Before we can sell anyone anything, we first have to get their attention.
Attention is an increasingly scarce commodity. People lead busy lives and we are all overstimulated by the millions of inputs we receive on a daily basis. So getting people's attention is a very important skill that entrepreneurs and marketers have to develop.
Before we can talk about how to day trade attention, it’s worth spending a little bit of time understanding how attention actually works.
There are three main criteria that both our brains—using its reticular activation system— and the algorithms that power the internet use to determine what deserves our 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. Otherwise we would go insane. So to get people’s attention, we really have to deploy empathy to understand what they care about and value.
To make sense of the world around us in the most efficient way, we use pattern recognition. We also use it to pay attention to the things that are important for our survival or matter to us in order to achieve our goals. However, we are wired to pay attention to things that disrupt the natural pattern of things because our survival also depends on it. So to get people's attention we have to send them relevant messages and we need to do it in a surprising, unexpected way.
Generally speaking, our brains and the algorithms always prioritize what is happening now over what happened in the past. Timeliness is an important element of attention. Furthermore, as you’ve probably noticed, when you are in the market for a car, you tend to see more car ads. And if you’re interested in a specific car, it seems you are seeing it everywhere. The ads and the cars have always been there, but the message is now relevant because it is timely since you’re in the market for a car. So we have to understand how to deliver information in a timely fashion.
Businesses, especially small ones, do not have unlimited resources. So the idea of day trading attention means that you have to figure out how to get the most attention at the lowest cost.
Here are three main ways you can day trade attention.
The first way to get attention is to earn it organically. And social media is a powerful tool to get noticed for free. We now 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. No other media can deliver that kind of return. Of course social media isn’t the only way to earn attention. Anything we do to get people's attention without having to pay for it counts as earning it.
Advertising is built on the premise that we can buy our way into people’s lives. Social media, for example, gives us the incredible ability to target the exact audience we are trying to reach. When we pay for it, the algorithm delivers our messages on the timelines of people whose attention we didn’t earn organically. The algorithm still uses their patterns of likes and interests to target them but we land on their timeline artificially– without the organic nature of how they would normally stumble upon our content. We can also use TV networks, radio stations, and printed publications to buy attention.
Influencers are people who have earned the attention of a large audience. And when we use them, we’re essentially renting the attention that they’ve earned with their followers and audiences. Renting attention is really powerful because you’re not only renting attention, you are also renting the trust these influencers have earned with their respective audiences.
Ultimately, attention is the price of admission in business since people can’t buy from you if they’ve never heard of you. The work for entrepreneurs and marketers is to figure out the cheapest way to get the most attention in order to achieve their goals. It’s truly an art and a science.