Marketing In The New “Attention” Economy


Digital Transformation is radically changing our daily lives. It is shaping how we communicate, consume and think. Technology has re-written the ability to promote products & services, build brands or pursue a business strategy. While this is expected, as technology is bound to create new marketplaces and industries, it is also changing the core definition of Marketing.

In 1970s, Herbert Siman put forward the idea of the “attention economy”. As the information available through advertising increased, peoples’ attention became the scarce resource: eye-ball and face-time was the closest link to money.

Today, this concept has been taken to an extreme. Largely by three main factors:

  1. We are always “on”. With the mass distribution of mobile internet, everyone can easily check, read, and share information at any time and everywhere.
  2. New format invasion. Specialised mobile sites and Social Media platforms triggered newer and smaller formats of information, from viral videos to short-sized stories. Everything is sized, placed and timed for maximum exposure and communication.
  3. Old media is still growing. in addition to the always present online advertising, traditional marketing channels have not loosened their grip: people continue to be bombarded with outdoors, print or radio.

In the midst of this marketing clutter, brands are having an increasingly tough time reaching and influencing customers. For example, less than 1% of all outdoor ads can be spontaneously recalled. The solution by big businesses? Keep pushing.

While smaller businesses have flexibility embedded in their DNA, big businesses have a different culture. In order to pursue growth, they keep doing what they have done before, only in larger quantities. All in hope that it will grab them moreattention. In the end, even if the quality of some individual ads has increased, and new niches have been created, on the whole the market has become a lot noisier and messier.

The result from this information dump is that our brains have created a virtual “trash can”. The most advanced firewall for defence of our own sanity: we are able to detect if the information presented is relevant, authentic, and appealing in milliseconds. If it is not, we quickly and effortlessly discard it.

This selective attention has empowered customers to become more informed, more needs-focused and, in the end, chose better. Customers have refined their tastes and expectations, merging in new, multiple and dynamic segments. They have shifted their preferences to newer and better targeted brands. Although people may have become more cynical and suspicious, they are also more interested if the right fit is found.

As a result of all this, the definition of marketing as the business of promoting and selling has become outdated. If everyone is doing it, largely in the same way, in a world where no one is paying attention, then it stops being marketing. You can find over 72 different definitions of marketing, and rarely are relationships mentioned.

Relationships are the key to marketing and to the “attention economy”. In a previous post I commented how marketing in the Digital Age will be about managing customer relationships. It means a shift in every touchpoint and interaction, throughout all customer journeys, moving from push messages to human communications.

You can tell when an ad wants to make you do something – to make you click, to make you buy. Relationships are built around customers’ goals and companies’ ability and genuine willingness to help achieve them. Those goals are not to buy, they are human goals: to make life easy, to be respected, to enjoy life and be happy. In order to talk, companies need to first listen.

(article on LinkedIn)


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