On Time, Attention, And Marketing

Tens of thousands of words have been spilled by Steve Gillmor and others on the subject of “attention” over the past few months. It’s an important subject, a fundamental one.

I think part of the issue behind why this idea has not gotten broader exposure is that getting to the core of answering the question “what is attention?” requires navigating deep thickets of prose and over-intellectualizing.

Example, from Attentiontrust.org: A Declaration of Gestural Independence:

Definition of attention: Attention is the substance of focus. It registers your interests by indicating choice for certain things and choice against other things…the establishment of value in the attention economy is a dual register of what one pays attention to and what one chooses to ignore.”

:cocks head:

My question: Why does this fundamental concept need to be spun up with layers of confusion and thick prose? Why not just call it what it is? How about this:

“Attention is another way of saying ‘time.'”

Attention is time, as in “where I choose to spend my time.” This is why this concept (whether we call it “attention” or “time” or what have you) is fundamental. It’s also why it applies, fundamentally, to marketing.

Interruption marketing doesn’t work anymore. (Although that’s not to stop big companies from throwing more money at it.) In a world where the customer has increasing ability to choose where to spend her limited hours in the day, an organization interested in becoming noticed by new prospective customers needs to give those customers a reason to spend their time with them. (The customer will spend money with them later. But only after they’ve spent the more precious thing, time.)

If this is true, how do you earn the time of your prospective customer? It may mean that “marketing” now needs to do things that:

  • Provide real value (in the form of information or insight)
  • Provide content that is creative and/or entertaining
  • Provide a venue and the opportunity for prospective customers to connect with others who have similar views or needs

This is still a nascent thought, and I’d love to bat this around. What do you think?

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6 Replies to “On Time, Attention, And Marketing”

  1. Chris, when you write, “Why does this [or any] fundamental concept need to be spun up with layers of confusion and thick prose?” you are asking a big, improtant question.

    A sixteen year old daughter of a friend once said (quite innocently), “I think you write things sometimes just to show everyone how smart you are.” That was a wake-up call for me to quit the thick prose and layers of needless confusion.

  2. Chris

    Attention is much more than just time.

    The typical American consumer is bombarded with thousands of brand communications everyday; on TV, in magazines, on bill-boards, in shop windows and in innocent conversations. But he only has time to pay attention to a small number of them. The ones he does pay attention to are those in which he is “interested”.

    Interest is the additional factor that creates attention. The real challenge is in developing the consumer’s interest when he has time. Thankfully, for creative marketers, interest is an enormously broad thing.

    Graham Hill
    Independe Management Consultant

  3. Graham, are we thinking about this from two different directions? When I’m talking about “time,” I’m referring to the time that the customer chooses to invest in paying attention to something. Or are we both splitting hairs?

  4. Chris, I do think you and Graham are coming to the same conclusion from a slightly different direction. I read your post to say, “Attention = Time.”

    Graham seems to say, “Attention = Time * Interest.”

    Both of you assume marketing can develop “Interest” if done correctly. It’s just that one of you chose to include the “assumed” in your equation, and one didn’t. It’s like the old algebra equation, X=2. That’s the same as 1X=2, but the “1” is assumed in the first case.

  5. David, I can live with that. And you’re right…since this attempt was to look at this from the customer’s point of view, the “interest” was implied. That is, a customer wouldn’t invest time in something that he or she wasn’t interested in.

    Great point.

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