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We are exposed to thousands of brand messages each day.

Consider the routine of our daily commute--we really don't think about how many brands are right in front of us. So the other day I tried to observe every brand message in my drive to work.

At first, I saw the obvious: outdoor boards, signs on buildings, the produce truck that passed me, the car in front of me. Then I noticed my steering wheel, my coffee cup, my watch.

After a few minutes, it became exhausting--the visual equivalent of listening to dozens of different radio stations at the same time. The ubiquity of advertising is too much input to handle in our daily lives. So, our minds insulate us by filtering advertising from our consciousness.

When a new medium is introduced, marketers flock to it in the belief that its novelty will break through to the waking mind. And for a while, it may work.

This has recently been an effect in both outdoor advertising and online banners, with the introduction of the vertical orientation or skyscraper. However, in time the mind becomes immune to the rhetorical value of the new medium and incorporates it into the mental filtering process of “oh, I've seen that before.”

Any bump in recall is a temporary effect, at best.

Rather than chasing the latest media fad, savvy brand marketers know it is the message that counts. Effective advertising for a brand depends on the ability to be relevant, engaging and motivating.

But there are thousands of brands that are vying for our attention each day. How can brands break through the filtering that inevitably takes hold of customers?

Start with the objective of establishing a relationship with your customers. As with any relationship, two-way communication is essential. Many brands simply see advertising as an effort to draw attention to themselves and away from competitors. However, the approach that builds relationships requires that brands listen too. If advertising is the talking part of this dialog, then brand research and testing is the listening part of the conversation.

If brands truly want to have an unshakeable competitive advantage, then listening to customers is essential. Give customers a stake in the brand by letting them tell you what is important to them, why your brand is good and how it can be improved.

With regard to brand advertising, let the customers tell you the most appropriate place and manner by which to reach them.

Customers don't innately hate advertising. In fact, at its best, advertising engages customers as it persuades and informs. Apple Computer and Volkswagen are listening brands. As a result, they build loyal and passionate relationships between their brands and their customers.

When you think about it, there is tremendous risk in not listening to customers. If an untested brand initiative fails to perform, it is wasted money. There may even be a defection of customers to competitive brands that are more in tune with the hearts and minds of the marketplace.

In the current economy where budgets are lean, the research and testing of brand initiatives makes sense. Some companies have wisely chosen to pursue research and testing now in order to determine how best to allocate their budget dollars for next year.

And, those brands will be in the right place, at the right time, with the right message.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mitch McCasland (mmccasland@moroch.com) is director of insight and brand strategy at Moroch Partners (www.moroch.com) and a leading advocate of using customer insights and competitive intelligence as a basis for brand strategy, advertising, and new product design.