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I flew WestJet- a Canadian-based airline, for the first time in 2018 and the flight attendant said the following:
“If we can get your undivided attention we would be shocked and amazed but would appreciate it.”
As a frequent traveler and digital marketer I’m feeling this sentiment. The Attention Economy
This was said after she told me to take my headphones out so I would be paying attention to the security briefing. American flight attendants typically don’t do that but it’s a common practice in Europe where flight attendants have told me to take my headphones out so I could listen to them tell me how to buckle my seatbelt, which has been buckled for the last 20 minutes.
Of course attention is the currency-other than money-that many of us pay with today. If you can’t get my attention as the consumer you can’t sell me anything to begin with.
Attention is one of the greatest gifts actually.
Attention can lead to more money through additional customer engagement.
How do we get people to pay attention?
Think of young children. They demand attention and often – at least when they are little – demand it through cuteness or another moment of a first:
Look the six-month-old just rolled over.
Listen to how well the six-year-old read something. But it’s voluntary demand. We look because we want to.
We pay attention mostly for three reasons:
We have a connection to our children and want to see what they are doing. We have hopes and dreams for them. We have a relationship.
When our children do something new we don’t want to miss it. Think of disappointed parents who were traveling and missed a first.
What’s happening has some impact on us. Let’s take the six-month-old starting to crawl. Yes, it’s new and she’s our daughter, but even if those two things don’t apply, the action might still have relevance to us. We better pay attention to make sure she crawls around safely.
Sometimes people think they can demand attention. In some situations – like for police officers, parents and bosses – this is possible. But only short term.
Think of an angry boss demanding attention. He might get it, but as soon as you are released you are also releasing your resume to start looking for a new job.
How does more lasting attention happen? That happens by sharing information that people actually want to consume, that helps them solve a problem or that educates.
Brands that are jumping into content marketing, blogging or social media should consider to not demand attention but to earn it.
Once it’s earned people remember stories, events and can even retell the story to others. Earned attention leads to advocacy, customers and more.
How to keep attention
“Daddy, look at that skywalk,” hollered my eight-year-old at me as we were strolling through the streets of downtown for the Cedar Rapids Farmers’ Market. Of course, she wouldn’t point out any old skywalk. Something had to be different. Different things catch our eyes and attention.
This skywalk was displaying some colorful art on it and, of course, since it was new and we hadn’t seen it that caught her eye. New things do that.
Side note: We hardly ever buy produce at markets but the girls end up getting, oh, I don’t know, half a dozen or so different balloons. Yea, we go there for the balloons and to spend quality time together. #dadlife
This also reminded me about a visit to Men’s Wearhouse when I was getting some dress shirts that were not white. White dress shirts seems to be what most people are wearing. So, I figured that wearing different colors can actually be a differentiator. As I was checking out, another employee even said:
“That’s a great shirt.”
“Thanks. I bet you wouldn’t say that to people buying white dress shirts.”
This also reminded me of the color orange and Content Marketing World, the annual global conference in Cleveland. Founder Joe Pulizzi wears orange all the time and it’s his thing. It’s one of many ways that make him unique. And now his followers wear orange, too. In fact, before and during the annual conference many take and post photos of them wearing orange. I wonder what new orange thing he’ll be wearing next. ?
Getting attention doesn’t equal keeping attention
While creating and sharing new things does get us attention, it doesn’t always keep people’s attention. For example, that skywalk. We looked at it, enjoyed it and then moved on walking through the farmers’ market. There was no more context for us to get on the display, no next step to take – even if we wanted to. It was there to be admired and that was it. I’m pretty sure I know which organization led the way to the get that skywalk beautified, but I couldn’t say for sure. I think they are a nonprofit and with that would certainly be open to donations and volunteer time. But we had no way of knowing for sure or digging deeper right then. Even a Google search didn’t get me the info I was looking for. Had the organization blogged about it, I may have been able to find out more. (Hey, another reason how blogging can help us! Online and offline connect!)
How do we keep people’s attention once we have it?
Easy breezy. Well, at least in theory. To keep people’s attention, we have to continuously present and share new and relevant information. Think about it this way: New stuff gets attention. So the ongoing presentation of new stuff keeps attention. That sounds easy in theory but is hard in practice.
But the good news is, in any good authentic storytelling content marketing strategy and project, new things that are worth sharing happen all the time! Just go story shopping and empower others to do the same.
This is only hard to do when people are stuck in an older school model of marketing where everything needs to go through 12 rounds of approval hell and needs to be planned out months at a time. I’m not opposed to planning at all, but don’t let that stop the immediate publishing of worthwhile stories. It’s the only way to keep up a high volume of new and relevant content and stories. Lets keep people’s attention because it’s worth their time.
This was first written in 2015 and 2016 and combined and updated and re-lead in 2018.