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The CMO's Guide to the Attention Economy

In today's saturated digital landscape, where consumers are bombarded with information from all angles, attention is the most valuable currency. That means, for Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), understanding the dynamics of content and attention is no longer a nice to have; it's an absolute necessity.

However, with this unique challenge comes a huge opportunity for those brands that are able to break through the noise and as a result create meaningful connections with their audience.

In this article, we're going to take a look at some of the basics of the attention economy. In addition, I'm going to provide some of the learnings that have helped me along the way - and hopefully will help you to navigate this new terrain, grab attention, and drive sustainable growth.

Let's dive in!


Understanding the Attention Economy

The attention economy refers to the competitive marketplace where businesses vie for the limited attention spans of their target audiences. Basically, the idea is that:

  • Attention is scarce: Consumers are constantly inundated with content, making their attention a finite and highly sought-after resource.
  • Time is precious: People have limited time to engage with content, so grabbing their attention quickly is crucial.
  • Relevance is key: Content must be relevant, personalized, and valuable to resonate with audiences and hold their attention.

Put simply, everybody is competing for attention regardless of industry, product, or service.


The CMO's Evolving Role

While in the past, CMOs may have been responsible for specific and more brand oriented functions, now they are expected to be:

  • Growth drivers: Responsible for driving business growth through strategic marketing initiatives.
  • Data analysts: Adept at leveraging data to inform decision-making and measure marketing ROI.
  • Customer advocates: Champions of the customer experience, ensuring that marketing efforts align with customer needs and expectations.

However, perhaps most importantly, CMOs are expected to be attention experts, skilled at understanding how to capture and retain the attention of target audiences through content.

That's one reason why AdWeek has dubbed Social Media Managers the future CMOs as they are already doing the job of creating attention and connecting with a wide range of customers.


The Content and Attention Connection

Content is the fuel that powers the attention economy. It's the vehicle through which brands communicate their messages, engage audiences, and build relationships.

However, not all content is created equal and to succeed today, CMOs must focus on creating content that is:

  • High-Quality: Content that is well-thought out and executed with your audience in mind.
  • Relevant: Content that speaks directly to the needs and interests of your audience.
  • Engaging: Content that captivates and holds the attention of your audience.
  • Shareable: Content that is worthy of being shared on social media and other channels.
  • Consistent: Content that is delivered regularly and maintains a consistent brand voice and message.

With these points in mind, let's take a look at some strategies for winning the attention game.


Strategies for Winning the Attention Game

While there are many different strategies to succeed and win the attention game, here are a few that I believe are most important.

  1. Understand Your Audience: A bit of a given but go beyond just who they are and look at what do they use, watch, or consume. Figure out how you can leverage this to make your content more interesting and relevant to them.
  2. Make It Interesting: This goes hand in hand with understanding your audience but produce content that they will find interesting. If the content is boring, nobody will pay attention no matter what algorithm or hack you try to use.
  3.  Prioritize Content with a Belief or Stance: Wharton Professor Jonah Berger said it best, "When we care, we share" describing the fact that we tend to share content that evokes high arousal emotions - basically things that make us feel strongly (either positively or negatively). Creating content centered around a strong stance that fits your brand and intended audience can be a great way to not only gain attention but create a sense of community.
  4.  Have a Plan for Distribution: Biggest mistake I see with content, but you shouldn't just "post and pray". Have a plan for how to get and amplify your content plus the message.
  5.  Go Narrow and Deep: Don't try to be successful on every medium or channel - prioritize one and crush it. Having 1M followers on one channel makes it much easier to build up your next versus having 1000 followers on 5 channels.
  6.  Experiment & Scale: Try new things, look at the data to decide what's working then figure out how to scale it.

Examples of this in Practice

Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign featured women of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. It challenged traditionally accepted norms of beauty and in turn prompted a conversation that centered around their brand while capturing the attention of millions worldwide.

REI's blog, social media channels, and email newsletters are packed with inspiring stories, tips, and advice for outdoor enthusiasts. The information and tips are highly relevant and interesting to their core audience.

Duolingo's belief that learning should be fun is reinforced with their highly entertaining mascot on social media.

While all of these examples are VERY different, they demonstrate how each of these brands were able to capture attention in their own way while staying true to themselves and their audience.

The Future of Content and Attention

As new technologies for producing and distributing content emerge in the coming years, the noise is only going to increase making it even more difficult to stand out. Fortunately, the tips above are future-proof and no matter will be relevant regardless of new platforms, AI technologies, or whatever else is around the corner.

Learn to implement these in your content creation and over time you will be able to command attention for your brand.