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Understanding the Attention Economy and its implications for the Advertising Industry

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By Yorick Pinto, Creative Director, BC Web Wise

What would be the most scarce resource in today’s information-rich world? If your answer is highly skilled talent (labour) or funding (capital), you would be far from the truth!

If Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck of the Accenture Institute for Strategic Change are to be believed, then attention is the most valuable and scarce resource for brands and organizations to gain a competitive edge, especially when it comes to increasing employee morale, customer engagement and capturing market share!

Attention: The New Mantra For Success

“Understanding and managing attention is now the single most important determinant of business success.”
~ Thomas H. Davenport & John C. Beck

In their path breaking book, The Attention Economy, Davenport & Beck make a compelling case that unless organizations learn to effectively capture, manage, and maintain attention, both within the organization as well as in the marketplace, they’ll lose out to competitors who are able to manage this intangible resource in a better and more structured way.

As marketing professionals, this statement rings true for us, with most brands trying hard to capture the customer’s attention, especially when faced with a double whammy of reducing attention span and increasing distractions caused by other online services and providers.

The Wealth Of Information Means The Poverty Of Attention

The term “attention economy” was coined by the American economist, political scientist and cognitive psychologist Herbert A. Simon, who explained the correlation between information & attention, and how they follow the laws of demand and supply.

His famous quote: “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention,” makes complete sense for marketing practitioners who have to literally struggle to capture user’s attention, especially when faced with a plethora of exciting apps and websites which are competing for the user’s attention.

Pay Attention To Where You Pay Attention

The growth of the Internet in the mid-90’s led theoretical physicist Micheal Goldhaber to claim that the international economy was migrating from a material-based economy to an attention-based economy. His main point of contention being the numerous services offered for free on the internet.

In the book Virtual Community, Howard Rheingold lays out a fundamental guidelines to attention:
Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.

How can marketers benefit from the ‘Attention Economy’?

As brand custodians & managers, we are inclined to create more immersive experiences for customers in order to get them to spend more time & attention on our digital properties such as microsites, apps, social media pages, etc. User experience designers understand that every product is competing for the customer’s valuable attention, especially in today’s hyper-competitive market, where there are plenty of resources available to customers for free. It’s essential to understand that ‘attention’ is not simply a resource but a form of currency, with users paying for services with their attention.

Marketers can explore creating rewarding experiences for user’s attention, in the form of:

1. Reward Tokens

While brands have been using gamification techniques such as ‘badges’ and ‘levels’ where they gratify their most loyal fans for engaging with the brand, the popularity of MetaVerses and NFTs offers a much more immersive way to reward fans.

Brands can explore creative ways of providing their fans with exclusive assets that are ‘limited edition’, thereby making their ownership highly sought after. These assets could be offered to customers or fans only when they perform a certain activity, thereby making them stakeholders in the brands, who now own a ‘stake’ in it.

Lifestyle brands can even go to the extent of creating special edition products in limited quantities, which can only be earned by ‘super-fans’ when they redeem their loyalty tokens.

Case Study:
Leading football clubs offer fans a chance to buy the club’s crypto token. These tokens can be later utilized to unlock certain exclusive assets such as player NFTs or owning a piece of land of the virtual stadium on the Metaverse or even the chance to have a face to face interaction with the players.

2. Personalized Experiences Curated for Users

Brands can look at rewarding their loyalists by creating ‘bonus content’ such as ‘Behind The Scenes’ (BTS) footage, or curate unique experiences such as personalized interaction with celebrities.

The idea here is to create one-of-its-kind rewarding experiences that cannot be bought but has to be earned by users by giving their attention.

Case Study:
A popular gaming Metaverse platform has tied up with a major football league and offers football player trading cards for sale. Each trading card sale is tied to reward points and fans who earn a certain amount of points get the opportunity to have their player NFTs virtually signed by the football players on the match day.

3. Unique Digital Rewards

One of the interesting consumer insights reveals that fans are excited to ‘collect’ experiences and these can range from physical objects to digital artifacts.

Brands can take advantage of this by creating Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) such as artworks, avataars, sound tracks, video clips, etc., which can be given as rewards to customers in exchange for their attention, which is the time spent consuming branded content on the brand’s website or app.

Case Study:

As part of it’s Easter Hunt campaign, a popular ice cream brand created 10 limited edition, golden egg NFTs, which fans had to find and collect.

With NFTs gaining widespread popularity, more brands will look at creating an exclusive set of branded NFTs which can be offered to fans either via special sales or as rewards for participating in certain events or activities. These NFTs will not only offer fans a new way of engaging with the brands, but also unlock value for them, especially if the NFTs can be traded on third-party NFT marketplaces.

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