The Attention Chasm

The attention chasm continues to grow. By the time you finish reading this sentence, you will have had, on average, three competing thoughts trying to break your concentration. Was I right? It’s because of this competition for attention I need to ensure that I’m connecting with you, keeping you engaged and ensuring that you remember me beyond these pages.

As marketers, our job is the same – grab someone’s attention long enough to have them take the journey we want them on. Read an article, click a link, share a video, buy a product – whatever the ultimate action we want people to take, we must understand the human condition these people are in. We must know more about them, who they are, where they are and what they care about. And, we must inform our message and programs with that understanding. If I still have your attention, I’ll share more about that.

The Goldfish Principle

Research shows that a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds (don’t ask me how they know this, they just do. It’s on the Internets.) A goldfish outpaces the average land-walking human’s attention span by a full second. And, it’s no wonder – our customers have 3.5 screens in front of them or at arm’s length through 90 percent of their day. Cell phones, tablets, watches, subway monitors, backseat taxi screens and even old-fashioned television sets – all bringing attention-sucking messages to them constantly. Add to that those things that happen outside of the square screens we’re obsessed with, like not walking off the sidewalk and into the street – and the uphill climb for marketers is real. And, our customers’ attention airspace is only getting more polluted.

Relevance, Resonance & Repetition

At some point as marketers, we lost our way. Channel strategy took the driver’s seat. Not only did the message get diluted through self-serving words, the audience got completely shoved aside. Without an advocate, the audience became a necessary byproduct of the appendix for our marketing decks. We lost the connections and understanding that allowed us to know what was relevant to our audience. Without this relevance, we struggled to find a way for that audience to remember us, and this forced us to spend more to achieve less.

As bleak as it might seem to ever cut through and make a connection with our customers, there is hope. And, it’s found in a principle of human nature that we somehow forgot about in our race to put stuff in places to show that we could reach everyone with our message. It’s time to get back to that audience-first understanding. It’s the only way to truly make a connection.

Rocket Science

Ok. Everyone take a breath. Here comes the magic. You might even want to sit down for this ….

I’ve set the stage on the attention spectrum. There are other forces at play that I’ll cover briefly before (finally) getting to the point. In addition to the assault on attention from messages, images and general daily life, getting attention alone isn’t the only consideration when trying to form a more committed relationship with our customers. The decline in trust of information sources, the rise of third-party credibility, the fragmentation of the media landscape and the polarization of society all create a difficult context for a marketing message. But, within this context, and because of it in many senses, we can know more about our customers than ever before. Those same screens that are used to divert attention also hold keys to understanding interest areas.

Through analyzing social conversations, we can know more about what people aspire to. And, through online pathways from one site to another, we can understand what people are really interested in. Add to this our ability to conduct polls, A/B tests and primary research, and we’ve found a pathway back to our audience.

Audience-centric and Insight-based

Breaking the habits that got us to the point where we lost our connection with our customers is a complicated proposition. And, it can be a delicate balance navigating words that have multiple meanings. At times, I feel like the person across the conference table from me is hearing what I’m saying, but they aren’t really getting the point. To cut through the word jungle, going straight to a grounding in real, human connections is the best way to start. Grounding the response to a business need or problem in the people who will help our cause (our customers) will ensure that we’re playing in the right sandbox.

Step 1: Define Your Universe

There’s a common misperception that creativity is a spontaneous and, mostly, a serendipitous product of thinking broadly about a problem, the world, life. Having had to deliver a creative, compelling and insightful response to a business problem on a regular basis over the years, I can tell you that there are a million good ideas, but there are very few right ideas. And, narrowing the universe of possibilities through a deliberate process is the only way to not just let fate take over and hope for the best. Defining the universe of possibility begins by developing a program brief that centers on answering two questions: what is our business challenge and who do we need to reach to address it. It’s in this document where your audience is defined, set against the backdrop of a white screen or piece of paper as a line in the sand. Your declaration of dependence on the need to know the audience. It’s a starting point and where you return to validate your assumptions. With a clearly defined audience, the real work begins to explore everything you know about them – going beyond demographics, geography and HHI to get underneath all of that to find a reason for them to linger on one of their 3.5 screens for .5 seconds longer.

Step 2: Knowledge is Power

If step one is finding a reason for your audience to care, step two is packaging that knowledge in a way that can bring your message to life. What you learn by exploring the relationship between your audience’s habits and perceptions is rich information that can then be used to inform a compelling and creative space where your message finds common ground and a safe space to coexist with your audience. The best expressions of your message through a creative platform will make it clear that you’ve done your homework and have landed the idea in a way that will build credibility and trust.

Step 3: Channeling

Remember my earlier complaints about modern marketing being addicted to the channel? The love of the places we put things forced an understanding of the audience to become a weak voice crying hopelessly for attention. However, when we begin with an understanding of our audience, we are able to develop messages and compelling creative platforms that our audience will connect with.

That work now gives us a turbo-charged roadmap to where, when and how to reach them. In the right place, at the right time. In addition to being more effective, it’s also more efficient. No longer do we completely rely on mass media metrics. Rather, we are able to focus our message and our time on getting our message, the right message, in front of the right people through the right channel.

Step 4: Proving It

Finally, because we’ve wrapped our message, story and creative platform in the secure arms of our audience, and we’ve done the work to define where they get the message, we’re able to better measure the impact of our program. We can build programs that are measureable and have an impact throughout the customer journey. It’s this ability to measure the full value of our programs that is also the foundation for the measurement model and how we can tie back to real business value.

A Final Consideration

It’s said that 90 percent of marketing effort is focused on the last 1 percent of a transaction. So much effort is put into closing the sale, it’s no wonder we’ve lost the connection with our audience. Certainly a company of any scale has enough historic, aggregate data about consumer buying habits to understand how best to close the deal. My proposition is to think about the long-term attrition of attention. The point where your message is competing in the mindshare marketplace. It’s those battles for the synapse that require an evolved approach. Looking for ways to engage with your message across the customer journey, with a message grounded in the relevance of knowing – knowing the daily human condition and context for your customer. It’s this knowledge that brings relevance. And this relevance brings customers.

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