How to get attention

It has been told for years – consumers are exposed to more than 3000 commercial messages per day. It could be less, but probably it is more now, and increasing.

Herbert Simon, maybe the first person to frame the concept of attention economics wrote:

”…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it”. Reactions to this is of course that consumers need to start filtering the information. This is done in several different ways.”

The source of the information becomes more and more important. Study after study reveals that ”someone like me” is the source we trust the most.

Social collaborative filters, enabled by technology, helps people get tips from “someone like me” even if these “someones” might be living across the world. These filters also become more and more available and widely used. They help consumers find and evaluate what is most important to them. And they help filter through useless information and unwanted messages.

So, consumers are filtering out most of the information they are exposed to. In addition to this, multi-tasking, or multi consumption of media, also becomes more and more common.

People are also increasingly multi-consumers of media – watching TV or listening to radio while surfing on the Internet for example. Attention spread over several media at the same time must mean less focus on each.

But, I believe that there is a slight bias here. The medium that requires most attention to make you able to say you actually ”use” it is probably on the winning end. Right now for example, I am writing on the computer, but the TV is on in the background. I can hear it, but don’t pay much attention. On the other hand, if I was watching TV I could hardly say I was surfing the net at the same time, unless I really sit with the computer in the lap. The need to be active, or possibility to interact, probably also affects where attention is focused. But, no matter where exactly our attention is focused, there are two things to do to meet this ”getting attention” challenge.

The first one is to make sure messages are present in all possible channels where the consumers are (hint: social media too). It is kind of a ”catch all” approach. Then companies have a chance of getting attention from the consumers, no matter where they are. However, with the increasing number of channels available, it will be more and more difficult and more and more expensive to reach out this way.

The second one is to make sure messages catch the attention of the consumers. Relevancy is key here.

  • Relevant messages will stand a chance to catch the consumer’s attention in the first place, even when multi-tasking.
  • Relevant messages will stand a chance to get passed on by, and to, ”someone like me”.
  • And relevant messages will stand a chance to pass through the social collaborative filters that are increasingly used.

What mean with “relevance” is something that is somehow goal-oriented, or has some real significance to the consumer.

To explain ”relevance”, Gorayska and Lindsay proposed something to the lines of:

“An item (e.g., an utterance or object) is relevant to a goal if and only if it can be an essential element of some plan capable of achieving the desired goal.”

So, if a consumer has an interest in something, like for example to make a decision about what product to buy, a message containing information that will help this decision is highly relevant.

Relevance is also strongly affected by in what context the message appears. Google’s AdWords format has been very successful, as it appears when the consumer is in the perfect frame of mind – searching for information on the topic. These ads can immediately help solve a problem.

Creating content that is relevant and actually has some value to the targeted consumer is the first key to break through the clutter. This can get messages past the barriers that the consumers and technology are raising.

And getting this content out in the right contexts is the second key to be used to unlock the door to the consumer’s attention.

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