausting, emotional day. The cashier checking me out politely asked how I was and I think I sighed and expressed my readiness to be home and secluded from the world. The next thing I knew, she had handed me a bouquet of flowers and wished me a better tomorrow.

If we’re being honest, this has actually happened to me a couple of times at Trader Joe’s, which tells me that it’s not just a fluke but an established business practice, and also that I should probably stop sharing my woes with complete strangers. But it’s completely genius. The company can cheer up a customer (or help a customer celebrate a great day) and simultaneously get rid of some past-their-prime florals. These random acts of kindness can make a huge impact on the Trader Joe’s brand. Any time Trader Joe’s comes up in conversation, I always end up telling people this story—word of their good deed (a.k.a. brilliant marketing tactic) gets spread.

Invisible marketing can be low-cost.

Successful invisible marketing doesn’t always have to mean giving the cow away for free. It often means adding value at an important touchpoint in your customer’s journey with the company.

A friend of mine recently bought a subscription to Stitch Fix, which sends curated clothing and accessories to customers based on their individual preferences. She gushed about the thoughtful note included in a recent shipment from the stylist explaining how she thought the emerald sweater would complement my friend’s bright red locks. The simple message was likely written by an algorithm but showed attention to the customer, sealing the deal for at least a few more orders.

Invisible marketing is contagious.

User generated content, when harnessed successfully, can be the holy grail of invisible marketing. Word-of-mouth recommendations are brand gold; people trust their friends’ opinions and view their suggestions as authentic and valuable. When a customer creates the message and publishes it to their medium of choice, marketers get little hearts in their eyes à la my favorite emoji.

Take, for example, places like Museum of Ice Cream, Color Factory and 29 Rooms, immersive installations focused on color, play, experimentation and art. Visitors hop from key to key on a giant typewriter, swim in a pool filled with a gazillion sprinkles and stand with their heads in literal clouds. The attractions provide the ingredients for content creation but let their customers do all the work. Once the person hits post, their network of connections sees a message about what that person is endorsing, and bam. Free marketing.

But don’t quit your day marketing.

This isn’t to undercut the importance of traditional marketing, though. Branding and marketing that consumers can identify as such is essential for businesses to succeed. The Trader Joe’s flower tactic would be moot without the brand’s strong design, advertising and PR strategies. And my friend would have never signed up for Stitch Fix without seeing ads for it first.

Companies need to have a solid foundation of traditional branding and marketing efforts before they can expect to succeed with invisible marketing alone. But by adding the ‘extras,’ businesses can put the cherry on top of a delicious, in-demand sundae. Or, I guess, the flowers at the end of a crappy day.


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Blaise Hart-Schmidt

Blaise Hart-Schmidt

Blaise’s path to digital marketing began in journalism and took a detour through public relations.

Passionate about storytelling in any medium, her experience with writing, design, strategy and digital marketing combine to help clients build strong marketing plans.

More posts by Blaise Hart-Schmidt