How to address the consumer attention deficit
In today's multi-channel, information-rich world, the consumer's undivided attention has become a scarce and valuable resource, according to Pitney Bowes, which has suggested using 'attention economics' to try to ensure a good return on marketing investments.
The term 'attention economics' was defined by American political scientist Herbert Simon as meaning: "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".
Attention deficit As demands on consumers' attention have increased, they have reacted by trying to exert greater control over the messages they receive and read. Communication has now changed from the traditional "push" model (in which businesses dictate the flow of information) to the newer "pull" model (in which consumers have the power to decide what reaches them, what doesn't, and when).
Of course, advertising and marketing hasn't disappeared and consumers remain open to offers and campaigns - especially those that are founded on truly personal relevance and good timing. But the sheer amount of information received every day from an abundance of channels means that many messages face the risk of being ignored, swamped by the competition, or even being irritating to the recipient.
Picking the right channels Ensuring a satisfactory ROI (return on investment) from marketing spend in such a climate is no easy task, Pitney Bowes warned. Undoubtedly, many companies have wasted a lot of money by targeting the wrong channels or chasing an audience that simply doesn't exist (or perhaps even exists only through other channels). But wise marketers are already learning to negotiate the maze of options in a more planned way.
Never before has the concept of channel integration and consistency of message been so important. If multiple channels are used then it is vital that the infrastructure is in place to handle the sheer variety of responses and queries that will come back as a result. Consumers are accustomed to the instant nature of the internet, and will not appreciate delayed answers or time lags in pre-sales or post-sales service. Conversely, those who are used to corresponding via more traditional channels (such as mail or telephone calls) could even react negatively to feeling rushed and pressured by faster electronic channels.
Being consistent Consistency across all channels is also very important. This is not to say that certain channels should not be incentivised with different offers, but the tone of message, style, and design must all be familiar across all channels if brand recognition and message recollection are to be heightened.
Businesses must also avoid falling into the trap of assuming that capturing attention is the ultimate goal. There is negative attention as well as positive attention, and companies attempting to be all things to everyone by embracing the latest communications media may simply appear both "out of touch" and desperate.
Keeping it simple Ironically, marketers are now finding that traditional methods such as direct mail and brand advertising are often the most effective way of attracting consumers to web-based products and services. Indeed, the relationship between the channels is interesting to observe: the early days of the web heralded all-singing, all-dancing sites that used every conceivable trick and graphical device in a bid to attract attention. As the channel matures, so web sites have become more subtle, cleaner, quicker, and simpler to read and digest - just like the very best of direct mail that went before them.
The 'attention economy' demands relevance and timeliness. The multi-channel approach can be highly effective but every message must be targeted and timed to land at the perfect moment. As ever, data accuracy is the key, and any half-measures at the data management and analysis stage will quickly become apparent in the final message. One temptation for many is to concentrate on message content and design, but it is the process of message creation and delivery, and the infrastructure of response handling, that is of critical importance.
It is only the most carefully planned and skilfully executed marketing campaigns that stand a chance of making an impression among today's clamour of competition. The attention economy puts more control in the hands of the customer, but this does not mean that the audience is resistant to all marketing communications: in fact, the opposite is true. Among all the noise, consumers are still enthused by well thought-out messages that treat them as valued customers and talk to them in timely and pertinent ways. In other words, marketers who are paying close attention to the needs of their audience will always be heard.