Marketing is a battle for the consumer’s undivided attention

Recently a few colleagues and I had the opportunity to hear Faris Yakob give a talk. Anyone who has heard Faris speak will know that he is an engaging speaker, one who is able to hold the attention of a crowd for the length of his talk.

But then again, you would hope he would be able to hold my attention as he was talking about just that – attention, what it is, how to get and keep it, its value as a commodity, and fair trades for attention. Based on Faris’ ability to hold my attention, I now have a more positive emotional feeling toward him and his message – I have paid attention to emotive advertising for his brand.

Stopping to think about attention and its importance in building emotive connections with brands does pose some interesting challenges for marketers. Attention is a highly valued commodity, the mining of which has created multi-billion dollar businesses (and billionaires) such as Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg. There is a fierce battle on an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, second-by-second basis for our attention. The battle is so intense that any click or scroll by on any screen (no matter how brief) will be claimed as just that – attention paid.

Attention is unlimited, isn’t it? Writing this now I have two screens going in front of me so I have 2 times the attention to be mined, right? Three times if I were to unleash the iPad as well. Actually no. My attention can only be directed to one place at one time – in this case, to writing this article. To demonstrate to yourself this is the case, try having a text message conversation with a friend while you are watching a TV show. It is inevitable that while writing or reading a message you will miss a critical piece of dialogue in the show that may well be important later in the episode.

As marketers charged with helping people to build emotional connections to our brand, we are in the fight of our lives to get a piece of that limited attention and we’re competing against any number of other brands, entertainment options, family, friends and children to do so.  

However, despite attention being a limited resource, fiercely fought over, we can still build emotive associations and brand icons when no one is looking. Low attention processing is the key here.

Based on a range of academic work from authors such as Endel Tulving, Antonio Damasio and Robert Heath, we know that low attention processing with little to no direct attention paid to the piece of advertising still has an impact through implicit learning.

This is a non-analytical type of learning that can nevertheless attach simple conceptual meanings to stimulus, and this is just what is required for connecting emotive associations with brand icons. Moreover, experimentation has shown that repeated exposure to a stimulus – whether it be an ad or another piece of comms – is important to making this low attention processing have a strong impact. The downside is that rational brand benefits cannot be communicated in this way, they need attention.

The implications are clear for brand builders. We must do the necessary work to earn attention from our target market – serving up communications and experiences they find worthy of devoting their limited and highly valuable attention to. In short, being respectful of their attention. This is how we build both rational and implicit emotional associations with our brand. At the same time we need to make sure we are part of the environment the people who buy our brand operate in, maintaining and building emotive associations with our brand. While this takes repetitive exposure and consistent investment, it is easier in one way – no need to fight for that limited attention.

At TRA we see this done well across a range of brands in many industries. Those that have a consistent presence across a range of touchpoints can see specific advertising recall rise and fall over time, depending on how effective the work is in gaining attention. But what is more consistent is the sense that the brand is ‘present’ or ‘doing stuff’. And it is this sense that correlates strongly with the emotive strength of the brand, a vital element for decision making.

As a speaker Faris Yakob was able to command our attention for 40 minutes because he adds value and gives his audience what they came for – a fresh perspective, with a bit of humour thrown in. As marketers we can take inspiration as we constantly strive to break through the communications clutter and grasp the attention of our own audience, although a passing consideration is likely a more realistic goal than 40 minutes of captivated attention. 

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