Listen Up! The New Competition Is Attention - Customer Relationship Management

When you go to Whole Foods,you see heirloom tomatoes,regular red tomatoes,plum tomatoes,cherry tomatoes,grape tomatoes,locally grown tomatoes from a variety of different local farms,and organic versions of all of them. Which do you buy? Oh,you don’t shop at Whole Foods? Oh. Well,the point is that there are some 20 or 30 different varieties and types and sizes and farm-specific versions to choose from. If you’re confused about which to buy,you tend toward the familiar. You buy regular or organic regular tomatoes. If you’re decorating a salad with something other than slices or chunks,you might use heirloom tomatoes for their riot of color. But if you’re making a sauce,you know it most likely calls for plum tomatoes— sometimes in another section of the store where you can get canned versions of the same. If you’re someone who supports local armers as a principle,you get a locally grown version.

In other words,your choices are specific to you. The person next to you buying the exact same tomatoes might be buying them for different reasons entirely.

Now,multiply that by some number that reflects all the other vegetables calling out to you from the produce department—and then the fruits in the same area. If you’re not planning on buying tomatoes,the rest of the produce might make you skip them entirely. There is so much to see and choose from that the choices become bewildering.

The tendency when confronted with too much is inertia—to simply not make a choice. This creates a major problem for marketers,as we’ll see in just a moment.

The Attention “Economy”
If 20 or 30 choices of tomatoes are blindingly difficult to decide about,imagine what it takes to do something when you’re besieged by 3,000 messages per day or roughly one million per year. That means via the Web,direct mail,on television,when you see a billboard or an ad in a store or in a newspaper or magazine and in a video game.

Think that you’re immune to it as a consumer? Here’s test that I do when I’m lecturing and the subject of capturing the attention of someone comes up. I ask the crowd (and you can ask yourself):

  1. How many of you get direct mail? (Of course,everyone raises his or her hand.)

  2. How many of you read all the direct mail you get? (Almost no one raises his or her hand.)

  3. How many just throw out most of or all of the ads? (Almost everyone raises his or her hand.)

I have no doubt that the vast majority of you follow the crowd when it comes to answering those three questions. If you don’t,you win a prize. Let me know your address and I’ll put it in the mail. Just remember,don’t throw it out when you get it.

As marketing guru Seth Godin put it in an interview with William C. Taylor of Fast Company at the end of 2007:
Marketing is a contest for people’s attention. Thirty years ago,people gave you their attention if you simply asked for it. You’d interrupt their TV program,and they’d listen to what you had to say. You’d put a billboard on the highway,and they’d look at it. That’s not true anymore. This year,the average consumer will see or hear 1 million marketing messages—that’s almost 3,000 per day. No human being can pay attention to 3,000 messages every day.

This is called,as you might be able to guess,interruption marketing— your attention is captured because your routine activity is interrupted. But with 1 million messages a year,this doesn’t work the way it did in the 1960s. You do what I said above—you just zone out.

This isn’t just some construct that is there to move things in this book forward a bit. While you might think that your business competes with other companies who put out like products and provide like services,the stark reality is that you compete with every single message being thrown at your prospective customers. You can’t even start a smart legitimate marketing campaign aimed at lead generation without capturing the attention of your prospects first.

This is a recognized problem. Howard Handler,the chief marketing officer of Virgin Mobile USA,understood it in 2008 when he said,“To cut through with a message or a brand or a piece of content is more challenging than ever.” The underlying idea in Handler’s comment is that because the amount of attention a consumer can give a product or service or company or idea is finite and increasingly more difficult due to both bad information like spam and rich information sources available everywhere,the competition for that attention is increasing and attention is becoming a commodity.

Customers are so tired of being bombarded (aren’t you?) with this constant barrage of messages that they simply zone out and don’t want to give their time or consideration to companies they might otherwise be interested in. What they actually want and are beginning to accomplish is control over what messages they consider “taking” and what brands they allow into their homes. Attention is given so little at this time that it’s been commoditized by its scarcity.

Evidence of this commoditization of attention is pretty easy to find. It shows in the compensation that is often given if you’ll just watch something. For example,when you watch a TV show that you’ve had queued in Hulu (the web-based service that’s either owned by NBC,Disney,and News Corp. or by aliens who look like Alec Baldwin and Dennis Leary),you will often get a choice of watching commercials that run at regular interludes through the web broadcast or seeing a single one-minute commercial at the top of the show. For your attention to the commercial in the form that you want,you are being compensated by being allowed to watch the show for free. This is a very different model than Apple’s iTunes,which sells the content commercial free for between $1.99 and $2.99 per episode. What the Hulu model is doing is buying your attention. They know your name through the registration on the site,but they recognize that having your name and you watching a commercial doesn’t mean that you’re a qualified lead. It means you gave them consideration. Period.

