How to get ahead in the attention economy

May 2019 | John White

We are living in the age of social media, influencers, startups, and as a result are suffering from attention deficit; the market cares less about what's good and more about what's trending - welcome to the attention economy.

In recent years the UK startup scene has been booming. We've seen a sharp increase in banking and financial services startups hitting the market, many going after slithers of the major pie that our traditional financial services organisations used to handle under the one roof. Need some obscure insurance specific to your unique interests? There's a new startup for that. Need a loan but don't want to go through a bank? Today you can find any number of peer to peer lending platforms to get you the finances you need, however weird and wonderful your needs may be.

With this slew of new businesses hitting the market, it's not just the big financial institutions finding it harder to remain at the forefront of consumers attention. Every new business and every new marketing campaign is adding yet another layer to the noise, making it more and more difficult for everyone in the space to get their message across, regardless their size and the budgets they have at the disposal.

It's not just the banking and financial services sector competing for attention amongst themselves; it's your business against Facebook friends, emails, news outlets, YouTube, Netflix, Fortnite, and whatever other things the kids are into these days.

Information consumes attention, and with so much information and products available to us today, the attention of the people you want to market to becomes pretty scarce.

The idea of the attention economy is not new. Back in 1971, Nobel Peace Prize winner Herbert Simon noted that "a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention." Since uttering these words, there have been endless thinkers weigh in on the topic, with a lot of unknown still around how the attention economy will really unfold, those who don't make an effort to understand how it will impact their business, will most certainly get lost in the ever-increasing swarm of noise.

Work Smarter, Not Louder
We live in a bizarre time where phone manufacturers have had to release programs to help us limit our screen time as more and more people worry about addictions to apps and their information. For anyone who sees this addiction as a silver lining, we have just the pin to burst your bubble - the actual truth is that as we juggle so many incoming messages, our ability to take them in wholeheartedly has decreased significantly.

So if the people have already reached their limit, what does that leave for brands to work with? How can they connect when we are overly connected?

The secret is simple: Successful businesses don't yell, they invest smartly in their brand.

We -- I say on behalf of humankind and as a brand-agency with unique first-hand insight -- are over mass-marketing and information overload. The instinct of most businesses at a time when more players are coming out to compete is to increase the noise; release more content, release more products, release whatever they can to outscream those around them. That needs to stop.

Those who gain cut-through in the attention economy are those that decide to play by different rules. Let others wear themselves out pushing harder to pump out more, smart businesses need to simplify.

Getting cut-through in the attention economy is actually easier than one may think. It simply requires going back to the beginning.

It's time to simplify
If you're one of the many that got caught up in the competition to produce more content, it's time to step back and tidy up the mess. Focus on their core brand proposition and strip back unnecessary noise.

Craft a new narrative
With a new simplified focus on the core brand proposition, you can define, design and craft a whole new brand language that gets the message across, without the need for all the noise.

Dial up the energy
Too much information feels chaotic and overwhelming, crisp, clean brands and messaging invigorates, bringing new energy to the brand and fresh communications to viewers.

Of course, communications are important and being present where consumers are searching for your service is essential but it is more important now to get clear on strategy and avoid making a mess. Consider the following:

Make it personal
With so much people data available, failing to use it to tailor communications is frankly unacceptable. Consumers are bombarded by messages, most of which are irrelevant. Getting cut-through comes from delivering the right message at the right time, tailored to the audience you're targeting.

Deliver a return on attention
Consumers know that their attention is valuable and businesses need to ensure they are getting something in return for it. Make sure your communications solve problems, answer questions or offer solutions that give something back for the valuable commodity that is their attention.

Be accessible, not in your face
While consumers definitely don't want to be overloaded with information, they do still want it when they want it. This means that answers to questions need to be readily available and easy to find. But instead of shooting it all out on an email blast, use gentle comms to let them know it's there for if and when they need it.

The attention economy is with us now and whether we like it or not more banking and financial services are going to keep coming into the market vying for a piece of the piece.

The great news is that there is truly a market for everyone, but and in a world full of noise it will only be those that turn the volume down that will manage to get ahead.