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June 23, 2016

The Attention Economy: Why Marketers Are Killing, Not Capturing, Attention

There’s a principle in economics that lies at the heart of how the entire economy works: scarcity.

Scarcity is the simple concept of something being in short supply. It’s the idea that there is not enough supply of some resource to meet the demand of that resource.

supply and demand graphWe face scarcity when there are no bananas left at the grocery store, when we wait in line for hours to snag the newest iPhone, or when we want to go to yoga and walk the dog, but there’s only 1 hour left in the evening. Scarcity is everywhere. We even face scarcity when we want our partner’s attention, but they’re all-consumed in their devices.

As marketers, we face scarcity when we want the attention of our audience, but are competing with thousands of other marketers, companies, people, and things for that finite resource.

While all this may sound a little grim, and like we’re in a constant battle for, well … everything. Scarcity isn’t a bad thing. It’s what makes the world go round, it’s one of the principles that drives our economy and how prices for goods and services are set. Without scarcity, no one would ever pay for anything. There would be an infinite supply of everything, no one could make money, which means we couldn’t exchange it for goods and services. But then, why would we need to, if there was an endless supply of everything? Theoretically, no one would go hungry either, but I digress.

One thing’s for sure: the nature of scarce resources is nothing to be afraid of. Even when it comes to our audience’s attention.

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The Scarcity of Attention

In recent years, the explosion of information at our fingertips has led to the ultimate battle for attention. There are a wealth of attention demands that didn’t previously exist: advertisers want your attention before you watch the next video on YouTube; your friends want your attention on SnapChat, Facebook, and text; and your colleagues and every marketer out there want your attention in your inbox.

But there’s only so much attention to go around; whether it’s yours or your prospects’.

“We each have only 24 hours in the day.  Where we choose to allocate this attention will increasingly determine who creates economic value and who destroys economic value.” – John Hagel, Co-Chairman, Centre for the Edge, Deloitte

Unfortunately, the recent incline in attention scarcity doesn’t only come from these increasing demands on our attention … it also comes from a decline in supply, as well. That decline comes in the form of attention spans, which has fallen from an average attention span of 12 seconds to 8 seconds in the last 15 years. This is, more than likely, due to the increasing demands on an average adult’s attention all day long.

attention economy 2016

We are facing a gigantic attention scarcity.

But marketers need attention. Without it, you can’t explain all the pain points you solve and you certainly can’t move them down the funnel.

So what do we do? What’s the secret to securing the last bunch of bananas when there are five other potassium-starved shoppers approaching at exactly the same speed as you? Or (maybe more relevant to your current situation) capture your prospects’ attention?

Do you scream louder? Or more frequently? That’s what most marketers do. But most marketers are looking at it all wrong, and actually exacerbating the problem.

Why Marketers Are Looking at it All Wrong

You’re working so hard to drive more pipeline and catch as much attention as you can possible get that you’re actually, maybe, potentially (no really), making the problem worse. Not better.

Just take email as an example: the average person receives 85 business emails per day. That’s a lot. And marketing emails are part of that. But those marketing emails only see click-through rates of 1.5%.

That means that when we email 10,000 people, 150 click through, on average. And we’ve come to accept this, somehow.

But in order to meet our pipeline goals, we need more than 150 interactions with our content, so we compensate. Marketers send more emails so they can boost the opportunity for engagement with potential customers.

But more emails, means more attention demand in the short-term, and less attention supply in the long-term, which puts us right back where we started.

In other words, we end up with a cyclical process called the Attention Resource Cycle:

attention resource cycle

The presence of competing messages and naturally low attention spans is feeding itself and it isn’t going away any time soon. Sending more and more messages just adds to the problem. So is the answer going radio silent? Of course not, because you need attention before you can even begin to hope to drive pipeline.

The answer lies in how you are trying to capture that attention.

How Marketers Can Conquer Attention Scarcity

It’s critical now, more than ever, to look for new ways to compete by getting more out of each contact with your audience. Look to produce high-impact communications that grab attention with true interest from your audience. This means you’re not looking to use gimmicky “re: … “ or “FWD: …” subject line stuff, no ALL CAPS, or “act now or else we’ll steal your Cheerios”. You’re looking for more.

The ideal attention-grabbing marketing communications piece follows this equation:

equation attention communication

But with the current shortage of attention supply and all-time high of attention demand, many marketers are struggling to achieve even the first part of this equation.

The answer lies in a person’s name.

Gone are the days of marketing to personas as a whole. I work in content marketing and surely one of you reading works in content marketing, but chances are your job and my job are different in some ways. And more importantly, you and me as people, are probably very different.

[callout-content text=”How B2B Marketers Can Drive More Pipeline with Personalized Video” is_modal=”true” modal_id=”personalized-video-guide” modal_type=”Guide” modal_form_handler=”″ button=”Get the Guide”]

So why would marketers think that something that grabs and holds your attention would do the same for me?

2016 is the time for hyper-personalized marketing. It’s time to treat you, me, and every prospect as individuals.

personalized marketing

Personalized marketing first originated with names in emails. Remember when it was a novelty to use “Hi <firstname>” and see your own name at the beginning of an email? Your own name!

That concept was so wildly successful because people crave personal connection and recognition. In fact, a personalized email is still more effective than a generic one today. According to Aberdeen, personalized emails see 14% higher click-throughs than non-personalized emails.

And all the fuzzy-feels seem to trickle through to on-page conversions as well with 10% higher conversions than non-personalized emails. But there’s more to personalization than just merging someone’s name in an email, offering them a new piece of content based on their job title, or even customizing a web page based on their industry.

Today, there’s a great trend towards individualization or hyper-personalization.

This is where content is truly customized for each individual person – on a mass scale – and brings them into the story you’re telling. It’s where the entire experience with your brand feels truly like you’re getting to know your prospects and building a one-to-one relationship.

The future of marketing … your future … depends on this ability to build a connection and hold your share of the attention supply.

personalized video pipeline

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Kimbe MacMaster

Kimbe MacMaster

Kimbe is the previous Manager of Content Marketing at Vidyard. She loves all aspects of content marketing and has a special place in her heart for using video to drive real business results. She is also moderately (okay extremely) obsessed with her fluffy chow chow, Noah.

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