Winning the War for Attention

Here’s an all too common scenario: After weeks of hard work, you launch your latest campaign with baited breath, eagerly anticipating a tidal wave of new leads… but they never come. Your reporting shows impressions were high, but click throughs were non-existent. Your messaging was on point… so what happened?

Enter the “War for Attention”. It’s been a popular topic in the markcomms space for the past decade, where the ever-expanding web, social media platforms and news sources, push notifications and analytics on virtually every aspect of our lives, has led us to consume more content than ever before. It's a topic that many are talking about (ex. Forbes, Salesforce&Vox), but few have managed to resolve.

You are where your attention is and, as it happens, our attention is nowhere and everywhere at once.” -Andrew Sullivan, 2018

For marketers, this creates a challenge— How do you attract and maintain consumer focus amongst record levels of competition, content and distractions? For every campaign you launch, you’re fighting for attention against significantly more than those covered in your standard competitor analysis. When your prospect is scanning their cluttered inbox, your email subject line and preview are stacked and measured up against every other email, open tab, calendar invite, chat message, push notification and absent thought. 

If it sounds like a lot, it is. So how is one to craft a communications strategy that drives action and follow-through? 

Your content needs a hook and I’ve found the perfect test to see if it's effective…

Does your content pass the toddler test?

Growing up with attention deficit, I used to believe I was the ultimate litmus test for captivating content… until I began raising a toddler. Watching him interact with different forms of media has provided an unexpectedly amazing opportunity to study what's successfully capturing and maintaining focus. While zoned out adults will politely hum and nod along, toddlers are brutally honest, making it clear when something doesn’t pass their quality assessment. 

While it’d be reasonable to assume the average adult is more sophisticated than my three year old, many psychological studies disagree. A quick google search of the amygdala or “reptilian brain” will yield countless articles on how primitive our attention span is. The amygdala is self-centered and focuses on avoiding pain. Many advertising experts have already connected its knee-jerk, fight or flight reactions through design tactics like high-contrast and bold colours, and it’s no coincidence that the popular “SUCCESs” storytelling tactics appear to address these needs as well.

Read on to discover my four additions to these existing lists…

1- Personalized & relatable

“Do you see a clue?”  -Blue's Clues & You

Few things capture my son’s attention like an experience that includes him. Shows that talk directly to him? A character that looks like him? A toy with HIS name? Instant wins. These effectively shift passive bystanders to active participants— exactly the change you want to evoke for your audience. 

In marketing, this is a great way to test the power of the second person and make sure your audience’s pains and gains are at the core of your pitch. Where possible, personalize your content. Start with the basics like name and company for early or mass communications like email drips and dig deeper into solvable problems for every consecutive and more narrowly targeted touchpoint afterwards. 

The best part is, these tactics aren’t just helpful for engagement, they expand your reach in channels like email! Personalized emails benefit from significantly higher deliverability, meaning more copies received by prospects and less stuck in spam filters. 

2- Familiarity builds trust

My son has a habit of playing shy with new people, but is outgoing and full of life when he’s around friends and family. Even as adults we trust those we’re familiar with, so why do we tend to ignore this in marketing? Too often, I receive important product announcements or satisfaction surveys from anonymous, generic accounts like “hello@” when it could have been from a representative I’m already connected with.

CRM tools like Hubspot make it easy to tailor the sender name and email to a contact’s sales or customer service rep. Don’t have a CRM with this functionality or any dedicated reps? Try spotlighting yourself or employees from relevant teams as the reply:to email for different campaigns. Both these tactics make your brand more approachable, helping the public connect with those behind the scenes making the magic happen.

3- Fits the need of the moment

My toddler has an alphabet train that he completely ignored for six months. Right as I was preparing to move it to storage, he sat down and played with it for hours. Turns out, he wasn’t in the developmental headspace for learning about the alphabet until just recently. 

Your audience isn’t all that different. Your content or product could be the perfect fit for someone when they’re in the right headspace. Since it can be challenging to know when they’ll be the most receptive, create as many opportunities for discovery as possible. One blog or landing page doesn’t and shouldn’t equate to one email or social post. A large blog (like this one!) can fuel multiple shorter posts, dripping out one key point at a time. There’s often little workload difference in drafting one or multiple social posts, so pre-schedule a full line-up across several weeks all at once. For email, try cross-referencing and linking your content in multiple emails or setting up an automation to resend to those who didn’t receive or open to original message. 

4- Short frames and continuous motion

Some shows and commercials have a knack for turning my child into an absolute zombie... to the point I actually Googled them. Several children’s psychologists attributed this to the mental stimulation created from constantly moving backgrounds and short frames. This can be paralleled to the common adult experience of “doom scrolling” through videos online, where the constant stimulation provides feel-good dopamine spikes in the brain. 

While I’m certainly not recommending serving anything addictive to your audience, there are some key takeaways here. When struggling to capture attention, try shaking up your content format to something shorter and more dynamic. Try swapping still images for short videos and using premade templates to introduce motion. This isn’t to say long form content (like this blog!) doesn’t have its time and place, but it's better suited for sustained attention rather than initial discoverability. 

So, do your communications pass the toddler test? 

What winning tactics do you have in your marketing arsenal? Send me a quick note and let’s chat!