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What is Invisible Marketing?

This article is part of my series “A Maker Learns Marketing”. Do you have an engineering or product-focused background? Me too! I’m learning all about marketing the hard way, and taking notes along the way. You can learn along with me!

Invisible marketing is a term that is sometimes used to describe marketing that doesn’t feel like marketing.

The central theme of invisible marketing is generating real value for your audience which is NOT directly linked to the product or service you’re selling. Real value might mean teaching your audience something or making them laugh. More on this later.

Below you’ll find the principles behind invisible marketing, specifically the 5 benefits and the 4 rules — the why and the what, respectively.

Note: this is part 1 of my two-part guide to invisible marketing. If you’d like you can jump to part 2, how to make marketing that doesn’t feel like marketing.

Why you should care

Invisible marketing is a way to break through the ever-increasing noise bombarding your audience. It tends to be:

  • Personally memorable
  • Highly shareable
  • Cuts through the noise
  • Can stick for years (when successful)
  • Makes you feel good about your business*
* There is no shame in marketing or advertising if you are explaining the value you offer and not trying to trick anyone. All marketing work you do should be something to be proud of! That said, the qualities of successful invisible marketing make it easy to feel good about practicing.

Notice that the first four benefits are about how effective invisible marketing is, but the fifth is about you and your business.

Especially if you are a small business owner or solopreneur, building and marketing a business is HARD. But, when a marketing strategy you’ve executed delivers value a customer truly enjoys and benefits from, the feeling is exhilarating. So, to me, this is the most important of the five whys.

The four rules of invisible marketing

What are the principles of marketing that doesn’t feel like marketing? There are four fundamental rules of invisible marketing:

Offer real, stand-alone value

Your audience doesn’t care about your business. Instead, they care about what you can do for them. And you aim to provide value to your customers. In that sense, all marketing has the potential to create value for the audience — by making them aware of what you offer.

However, while traditional marketing describes to a potential customer the values of your brand or the benefits of your product or service, invisible marketing delivers a separate, stand-alone value. For example:

  • Teaching them something useful
  • Helping them resolve an issue
  • Inspiring them to feel something powerful
  • Making them laugh
  • Giving them something they’re excited to share

You can find examples of these benefits in my guide on how to make marketing that doesn’t feel like marketing.

Don’t sell

Use our service and you’ll be happier. It's a marketers job to make people understand this.

Unfortunately, those same people have heard this again and again from other marketers. They’re sick of it. To filter out all this marketing noise, the modern consumer has developed an aggressively-tuned BS sensor.


Since the rise of the smartphone, people get offers all day long — via email, display ads, and more. Brand-building marketing messages, always-be-closing call-to-action pitches, and everything in-between.

Some of them sound terrible, some of them pretty good, but processing them all is exhausting.

So our brains learn to block it out.

We see so many web ads, for example, that your brain has trained itself to ignore them. Other types of marketing face similar challenges.

Pitch Radar

Your audience knows when a pitch is coming.

They see it coming a mile away, even if you’re sneaking up behind them. And when you get near, if they don’t know you or don’t trust you, their internal skepticism engine goes wild. Every message you deliver is examined from an entirely different perspective.

Conflict-of-interest detection

That skepticism is particularly attuned to conflict-of-interest. You probably think what you’re selling is great, but — to be frank — you are highly biased.

The audience knows this and adjusts their interpretation of your message accordingly. Even if you were to focus entirely on objective facts (probably not possible?), centuries of less scrupulous marketers who have come before you have poisoned the well.

Invisible but seen

Invisible marketing helps build trust in you, mitigating the impact of the conflict-of-interest detector. And you reduce the effects of the pitch filter by providing value that is separate from your product or service.

Avoiding the sales angle creates an opportunity for an authentic connection between a business and a potential customer.

Be authentic and deliver

How to build trust with your audience:

  1. Make a promise they hear
  2. Deliver that promise so they see it

How to destroy any trust with your audience:

  1. Dress a sales pitch up and pretend it has value (see the previous section)
  2. Give them something shallow and watered-down or difficult to understand and use

This is true for your product, and it is also true for your marketing.

Inauthentic marketing is at best obvious and, at worse, disrespectful and a waste of your audience’s time. Please, invest in your offering. Put in the time. If you don’t believe deeply in what you’re giving, why should anyone care about getting it?

Serve the right audience

While the value of invisible marketing isn’t directly aimed at selling your product or service, it still needs to appeal to the audience of your product or service and align with your existing brand. If you’re talking to the wrong folks or telling a contrary story, you may be providing a great service but will be ineffective from a marketing perspective.

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to be of tangential service to your audience. Successful invisible marketing is difficult in part because organic opportunities to be authentic with your audience are infrequent. Cherish these occasions.


Ultimately, every company has different marketing needs and approaches to meet those needs. For many, invisible marketing can be an essential aspect of growth or even their primary focus.

We’ve covered a lot of information about marketing that doesn’t feel like marketing: the benefits and the fundamental rules. I hope you’ve learned a lot along with me.

You can read more about how to implement invisible marketing in part 2 of my guide to invisible marketing?

So, what else am I missing? More benefits, more fundamental rules?

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