The fight for your attention

Advisor Mads Svaneklink asks for your attention. The attention that everyone is fighting for.

16 February 2018

Can I have your attention, please?

It is quite fantastic you ended up on this article. In the inferno of the more than 5,000 impressions you will consume today - this article won a bit of your attention. In this very moment, in this corner of the internet, you decided to click on this Cphbusiness Alumni article.

You will most likely leave the article again before you have read just 20% of the text. So, allow me to present the most important message of the article: You need to control who and what you focus your attention on. This is not an easy task. But it is the key to success in the Attention Economy.

The rising competition

The reason for my gratitude over your attention is the rising competition for pushing messages and impressions into your everyday life.

As a consumer, you are a target for companies and technologies who intensively compete to be in the exact same place and time as your attention. These competitors have an increasing amount of data about you - and they use the data to grab and hold your attention in their digital iron fist.

Interestingly, this competition is not about what you spend your time on - but rather what gets your attention. You could be at a lecture, in a train, home on the couch with your family or even behind the wheel, all while the internet media lure you into their web of attention seeking content. Because this is where they can influence you to make another purchase - and not in the analogue, offline and physical world.

Focus on the young generation

The fight for getting our attention is not targeted all of us in an equal matter. The development of behavioral technologies - which is a vital part of the Attention Economy - has from the beginning focused on the purchasing power and willingness of the young generation below the age of 25.

Since the millennium, our attention has gradually slipped away from the traditional media, such as TV and newspapers, into gaming, to the browser and to our mobile devices. Throughout this entire transition, the youngest part of the consumer market has been the prime target and the most receptive to the new ways of commercial interruption.

Clash between generations

This tendency creates a clear clash between generations. The digital interruptions are often misinterpreted by employers, parents, lecturers and other representatives of the older and less digitalized generation.

There is a general misunderstanding that young people do not possess the ability to focus and be present in the physical space - just because they are always looking at their smartphones. This is a wrong assumption! The younger generation can focus and be present. They are just in a whole other league when it comes to the Attention Economy. And they are more skilled at using multiple media and are more interested in using new media. But there is a downside to that, when you are not in control of why and when you use the different media.

The important message

On this note, we can return to the important message. You need to take control over who and what you focus your attention on - and you need to make a similar consideration on behalf of your own audience. If you hesitate in winning on this digital battlefield, you could end up with a bunch of wrong assumptions and a lacking resistance towards the internet media.

Bingo game as a weapon

One of the trends in the Attention Economy is second screening - where the TV audience starts looking at their phones when the commercials start on the primary screen. This might seem obvious for the viewer to switch the attention from the forced commercial messages to the interactive mobile device. But this has a major impact on the effect of TV commercials.

As a response to this trend, the Danish broadcasting station TV 2 decided to add a kind of bingo game to their commercials. If viewers were paying attention to the ads, they could end up winning prizes in the bingo game. TV 2 had - just like many other broadcasters around the globe - experienced the competition on attention and found the need to engage their viewer.

This bingo game case shows us just how tough the competition for your attention has become. And it tells us to not give up in the fight against internet media. The tough competition should be a wake-up call for all businesses who rely on general awareness.

As a speaker and lecturer, I know how challenging it can be to catch the full attention of my audience all the time. Through the years, I have learned the importance of continuous engagement and student-centered learning. It is not easy - but essential for the learning outcome in modern teaching. That is why any lecturer should focus on improvement just like the internet media continuously develop new ways of attracting attention to their platforms.

Avoid being opted out

You ought to make a similar reflection on behalf of the audience you which to address. This could be your colleagues, clients, members or potential customers. If their interest in you and your messages do not exceed the content on their mobile device, then you and your messages will be left out of their attention.

And yes, nobody wants to be left out. Even the most self-assured persons can make some rather drastic moves when they find themselves left out of their own "show". They could for example demand their audience to put away their phones - repeatedly - or make sarcastic comments during meetings.

Making these social attacks on the phone-sneakers is a trap! You cannot demand people’s attention in the new Attention Economy. It is just as wrong and absurd as demanding a customer to buy more in your shop than the customer wants to buy. You might force them to do this once. But later on, they will avoid you and your methods at any given chance.

Now I will take a bow and thank you dearly for your attention. When you came this far in this article, there must have been a match between my messages and your interest. My last recommendation for you is to lean back for a while and reflect on your own position in the Attention Economy. What requirements do you have for allowing someone or something to get access for your attention? And what kind of requirements do your audience have? Give yourself a break from the 5,000 daily impressions and pay some of your attention to yourself.

About the blogger:

Mads Svaneklink is a communication advisor and partner at Analog. His articles for Cphbusiness Alumni are about what happens when technology meets business, with a focus on the barriers that occur in the introduction of new technologies to existing work practises.

Since 2012, Mads Svaneklink has been a digital trainer at higher education institutions, businesses and unions.