Attention management is not something that people think about, but it is what we do when we curate places like our inbox, social news streams, and RSS feed readers.
As marketers and advertisers, we are bombarded with statistics that tell us there is a shockingly small supply of time in the world.
"You only have eight seconds to catch a Web visitor's attention."
"The average person is bombarded with over 5,000 commercial messages a day."
"Today's multitasking Millennials are doing up to 10 things simultaneously."
"You have to do something surprising every 10 minutes during your presentation to keep the audience awake."
I would provide citations for these statistics, but "Article writers only have an average of 15 minutes for research, down from 30 minutes in 2007." I made that last one up.
We believe we're dealing with the scarcity of our prospects' time, and are acting accordingly. Too often, we're getting "all caps" on our audience, shouting louder, shouting more often, and shouting through more channels. I call that tossing "Jenny" around.
What if we worked the other end of the equation? What if we helped our prospects manage their time better? Could we get nine seconds instead of eight? Could we cut our Millennials down to five simultaneous activities?
Unfortunately, attempts at time management have been thwarted in large part by the social part of our brains, the part that says we need to be laced into the lives of others like tangled doilies.
"96 percent of Millennials have joined a social network."
"Social media has overtaken pornography as the number one activity on the Web."
While you read this, "100+ hours of video will be uploaded to YouTube."
I can cite these quotes because they come from a "Socialnomics" video that is only four and a half minutes long.
The net of this is that we are spending more time on our digital social pursuits and less time on our commercial messages, such as those found in display advertising.
Be Where Attention Falls
My good friend and client Maura Thomas, who is writing the book "Control Your Attention, Control Your Life," has introduced me to a different way of looking at the time/attention equation that may benefit advertisers.
It seems that we are willing to "kill" time on social networks because it helps us manage our attention.
More and more, we rely on our social graph to keep us in the loop, often 140 characters at a time. Thomas puts this into the category of "attention management."
The tools we choose and the people we follow make up our attention management strategy. Those places where we implement such strategies - Facebook, Twitter, and Groupon - are "attention-managed zones."
"Attention wastelands" are those places in which we receive irrelevant information; places that are populated by people and brands that we don't trust. Prospects must shun these wastelands lest their attention be squandered by fools.
The Components of an Attention-Managed Zone
An attention-managed zone provides a cone of safety, like a playpen for our children. We check Facebook several times per day because it's an attention-safe zone. The same is true of e-mail.
When my attention is focused on one of these safe places, I know that:
Advertising in Attention-Managed Zones
Take a look at a Facebook home page. The center of the page represents a personally crafted attention-managed zone. It's full of the faces of people we have chosen to add to our social graph. Each associated with some informational item, including information about themselves (which helps me judge trust) as well as links to information and entertainment that I may like. I can scan and assign my attention based on who is posting and what they're saying.
To the right is a column of advertisements. It's not attention-managed. I haven't chosen the people who place things there, and when my attention drifts over there, I know that it's likely to be squandered.
Like many other ad networks, Facebook is working to extend the attention-managed zone to these advertisements.
To make the right column seem safer for attention, Facebook is making sure:
While social media ads continue to disappoint based on click-throughs and conversions, they can be used to help advertisers become part of others' zones.
Where Are Your Attention-Managed Zones?
The upshot of all of this is that advertisers and publishers must create their own attention-managed zones.
Participation in social networks is one opportunity, but it's still very expensive to build, manage, and measure social campaigns.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) are trying to turn ad placements into attention-managed zones by giving readers control over the use of their data. We'll have to see how that goes, and if the government can do any better.
To participate in an attention-managed zone, advertisers must do more than participate in social media, and may not even need social media to do so.
Use transparency in your advertising to create trust.
Send relevant or entertaining information. Targeting and dynamic advertising certainly help with this.
Consistency offers familiarity. Let your prospects know when to tune you in and when to tune you out. I know when to ignore the Old Spice Guy (when I'm working) and when to tune in (when I want some entertainment).
In addition, you might consider using spokespeople. People use faces as trust holders.
Attention management is not something that people think about, but it is what we do when we curate places like our inbox, social news streams, and RSS feed readers. Advertisers get their messages into these zones by delivering attention-safe messages. Attention-safe messages provide trust cues, contain entertainment or education, and should be consistent in their character.
Where are your attention-safe zones? Let us know in the comments.
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With 15 years of online marketing experience, Brian has designed the digital strategy and marketing infrastructure for a number of businesses, including his own technology consulting company, Conversion Sciences. He built his company to transform the Internet from a giant digital-brochure stand to a place where people find the answers they seek. His clients use online strategies to engage their visitors and grow their businesses. Brian has created a series of Web strategy workshops and authors the Conversion Scientist blog. Brian works from Austin, Texas, a place where life and the Internet are hopelessly intertwined.
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