The Attention Economy

The Attention Economy

Consumers face a tsunami of content; gaining their attention is vital. The attention economy is changing the relationships businesses have with their customers. What is the value of attention?

Gaining the attention of consumers is challenging. With so many channels of content to choose from, businesses that can gain, even seconds of attention will remain coveted brands and consistently profitable. The question facing CIOs and their colleagues are how to build content that gains the attention of their target audiences. How has the attention economy changed?

According to Comscore mobile devices now account for 81% of all adult online minutes. However, the average number of minutes per visit is 27.5 on desktops and, 7.2 minutes on mobiles. Lastly, over a third (35%) of UK adults only use mobile devices, with 61% being multi-platform users.

The monetization of attention has continued, as businesses fight to create content that attracts potential buyers. This mass of content can be deafening, which is why consumers have been actively building filters to ensure they only see the content they are interested in. In some cases, consumers inhabit bunkers where email and social media filtering stop all but the most relevant marketing messages reaching them.

For CIOs and their marketing colleagues tasked with growing a customer base, understanding that there isn’t a straight line between marketing spend and greater attention of target consumers is essential. Attention isn’t easily quantifiable. Attention can also have multiple facets. Social media posts that go viral don’t have a DNA that can be unpacked and duplicated. Attention can also be passed on. Key influencers in a market sector can be a powerful promoters of attention.

Content farms and clickbait content have given way to more tailored content businesses can create to reach specific audiences. The format and subject of this content have been revealed thanks to Big Data and the analysis now possible via platforms using Machine Learning. Using approaches such as gamification have also proven to be effective methods of gaining and then holding the attention of an audience.

And as Anna Zaikina, Head of Social Media Insights, DMS told Silicon, advertising as we understand it is rapidly transforming to meet the need to the attention economy: “The very definition of advertising has transformed due to the way people consume brand messages and information as a whole. As the audience now experiences an avalanche of content every time they interact with media, they tend to turn to a trusted network to validate advertising messages.

Anna Zaikina, Head of Social Media Insights, DMS
Anna Zaikina, Head of Social Media Insights, DMS.

Zaikina continued: “Brands now need to influence their target audience with personalized content that’s dictated by detailed analytics to evoke emotion. Furthermore, the audience is more trusting of influencers who reflect their values; brands are using this influence to build awareness and brand loyalty. While advertising can be a trigger, it’s the influence that now forms the decision-making process.”

Building content and systems that promote and support high levels of attention is, then, no longer just an ad technology exercise. An integrated and above all, personalized approach to content and service creation is the key to gaining and retaining the attention of target groups of customers and even individuals who are influencers.

Paying attention

Advertising is, of course, all about attention. Over the past few years a shift has been taking place: Using split-revenue models, some businesses now offer a low-cost option to access their services, which will expose their customers to ads, or ad-free premium service – Spotify is a good example. The value of attention is then measured in how much consumers are prepared to pay to reduce the distractions they feel with ad-heavy services. In 2019, around a quarter of all internet users are now using ad blockers.

The subscription model has been expanding for the past few years. The all-you-can-eat approach used by Netflix, for instance, removed the friction of the ad barrier. Here content is king. If a business can create content that is original and craved by a broad enough audience, their attention will be assured. This attention model is clearly winning.

Also, businesses are seeing how attention can be gained if they offer one-stop-shops for a range of goods or services. The Internet Society explains: “This strategy of default and nudging users to one’s own products is not new, but it illustrates the power inherent in controlling the platform through which other services and products are accessed. With the evolution of more personalized services powered by personal data that can anticipate our needs, this power of default will become even more important. For the user, it can have great advantages, but it can also impact competition and choice in ways that will become more pronounced in the future.”

Online retailing is, of course, a great example of how attention can be gained by offering a diverse range of goods in a single store. Amazon has illustrated the power of this model. Amazon has also shown how relatively simple recommendation engines can be used to nudge consumers towards their next purchase. Attention then is deeply understanding not only the purchase history of a consumer but also analyzing their wider behaviour to leverage predictive analytics, which is fast maturing as Big Data and Machine Learning enable accurate behaviour analysis.

Making connections

As the profiling of individual consumers becomes more sophisticated, the insights that are revealed form the basis of not just ad campaigns, but how the relationship brands have with their customers evolves.

Experience Index 2020 Digital Trends from the Econsultancy and Adobe concludes:
“Understanding a person means understanding their context; if you can see the world through their eyes, you can predict and serve their needs. Managing the customer’s journey has risen to become a top priority for CX (Customer Experience) leaders. Used in concert with personalization, journey management allows marketers to influence the process of being a customer. In a world where instant, responsive service is the standard, it is often the case that the process is the product.”

