How would you put your product in front of an audience 20 years ago? By paying for newspaper or television ads, right? In other words, by going to someone else and paying them to use their platform.

Online, it’s different. We can take our pitch directly to the consumer. There are no editors, there are no gatekeepers. For the cost of registering a domain and a cheap hosting plan, you could theoretically build the next multimillion-dollar industry with a great concept, some good luck, and the sweat of your brow.

Running a successful online business requires an understanding of what entrepreneur and investor Gary Vaynerchuk calls the “meritocracy of the Internet.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is this: You can’t just pay your way into the good graces of your audience by throwing money into advertising. Sure, marketing will get you so far. But branding and organic reach mean telling a story. After all, good stories are what customers—what all humans—respond to best.

This is where Vaynerchuk’s philosophy comes in. His book “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World” argues that yes, our culture has ADD. You will never have your audience’s full attention. In fact, if you’re reading this, you probably have your phone out, or you’re watching TV, or you have another few browser windows open.

All the more reason your responsibility as a marketer is to tell a compelling story. To make people look up from what they’re doing for long enough to listen to what you’re saying.

Yeah, anyone can start a website, set up Shopify or some other ecommerce platform, and wait for the dollars to roll in. But if they aren’t telling a story, they’re going to be waiting a long time. Because at the end of the day, no one gives a damn about what you have to sell them. They care about what you have to offer them.

One more thing to always remember: They want it when they want it, not when you want to give it to them. Everything has to be on THEIR time. They watch their favorite shows when they want to watch them. They don’t even like to answer the phone because texts can bring the conversation to them when they’re ready to participate.

Go where your audience wants to be and engage them there. If you simply open up shop and expect them to come to you, you’re in for a rude awakening.

Marketers Ruined Everything

Vaynerchuk’s book tells the story of how his early email campaigns (back in the 1990s) had an open rate of around 89 percent. His banner ads had a 30 percent click-through rate.

Was it because his marketing campaigns were so super spectacular everyone was climbing over themselves to buy his stuff? No, of course not.

It’s because marketers ruined a good thing. Internet users didn’t have a reason to not trust banner ads in 1996, and they didn’t get any email that wasn’t from someone they really wanted to get an email from. Then they started getting spammed. They started getting those God-awful “vibrating” banner ads, pop-overs, pop-unders, “press the fart button,” and so on.

Thanks to banner blindness, the halcyon days of Internet marketing are WAY behind us. Email marketing isn’t what it used to be. AdWords isn’t performing like it did. One-percent CTR’s is considered huge, because marketers ruined everything.

Remember when Groupon came out? You could not WAIT to get that amazing offer in your email inbox. And the offers were always amazing. Within a few years, they had competitors following the same model, and every offer was a little less amazing than the one before it, with a little more fine print and a little more hassle.

Are you subscribed to Groupon now? Probably not. Because they started bringing stuff you didn’t care about to you. Their story started to suck.

“The Attention Graph”

Here’s another concept in “Jab, Jab Right Hook.” Quantitative research measures behavior using statistical analysis like A/B testing. Ecommerce marketers are all about these KPIs.

And data analysis will always be crucial to a successful campaign. But a good salesman has to be a good storyteller. He (or she) must conduct qualitative research, in-depth exploration of why your customers behave as they do and what paint points they have.

It’s not about “generating content” and pushing out three 800-word blogs every week. That’s quantitative thinking, and it will only take you so far. You have to know your audience and appeal to them. As Vaynerchuk writes, you have to respect the context and the nuances of the room. Because quality storytelling always wins.

By the way, this doesn’t just apply to social networks. It applies to any app or website where people spend time, especially if they can create a profile and be a part of the conversation.

There’s a concept here called the “attention graph.” In 2016, Vaynerchuk has 1.22 million followers on Twitter. In 2007 he only 100,000 followers. But his conversion rates from the new platform were through the roof in 2007 because the supply of noise was so different at the time.

The attention graph on Twitter is broken. Sure, you can still connect with your audience there, but it’s a lot harder to tell a compelling story that’s going to get heard. Because everyone is there now, competing for everyone else’s attention. Marketers peed in the pool, and now we’re all swimming in it.

So where are the eyes and ears of the audience you want to reach? Are you actually talking to them? Find where the opportunity is, then find a way to communicate your value proposition in that unique space.

That’s the arbitrage value.  Arbitrage is going where is the value is while the rest of the market doesn’t understand it.

Respect the Existing Conversation

Don’t treat your social media campaigns like a redistribution of your email newsletters and paid search. You cannot outmaneuver your audience’s BS radar.

The context of the room has to change the way you tell your stories. You wouldn’t act the same in a business meeting as you would at a bachelor party. Why would you bring the same pictures and the same stories to different platforms?

If you re-post the same thing on Facebook that you post on Tumblr that you post on Twitter that you post on LinkedIn that you post on all your other platforms, you aren’t respecting the context—you aren’t knowing your audience.

Attention is the only asset we need to be paying attention to. Emotional attention. Listen, don’t talk. Be the friend people want to pick up the phone and call, not the friend who’s always calling everyone and bothering them.

The one thing that we are all losing every single day is our supply of time. Your audience knows this. And if you waste their time, they will punish you mercilessly.

Be human, bring value … THEN sell them something. Yes, it takes time. Yes it’s not easy. But all the traffic buys in the world—all your quantitative thinking and Excel spreadsheets are great for distribution but lousy for storytelling.

Is all this storytelling a lot of work? Is a HUGE pain in the ass? Yeah, it can be. But when you build those relationships, when you demonstrate that you bring value to an existing audience, you earn trust. And that’s the end game of successful branding—building lifetime value.

And if you’re not thinking about lifetime value, your play only lasts for so long.