Monday Mornings with Madison

Attention Deficit, Part 2

Helping Customers and Clients to Focus

Defined as “the concentration of attention or energy on something”, focus is clearly a behavior that businesses want from their staff and customers. Employers want employees to focus on their work.  Companies want clients to focus on the marketing message, sales pitch, product displays or services being offered.  But, with all the diversions and noise that compete for our attention and energy in today’s world, it is very easy to fall prey to distraction.  If everyone is being driven to distraction, just how much is this lack of focus affecting business, and what – if anything – can be done about it?

Some economists and business strategists see focus – not ideas or talent — as perhaps the scarcest and most desirable resource today.  In a sense, focus is seen as the distilled, concentrated part of a person’s mind.  Focus is what puts a person “in the moment”.  It is the difference between hearing and listening.  It is the first essential element upon which all business transactions start.  Some experts have even gone so far as to say that only companies that learn to effectively capture, manage, and keep attention — both internally and out in the marketplace – will be able to succeed in the increasing information-cluttered world of tomorrow.  So how does a company capture, manage and keep focus, especially that of customers?

Attention Scarcity

Scientist and economist Herbert A Simon was perhaps the first person to consider the role that attention plays in economics.  Having won a Nobel Prize for his research into the decision-making process within economic organizations, Simon wrote as early as 1971 that:

“…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.”

By 1996, Simon noted that many designers of information systems incorrectly identified their problem as information scarcity rather than attention scarcity.  Systems were built that excelled at providing more and more information to people.  Information systems flourished.  In fact, Simon was the first to dub the term ‘information overload’ as an economic concept.  Instead what was – and still is — needed are systems that excel at filtering out unimportant or irrelevant information.  Search engines, such as Google, do just that.  The process is not easy, which explains why a typical search will generate millions of results and search engines are continually adjusting their algorithms to tackle the filtering challenge.

In recent years, business strategists such as Thomas Davenport and Michael H. Goldhaber have adopted the term “attention economy” to describe this abundance of information and scarcity of focus.  In their 2001 book, The Attention Economy:  Understanding the New Currency of Business, Tom Davenport and John Beck saw attention management as the lynchpin of business success.  Some business gurus have even speculated that “attention transactions” will eventually replace financial transactions as the focus of our economic system.

Capturing and Managing the Customer’s Attention

If focus is key, how can a company capture and manage attention?  Attention is focused mental engagement on a particular item of information.  As items come into our awareness, we attend to a particular item, and then we decide whether to act on it.  Now consider how that works in the sales process.  Consumers go through a linear process dubbed AIDA — Attention, Interest, Desire and Action – to make purchase decisions. Attention is a major and the first stage in the process of converting non-consumers to consumers. As content – both desirable and undesirable — has grown increasingly abundant and immediately available, attention becomes the limiting factor in the consumption of information and therefore in the consumption of goods and services. That’s where attention economics arises.

Attention economics applies insights from other areas of economic theory to enable content consumers, producers, and intermediaries to better mediate and manage the flow of information in light of the scarcity of consumer attention.  Many computer applications are based on the realization that if it takes the user too long to locate something, they will find it through another source.

In the modern attention economy, where most goods and services themselves are hardly unique and reproducing practically identical products is easy, the real challenge facing the supplier of the product or service is in adding valuable intangibles that can not be reproduced at any cost.

Here are nine intangibles that businesses should consider and control in order to capture the consumer’s attention:

  1. Immediacy – priority access, immediate delivery
  2. Personalization – tailored just for you
  3. Interpretation – support and guidance, real dialogue
  4. Authenticity – genuineness, ensuring it is the real thing
  5. Accessibility – wherever, whenever
  6. Embodiment – live music, personal attention, one-on-one sharing of expertise
  7. Patronage – purchasing simply because of loyalty, emotions, personal connection
  8. Findability – when there are millions of everything competing for attention, being found is valuable
  9. Social attention – collective attention, being where others are, engagement

From package design to public speaking, every image, message and effort by a company must focus on how to capture and keep the consumer’s attention.  With so much information, so many choices and so little time, it is critical for businesses to connect with customers in ways that can cut through the noise and deliver intangible, unique, distinct value that is above and beyond the product or service.  Just as Google struggles to filter the wheat from the chaff of information, so too are all businesses faced with the same challenge of separating its value proposition from the rest of the noise pollution.

Quote of the Week

“An environment with excess information devours the one thing that information truly demands:  attention.   Attention is becoming scarce, so we have to use it wisely when we get it.” Allistair Croll


© 2014, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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