Attention could also be evolving into more tailored actions based on several different parameters most notably interests and passion, as Benji Vaughan, CEO Disciple Media explained to Silicon:

“As we transition from an attention economy to a passion economy (based on people spending quality time with the content and people they are passionate about) we will see a wave of decentralization as monolithic platforms that thrive on attention scale fail to meet the needs of a population that wants experiences tailored to their passions, culture and demographics. A recent report by Activate stated that by 2024 the average US citizen would have gone from using 4-5 social networks a week to using more than 10. But the new networks will be small niche communities that reflect people’s personal passions and persuasions.”

Benji Vaughan, CEO Disciple Media
Benji Vaughan, CEO Disciple Media.

And Michael Schirrmacher, Managing Director, Bloomreach, UK says attention is now not about mass-market messages communicated the loudest: “Consumers have learnt how to make their way through the vast amount of information, products and content, so businesses nowadays cannot afford to offer less than simplicity and personalization.

“For brands and retailers, this means making the most of both online and offline worlds, mastering experiences such as personalized content and merchandising, and ensuring a fool-proof search. Succeeding in an attentionless economy is not about being the loudest voice out there; it’s about being the best listener of what your audience has to say.”

Creating compelling messages has always been a core component of successful marketing. Where advertising has reigned supreme; today, the attention market has changed to become one of interest and passion. Companies that can understand what motivates their customers will be able to unlock the passion economy.

Silicon in Focus

Scott Davies, CEO of

Scott Davies, CEO,
Scott Davies, CEO,

Scott Davies is the CEO of audience engagement platform specialists Co-founder of Million-2-1, the UK’s leading mobile interactive competition, lottery and games company, he was influential in creating premium rate gaming formats including ‘The Reverse Bid’ concept, as well as some of the early gaming applications for mobile phone. In 2010, Scott joined the team at He became CEO in 2014, growing their global client-base and consolidating their innovative platform technology to enhance audience engagement and revenue through immersive and socially engaging content.

In the face of paywalls expanding, the popularity of subscriptions and streaming services, is the attention economy dead?

Viewing trends have certainly changed recently. However, the attention economy is not dead – it’s just more competitive. Audiences are more switched on than ever before. Brands and content owners need to up their game and ensure they capture attention without losing the audience to distraction, or worse – competitors. Investing in the creation of quality, relevant and – most importantly – engaging content can have a huge influence on brand loyalty, leading to enormous returns on investment.

How has advertising had to change as consumers change their attention behaviour?

There’s been a considerable shift from traditional advertising to content-driven advertising, or “influencing.” Brands can no longer repeatedly broadcast the same content to ensure brand recall and push the messaging out without any clear strategy. Successful campaigns now bring the messaging alive through captivating storytelling by producing an experience that influences the target audience to buy into the benefits of a product or service by being part of that story.

Is a better use of data (Machine Learning, for instance) the key to maintaining the links to customers that are paying less attention to traditional ads?

Knowing who the target market is and where the consumers view content across the mass of channels and platforms is critical. Brands need to use data to formulate a central brand campaign theme that’s modified to fit the audience’s likes, interests and values. Sky Adsmart and C4 have an excellent track record in delivering bespoke campaigns fit for the audience. However, brands need to utilize the technology available to make intelligent and rapid changes throughout a campaign and deliver personalized content.

It’s important to utilize the growing amount of valuable data available now. Use that data to influence the placement of messaging, but also the content itself – focus on the trends and behaviours of the target audience and produce content that will enhance engagement. It will also be essential to bring the audience along the journey too. Use data to make them feel invested in the campaign, the more they feel invested, the more they become your influencer.

The use of AI and Machine Learning can help to enhance workflow and the content itself to make campaigns automatically responsive to changing behaviours and trends. Humans will still define the strategy and expected outcomes, but AI will learn to make changes quicker than humanly possible.

In an evolving attention economy, does content once again become king? But content that is highly personalized and highly targeted?

Ad personalization has become particularly prevalent online in recent years, simply because it’s now relatively simple to provide a one-to-one experience online with a webpage or animated interaction. However, the real power is when audiences come across personalization in unlikely places.

Television ads still provide the best example of this, as it’s much less likely that a person’s image or submission will appear in a TV ad due to the more complex delivery mechanics involved. This is why when well-known brands offer the chance to be part of an expensive and well-recognized TV campaign; consumers get behind it in their droves.

Remember to extend the reach beyond the screen. Extending the conversation and fostering a two-way dialogue to strengthen the relationship is where brands can really maximize the value of personalized campaigns.

For example, using social media can be a great way to start an ‘off air’ conversation, while using tools like messenger will drive new interactions and purchase intention by increasing product knowledge. This can also bring interactions back to the screen. Informing users that their interaction or submission may influence today’s or tomorrow’s ad will encourage people to tune in, creating a perfect circle of engagement.

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