Contact Us

Keeping Ahead in the Attention Economy

Sep 3, 2019

A recently proposed bill in the US could potentially ban features on social media which “encourage and deepen addictive behaviours,” according to the Republican Senator Josh Hawley. The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act will specifically target pages which auto-refill (such as Facebook and Twitter’s timelines), videos which play automatically, and any rewards for platform over-engagement - for instance, the Snapstreak badge on Snapchat.

Social media has, perhaps unwittingly, developed into something that is difficult to turn away from. For many of us, it’s the first thing we look at in the morning and the last thing we look at before we go to sleep at night. Now that these features could be officially regulated, it raises the question; are people realising that their attention is a scarce resource?

The phrase “Attention Economy” was coined by the American economist Herbert Simon who believed that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” As consumers are exposed to more and more brand messages (on average 4,000 a day!), it’s been suggested that a business’ value, for brands with an online presence, is now gained from the amount of attention their brands receive, with a focus shift towards “eyeballs and clicks” as the measurement of success.

 

Problems in the Attention Economy

It’s never been easier to share your message with the world, yet these days it’s more and more difficult to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace. People are glued to their phones, but more distracted than ever. If you’re not careful, your content will be quickly scrolled past, lost in the infinite feed of voices on social media. This increased demand on consumers’ attention is put under further strain by the fact that there is an overall steady decline in the average attention span anyway.

It’s not always clear from a marketing perspective how best to effectively influence these readers, bearing in mind that when the average consumer encounters a brand message, they aren’t necessarily making a conscious decision about where they are directing their attention.

Consumer attention isn’t scalable either. We can’t increase the number of hours in a day (sadly), and you could argue that the effectiveness of advertisements diminishes as our exposure to them increases. Without getting lost in the “white noise” of ad space, the focus should be on creating impactful, meaningful, and powerful headlines that truly grip the interest of your audience before moving a potential customer down the sales funnel. The savvy consumer can quickly distinguish between meaningful content and clickbait, and we can safely assume that Generation Z - who have grown up surrounded by ads and are very well-accustomed to blocking them out - will only get better at doing so.

 

How to adapt?

Loyalty prevents consumers from even glancing at other products or services, but first you need to gain that loyalty. In order to do so, co-founder of Wired magazine Kevin Kelly suggests that adding intangible values to your product or service is key; including immediacy, accessibility, findability, support and guidance, among others.

It’s also said that you only have 2 seconds to capture a customer’s interest. However, the founder of HERE/FORTH technology consultancy Paul Armstrong stresses that if too much importance is placed on consumers’ elusive attention, content creators become stuck in a continuous feedback loop which starves them of any innovative ideas. His opinion is that brands should be agile and try new things rather than mindlessly following the “eyeballs” of the readers.

We all interact with brands every day, but aside from a Comment here and a Like there, are we really giving them that much of our attention? Do these spontaneous actions create loyal customers? If questioned later in the day, would they recall engaging with your post? Let’s make sure they do. As information becomes increasingly ubiquitous and immediate, it’s worth putting in the time to pull in consumers with impactful headlines and meaningful content to create a consistently positive and memorable experience.

As with all things digital, ensure that you’re always one step ahead of the game - at Digitonic, that’s our speciality. For more information on our Smart Mobile Marketing approach, get in touch today.