Compensation for attention is something that is not only being considered,but has to be considered. The rather old-fashioned idea of “pay them for their time” is becoming “pay them for their attention.” There are companies that will give you free things—cell phone minutes,ad-free music—if you view their ads for X amount of time. There is a model for online revenue sharing that even Microsoft is looking into. There is a service called Scoopt Words that operates as a “blogger agent” that will get companies to buy what bloggers are saying for commercial use and then split the revenue stream,which sounds kind of nice for bloggers,but not exactly in the spirit of the blogosphere.

The music industry has had an ongoing discussion (which may go nowhere) around attention compensation,driven by music piracy. The idea would be that rather than trying to prosecute or scare or harass someone who downloads a music file illegally,give them the music in return for them viewing a 30- or 60-second ad. Once the ad has been completely viewed,they get the music. While that may never go anywhere,it points to how serious the competition for attention really is.

There are nascent metrics to measure the attention too. They’re called engagement ratings and they’re primarily focused round TV at the moment. Not exactly a big surprise. They’re being used to figure out what programs to advertise on. Also not a big surprise—and sadly typical of the TV world—new metrics,old reasons.

Engagement ratings are the equivalent of “stckiness” on a website. It’s not just whether you have a large audience; it’s whether that audience is willing to continue to lavish its attention on you and your advertisers.

Myers’ Emotional Connections research in 2007 showed that Fox News Channel topped the “viewer engagement ratings” with positive engagement ratings in four categories by 80 percent of its viewers. But it dropped to 21st place and 30 percent (for two ategories) when it came to advertising engagement. What this can be interpreted to mean is that the audience was riveted to Bill O’Reilly and made a sandwich during the ads. (I’d be the other way around.)

Despite the particulars here,what’s important about the Myers work is that they’re doing some of the first research and measurement of level of attention and what it takes to gain that attention—which precedes even lead generation.

But attention-getting can go overboard. There are devotees of what is called the attention economy. They actually think that attention capture can literally replace money. Meaning that you will spend your “attention time” (in a manner ofspeaking) instead of your national currency in return for goods and services.

You heard me. Yes,really.
Lead generation from the marketing side comes when you have gained and kept the attention of your potential customers—but I wouldn’t go overboard with this either.

Hard Times for Tradition
Marketing never gets respect (we miss you,Rodney Dangerfield). Never ever. Never ever ever. Know why? Because marketing is viewed by the company as an expenditure with no immediate tangible return. Marketers are viewed by the customer as a nuisance. They are viewed by people like me as a department that presumes for the customer and doesn’t really know what the customer is actually thinking,which is often true.

It’s even truer now because the stakes are higher,the expectations and demands of the customer have increased and their hunger for being contacted in multiple ways—the ones of their own choosing—is greater than ever.

But that doesn’t negate the value of traditional marketing— especially when it’s used in combination with new marketing approaches. For example,the conversion rates in e-mail marketing are still between 2 and 5 percent. Good numbers there. A study in May 2009 done by Internet marketing small-business legend Hubspot took a look at the effectiveness of traditional press releases as opposed to social media press releases. It found that the traditional media releases were considerably more effective in syndicating. The typical ratio was about 5:4 in favor of the traditional press release when it came to the number of places it was syndicated. The only time the ratio was favorable to the social media releases was with online properties. Not exactly a surprise. But what that indicates is that you shouldn’t stick with a single kind of release or a single approach. Do what makes sense for the location,channel,and people you’re trying to reach. Social media marketing,search engine marketing,and the like are becoming the centerpiece of many organizations’ marketing efforts.

If I had to speculate (or maybe pontificate is the right word here),marketing is up for the most comprehensive and dramatic overhaul of any of the three traditional pillars of CRM. Marketing professionals are aware of this and those that aren’t panicking are remodeling the way they do what they do I’m only here to help. I come to praise Caesar,not to bury him. If you don’t believe me,maybe you’ll believe this statement from someone with a lot of street cred on what constitutes successful contemporary marketing. Anil Dash,Six Apart’s Chief Evangelist,says, “Ultimately,successful marketing results lead to people relating to brands as culture. They will be part of a cultural,emotional and entertainment bubble.”

You know he’s right,don’t you? So remember,traditional isn’t dead,but the old marketing logic is.

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