Your Attention Please: How much is it worth?

By Rebecca Harrelson, Strategist at Carrot Creative

Thumb-stopping. Seek-out. Disruptive. In advertising, we hear these terms all the time. But why?

A few months ago, my Director of Strategy suggested I follow @Faris on Twitter for some strategy inspiration. She doesn’t know it yet, but it paid off. I started seeing a few tweets about human attention being the most worthwhile commodity. See below:

At the time, I was set to do a post on generational studies and the importance of audience segments in advertising — or the lack of concrete evidence that those generations should be linked together at all (to be fair, he also made me think of this premise by retweeting the following from@Percolate).

But taking a “safer” approach to this blog article, I decided to move forward with human attention. It seems to be something that we can all get on board with — brands want the attention and advertising agencies need to create and distribute content that demands the attention. But what does it mean to grab and keep a consumer’s attention?

Your Attention is Valuable

At 2016 Cannes Lions, Paul MacGregor of Fox Networks said “Attention is the new economy. It is the world’s most valuable resource.” The world’s most valuable resource. Not air, not water, attention. If we look at attention like a valuable resource, then we would find ourselves protecting it. Just like clean water or air, where regulations exist to protect these valuable resources, we would find our attention is just as important and valuable. But there’s nothing out there to guard our attention. Everywhere we look — subway cars, airport columns, billboards, pop-ups, even our social platforms have brands vying for our attention. Consumers have started trying to protect their resource — ad blockers, DVR, streaming TV without commercials — they’ve started to revolt. Advertisers also realize this and are trying to find new ways — disruptive ways — to get their audience’s attention. As content has grown increasingly abundant and immediately available, attention becomes the limiting factor in the consumption of information. But what if it wasn’t about disrupting but gaining the permission of the audience in order to capture their attention for your ad?

Email marketing seems “old school” for a digital agency, but the reason brands stick to it is because it works. The consumer has given permission to receive marketing messages and believe they’ll find something valuable out of these allowed interactions.

Email marketing has a “dopamine” effect. It stimulates the creation of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, that motivates us to go after something, like a piece of chocolate or a 25% off coupon in the email. Dopamine doesn’t have power in the end result of pleasure, but instead the anticipation of such pleasure. We click on the email not because we’re going to save 25%, but the anticipation of seeing something we can’t live without and still getting that 25% off. Anticipation is even more powerful when paired with two other qualities: reward and uncertainty. When elements of all three are present in your content marketing, it’s much more likely that your audience’s dopamine levels will be elevated.

Storymaking after Storytelling

Dr. Carmen Simon, Co-founder of Rexi Media, explored the neuroscience behind memorable content marketing. Despite companies producing more content than ever before, Simon explained that the increase in volume doesn’t necessarily correlate with consumption. The truth is: the more content we create, the more content people forget. Simon cited that, metaphorically speaking, people forget up to 90% of what we share with them. So, how do we earn a spot in our audience’s minds? What 10% of the content your brand creates do consumers actually remember? So how can we as advertisers and brands activate the anticipation of pleasure in our consumers? Storymaking after story telling.

Given the popularity of content marketing, it makes sense that marketers can’t seem to stop talking about storytelling. But while storytelling is idea-inspired, storymaking is fan-inspired; it’s the co-creation, and sharing, of stories with customers. This represents a shift away from the traditional broadcast way of doing things and toward more collaborative, human marketing. Storytelling is more centralized and predetermined, and while scary, since since storymaking is unpredictable, it can be the 10% that consumers are looking for. With storymaking, brands rescind most of their control, but they’re rewarded with their audience’s full attention — after all, the users are deeply involved in the actual creation of the story, and they get to tell the story they actually want to hear, not what the brand thinks they want to hear.

A great example of storymaking is this video from Coca-Cola’s Share A Coke campaign. In it, a young, real-life couple unaffiliated with the brand take on different personas as they drink from Coke cans with various names on them, like Morgan and Arnold. Then, after trying a number of cans, suddenly, their voices are back to normal. They turn the latest cans to see what caused the change, revealing the words “mom” and “dad” on each one. Much to the surprise — and delight — of their family and friends, the couple used the Share A Coke campaign to announce that they were expecting. The video was so compelling that it spread far beyond the couple’s network to millions of people around the world. Could Coca-Cola have produced this kind of video? Of course. But, what made it so brilliant was how two fans of Coca-Cola incorporated the iconic brand into a deeply personal story in an unexpected way.

Even as we continue to work with brands, we are seeing this shift. As influencers and traditional advertising continue to saturate the market, consumers, especially the millennial audience, are leaning to more authentic means of advertising — themselves. More than 22% of millennials are numb to advertising because they don’t think it reflects their reality. To combat this we need to include them in marketing campaign ideas and play off their wanting of uncertainty and reward them with collaboration through storymaking. UGC (user generated content) can be just as disruptive as a rich media banner because our audience has the ability to attach themselves to a real person. It’s not the type of advertising they expect from brands, which makes it that more exciting and trustworthy.

While storymaking may be a more engaging way to share a brand’s story and connect with an audience, you can’t get around storytelling. There are no participants for storymaking until marketers have invited them with a compelling story. So start the story, but wait for consumers to finish it. It’s the only way to cash in on the “world’s” most valuable resource.