The attention economy and what it means for your business

Have you heard of the attention economy?

This relatively new term is used to describe the business of a customer's attention. Attention may not be as tangible a resource as something like cash, but it's a resource all the same. This is because, as Matthew Crawford so aptly says, a person only has so much of it.

As a business, your first port of call—before you can even consider converting your audience into customers—is to capture their attention. And here's the thing. Consumers are drowning in the noise of competing businesses. All of whom are vying for their attention.

Delfina Forstmann appropriately compared it to the experience of walking through a bazaar somewhere in Asia. As you meander through the tents, hawkers peddle their wares at you. Some yell, some follow, others push products into your hands. More often than not, you don't go to the bazaar to buy anything in particular. You usually end up buying something all the same. And this purchase is most often based upon an impression of a personable experience with the merchant and a lingering perception that what they were offering was set at a reasonable price for the quality of the goods.

The attention economy in eCommerce

In the online world, the attention economy dictates who (which friends, businesses, influencers or accounts) or what (which products, services, content or memes) we give our attention to. Throughout our day, each of us is bombarded with over 3000 advertising messages. We aren't consciously aware of it. Many of these we may not really 'see' as our attention is elsewhere when our eyes run over them. But some will pierce through the white noise and capture us strongly enough that we focus our attention on what we are looking at. This is the ultimate goal.

The shortening attention span

Globally, attention spans are shortening. In fact, humans now collectively have a shorter attention span than goldfish do. The average attention span for us is around 8.25 seconds. For goldfish? It's 9. Oh the irony.

As a business, this means that not only do you need to account for the noise in the attention economy, you also need to account for your audiences' dwindling attention span. How?

  1. Think short, sharp and punchy.
  2. Don't be verbose or overly wordy when not necessary.
  3. You can still create long form content but only if it's genuinely helpful.
  4. Edit, edit, edit.
  5. Use design to catch the eye and fun, entertaining content to engage.

And what about catching the attention of your audience in the first place? Well, there are two trains of thought here.

  1. Create more content
  2. Create more silence

Creating more content

According to this particular way of thinking, businesses will benefit from making the switch from advertising to content marketing. The trick here is to shift to a more targeted and individualised approach and to meet your audience where they spend most of their time—social media. And then to create as much content as you can. If this feels like the direction for you and you need some inspiration, here's a bunch of social media content ideas that may help.

Creating more silence

According to Matthew Crawford, silence is now a luxury good. The absence of advertising has become so uncommon that it now feels genuinely luxurious when we chance upon it. Of course, in the business world, we can't not position ourselves to be seen. Marketing is necessary. True silence isn't an option or we may as well not exist.

However, you can take the essence of silence and build that into your brand. Think minimalistic design and specific, targeted spaced out marketing over loud, busy and the constant hounding your audience. Your aim is to become a beacon of quiet in the cacophony of the marketplace and therefore a welcome respite from the noise to your audience.

Related insights