Every purchase starts with getting someone’s attention, because it’s impossible for anyone to buy a product they’ve never heard of.
But whose attention are you trying to get in the first place? And how do you get it? Those are the fundamental questions you have to answer. To answer the Who, you need to be clear about who your customers are and where they are in their buying journey. To answer the How, you need to understand how attention works and what the most cost-effective way is to get it.
In this newsletter entry, our goal isn’t to provide strategies and tactics, but to lay out the building blocks. We want to give you the raw materials you’ll need to come up with your own strategies and tactics.
The Business of Attention
Attention is a scarce and costly resource. The challenge is to figure out how to get it at the best price. Spending $7M for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial might sound ridiculous, but only if you don’t get a good return on that investment. Whether you have a colossal budget or you’re bootstrapping, you fundamentally have three options.
1. EARN IT
It’s easy to take for granted how incredible it is that a social media post from someone who is not famous could be seen by millions without having to pay anything for that attention. While no other media can deliver that kind of return, public relations is also a powerful way to earn attention– doing something remarkable that gets you free media coverage, for example. You can also get free attention through direct, cold or warm, outreaches via phone, emails, DMs or in-person visits.
2. BUY IT
Advertising is built on the premise that we can buy our way into people’s lives. This is usually on the back of something else that already has their attention– like interrupting their favorite show or an athletic event to serve them an ad. Social media with its algorithms that understand people’s behavioral patterns, attitudes and interests, can help you target them with specific ads. You can also buy attention through streaming services, radio, and publications.
3. RENT IT
Influencers are people who have earned the attention and trust of a large audience. And when we use them, we’re essentially renting that attention. This is really powerful because you’re not only renting attention, you are also renting the trust these influencers have earned with their respective audiences. Leveraging your existing customers or using affiliates to market on your behalf–for a commission– is also a great way to rent attention.
Whether you are trying to earn, buy or rent attention, you have to understand how it works and how to meet your customers where they are.
The Science of Attention
Regardless of whose attention you are seeking to get and how you’re trying to get it, it can be helpful to understand the science of attention. There are three fundamental criteria that both our brains and the algorithms use to determine what deserves a person’s attention.
Unless something is relevant to us, at least as a general rule of thumb, neither our brains nor the algorithms would usually serve it to us. Out of the billions of inputs to sort through on a daily basis, those two systems have to be very selective about what deserves our attention.
So to get people’s attention, you have to first understand who they are– their wants, needs, challenges, behaviors and attitudes. Next, you have to know where they are on their customer journey; whether they are actively in the market for what you’re selling will determine the kind of messages they find relevant.
Generally speaking, our brains and algorithms always prioritize what is happening now over what happened in the past– think about the power of breaking news and trending topics. But timeliness is also about the timing of your message. When people are looking to buy a car, they start noticing car ads more. The ads were there all along but they are now relevant because they’re timely.
Therefore, knowing where customers are on their buying journeys is crucial. It means, for example, running promotions for people that are ready to buy now, while also delivering content with a broader appeal (educational, inspirational, entertaining, etc) for those who might buy later.
3. PATTERN RECOGNITION
To make sense of the world around us in the most efficient way, we use pattern recognition. It helps to pay attention to the things that are important for our survival or for achieving our goals. We are also wired to pay attention to things that disrupt the natural order of things, which is why pattern disruption is a powerful way to get someone’s attention.
Not only does your message need to be relevant and timely, but it is helpful when it’s delivered in formats and channels people are already familiar with.
But while familiarity can earn you attention and trust, you also risk going unnoticed. So sometimes to get people's attention we have to send them relevant messages either in unfamiliar or unexpected ways.
In the end, it’s important to remember that grabbing people’s attention without relevance or value is essentially what we call spam. When we treat attention as a goal, it leads to gimmicks, click-baits and other practices that lose sight of the fact that once we barge into people's lives and waste their time, it’s very hard to earn their trust or their business. Instead, we have to treat getting attention as an act of service and generosity towards those we seek to serve.
We hope we’ve given you plenty to think about as you embark or continue on your journey to amplify your message, and tell your brand story to the right people at the right time.