Lesson # 5: Attention Economics

Welcome to the final lesson of my exclusive mini course 5 Strategies for Better Marketing in a Digital World!

Today's lesson is about present-day economics, or what's known as: The Attention Economy

Herbert Simon, who won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1978, predicted the Attention Economy seven years earlier, when he wrote:

“In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients."
"Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.”

In other words, a surplus of available content is forcing people to become extremely stringent about the content they choose to consume.

If you're not being extremely smart, strategic and creative about the content (videos, blog posts, etc) your company is publishing, or if you're not publishing content at all, the Attention Economy can render your company irrelevant, especially if your competitors have a bonafide content marketing strategy.

But, if you are being extremely smart, strategic and creative about the types of content you're publishing, and the frequency with which you publish it, the Attention Economy creates a virtuous cycle.

Here's what I mean: The more time I, your potential or current customer, spend consuming the content (videos, blog posts, etc) you publish today, the more time I’ll spend consuming your content in the future, because search engine and social media algorithms will automatically put your content in front of my eyes.

This is precisely how these algorithms work. They reward the rich and deprive the poor, in terms of the quality and frequency of content, which is important because, the more I consume your company's content, the more I become comfortable with (and even excited about) the idea of becoming or remaining your customer. 

Unfortunately, many companies don’t consider attention to be a precious or earned asset. They either take it for granted, or assume they’re deserving of it because they presumably have a great product or service.

“The idea is that we’re all competing for a finite amount of attention, and it’s a zero-sum game,” says Elisa Gabbert, a longtime SEO and content marketing manager. “If people are paying attention to your competitor, they can’t pay attention to you at the same time.”

Nowadays, companies have more competitors than they think. It's no longer just the competitors in your industry or sector that you have to worry about. In our digitally inclined world, you're also competing for people's attention with media outlets, friends and family, celebrities, influencers, and virtually every other company, brand and organization out there.

If you logged into the average Facebook or Instagram user's account right now, you'd probably see something like this: a friend's photo, a video from the New York Times, the awkward aunt's photo, an ad from Nike, videos from a celebrity or influencer, an ad from a random small business ... point is, we're now competing with everyone and everything online for a very limited amount of people's attention!

Therefore, it's a game of attention. The more attention your company garners, the more relevant and therefore top-of-mind it will be when your target customers are willing, able and ready to buy what you offer. The less attention your company garners, the less relevant and therefore top-of-mind it will be when your target customers are willing, able and ready to buy what you offer.

It's a simple game.

Gary Vaynerchuk, a serial entrepreneur with a few multimillion-dollar companies and more than 11 million social media followers, says that he’s been so successful at marketing his companies (and himself) because of what he calls “day trading attention,” or publishing original, high-quality, hyper-relevant, super-entertaining content in exchange for people’s attention on a day-to-day basis.

“The attention of the end consumer is all that matters, and when you understand where it is,” Vaynerchuk says, “that’s where you need to strike, create and spend against.”

The “where” he references is digital media, which the average U.S. adult consumes at a clip of nearly six hours per day, including four hours on social media alone.

According to digital culture expert Kevin Kelly, the Attention Economy is increasingly one where content producers (i.e. companies) must separate themselves from all of the redundant copycat digital media, by adding these intangibles to their content:

  1. Immediacy – priority access, immediate delivery

  2. Personalization – tailored specifically to your target customers

  3. Interpretation – content that is inspiring, motivational, entertaining, humorous or produces other emotions which create desired associations with the brand

  4. Authenticity – original, genuine, natural, credible

  5. Accessibility – re-engaging fans who engage your company

  6. Embodiment – videos, podcasts, and other highly immersive forms of content

  7. Patronage – when people consume content “simply because it feels good”

  8. Findability – publishing content in every place fans “live” online (e.g. social media, email, search engines)


“The money in this networked economy,” Kelly concludes, “follows the path of attention.”

In other words: Treat your target customers' attention like its a form of currency — an asset — and they'll open up their wallet (and social circles) to your company as well.