Navigating the attention economy

Researchers and strategists including Herbert SimonThomas Davenport  and Michael Goldhaber have deduced that we are living in an attention economy. Why is this? It stems from the fact that in this day and age there is an overabundance of information due to the rapid growth of web/digital media and technology. As early as 1971, Simon effectively articulated how an overabundance of information impacts attention:

“…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.”

In our information-rich world, attention is a scare and valuable commodity. So, how do we navigate this attention economy?

Surviving and thriving in the attention economy

Writing for The Media OnlineDavid Smythe notes that never before have brands had to work so hard for an audience’s attention.  “We’re moving away from a supply based media system influenced by marketers, to a demand-based media world driven by consumers … Before a brand can entertain or inform, its communication needs to be noticed,” he says. 

Smythe highlights various trends that can help marketers survive and thrive in this world:

  • Harnessing the power of Storytelling, storymaking and storybuilding. “Information that has been humanised and enriched through storytelling is persuasive and has greater memorability,” Smythe says. My previous post touched on the power of storytelling.
  • Ephemeral/momentary marketing. It can be reasonably assumed that attention starved and time deprived consumers will probably respond well to branded content that is fleeting, yet relevant. The rise of Snapchat is a good example. “By devising temporary marketing schemes, brands are appealing to a desire amongst people to consume smaller forms of content in a way that is both easy and efficient,” Smythe says.
  • Me marketing. Smythe notes that a prevailing trend suggests that every individual is now a marketer, and we all want to be marketed to individually. “There can be no more powerful way for a brand to capture attention by speaking to the consumer as if they were an individual with their own unique wants and needs … It speaks to the use of personalisation to guarantee sustained attention.”
  • Easing the consumer decision journey. Consumers are faced with too much information and are time-deprived. This leaves them feeling that they are not always making the right choices. Smythe notes that brands that become known for making the decision making process a little simpler will secure disproportionate attention ahead of the average.
  • Brand sacrifice. Smythe notes that in the 21st century, brands that sacrifice, or display some form of altruism, enjoy disproportionate attention ahead of the average. “More millennials than non-millennials integrate their beliefs and causes into their choice of companies to support, their purchases and their day-to-day interactions,” he says. “Sacrifices can be large or small; they can change the world or just the consumer’s world.”

Who are ‘attention workers’? 

In a paper for the Innovation Journalism journal, Vilma Luoma-aho and Saara Halonen describe the role of ‘attention workers’, or professional brokers of attention. They emphasize that as attention becomes increasingly scarce, the influence of attention workers rises. In this context, attention workers can include journalists, public relations practitioners, marketers, advertisers, lobbyists and other actors. They are professionals who aim to distribute information and knowledge effectively, increasing social capital in the process. Identifying and cultivating these attention workers could go a long way for organizations.

Look out for my next post, where I’ll touch on some challenges associated with the attention economy.

 

Photo: Copyright woodleywonderworks, Flickr

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