Marketers (and that’s all of us one way or another now) are investing a lot of time, money, attention, and (sometimes) brain-power into figuring out today’s Marketing (and its sub-tools of advertising and PR). “How can we create content that engages, that gets shared, that grows our following, that raises brand awareness, that puts us on the map and keeps us there?…”
Digital technologies (smart phones, smart watches, tablets) and digital media (Facebook, Twitter, electronic billboards) have introduced one weird little constant into the traditional equations of traditional economics: Infinity.
Infinite tweets. Infinite status updates. Infinite apps. Infinite distractions. Infinite content. Infinite infantilism.
The calculus of this dynamic is fairly straight-forward: as the asymptote of everything approaches infinity, the asymptote of attention approaches zero.
Here’s the critical part of this vanishing attention: Even if marketers succeed in reaching their attention-goals in all of the arenas of digital media they aim to reach, they’re faced with the even harder challenge of striking enough attention that leads to concrete action.
Think about that last part.
Today’s situation with Marketing is quite similar to the political-economic state of affairs leading up to World War I: once-tried-and-true principles of warfare, social structures, and ideologies suddenly (in some respects, virtually within a span of weeks!) collapsed and opened-up entirely new design-spaces for civilization (and its discontents).
What changed? For one: Technology. When Germany passed-through Belgium, nobody had seen anything like it. The old powers were used to setting up battlefields like soccer fields. The Germans, who represented the Startup country of Europe, mechanized their divisions into rivers of steel and jettisoned the mindset of arranging soldiers like billiard balls on a pool-table. Meanwhile, the Germans encountered the upstart of Belgium’s tiny but well-armed forts which slaughtered German soldiers into piles of bodies.
The interesting thing is: Germany, even as the startup/upstart who mastered the new technology, lost the war (catastrophically), while the old-guard powers won (although, in many regards, everybody lost).
The lesson here is: when a new game is on, there’s no guarantee that the early adopters win immediately. Nor does it mean that the old way of doing business is validated by adopter-defeat. Furthermore, many of the old principles survive into the new game (e.g. strategic thinking, intelligence-gathering, and…focused work).
Today’s situation in Marketing is not much different: the idea of arranging nets of attention-gathering on discrete forms of media, where time and space were clearly defined, is facing the upstart of Infinity.
An “Attention Economy”, therefore, is meaningless to marketers. There is no Attention; as a result, there is no Economy.
Marketers can spend spend spend all they want on Likes, Retweets, apps, Beacon devices, and Viral Content. All that spend (in money, time, human resources, fans) still could win all sorts of attention (even a lot). But it won’t guarantee the purchase of what’s important today: Focus.
In the Focus Economy (do you like that coined Buzzword?), the opportunity cost of competing for Attention is Focus.
When marketers focus *their* attention on obtaining the focus of relevant stakeholders, the worry and fret over metrics streamlines into what matters. There’s no point counting chickens if you’re selling horses. (Unless the horses are eating the chickens.)
How do marketers obtain focus? Well, here’s a few stabs/thoughts:
- Good-old fashioned Market Research that exploits new technologies
- Self-awareness of your own Ideology (how does it compare to others?)
- Targeted packaging of the relevant information delivered at the right time to the right people within the right contexts and processes (the first point)
- Strip away all detritus without mercy – ditch the flash.
- Forget “smart computers”. Make technology just “dumb enough” to suit your needs but not “too smart” to usurp your resources while diverting your focus. This includes Social Media surveillance. It sounds like a smart idea to vigilantly monitor your mentions. But you’re the one leading the horse. Not the other way around. Obsessing about what some kid called you at recess will just give you self-esteem issues. (Remember: a PR crisis isn’t a PR crisis until the PR people show up.)
- Invert the traditional coordinates of Advertising. That is to say: an ad used to be a small but potentially value-added distraction from larger background content. Turn the background content into the ad. Need a clarifying example? Produce extremely useful content to your audience – and only your audience. That’s your ad now. This way, you don’t need to rely on affiliate real-estate upon which to stake ads.That’s how you get focus.
- This isn’t amateur hour, regardless of what Silicon Valley venture capitalists, and developers, and ideologues proclaim. Now, more than ever, you need to be an experienced professional.
- Amateurs seek attention. Professionals focus.
Forget about attention. Infinity has ruined it for you. Cut your losses now.
Forget about Likes and Retweets and Shares. Track them if you’d like. But they don’t do anything for focus – as a matter of fact, they actually become sources of distraction for others whose attention has approached zero.
Forget the Retweet.