Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

The Price of Attention & How Demand for it has Outpaced Supply

My previous post on the state of marketing doesn’t reflect random interest. Having put myself out there on the Internet as a professional for a few years, I know unsolicited sales pitches from business development and marketing “gurus” come with the territory. I’ve often thought it might be a good idea to take a cue from Richard Herman, call myself a professional quality attention giver, and set a price for my attention and time ($8.00/minute to read supposedly sly let’s-see-if-I-can-convert-this-friend-into-a-client messages, etc. – Hurry! This generous, promotional rate won’t last!). According to Matthew Gentzkow’s figures in Trading Dollars for Dollars: The Price of Attention Online and Offline however, here’s the actual monetary trend for attention across time and media:

…the price of attention for similar consumers is actually higher online than offline. In 2008, newspapers earned $2.78 per hour of attention in print, and $3.79 per hour of attention online. By 2012, the price of attention in print had fallen to $1.57, while the price for online papers had increased to $4.24. Offline revenue per hour for magazines was similar to newspapers, and offline revenue per hour for television was substantially lower.

This doesn’t account for quality of attention (in terms of intensity and duration) but Thales Teixeira sums this up along with marketers’ attempts to address the situation in The Rising Cost of Consumer Attention: Why You Should Care, and What You Can Do about It:

The quality of consumer attention has been falling for decades… In addition, the price of high quality attention has skyrocketed, increasing as much as nine‐fold in the last two decades. Marketers have responded by advertising more to compensate for this, or by pursuing other means, such as price promotions, to acquire customers. This has adverse effects on both current profits and future revenues. A better solution is to find cheaper attention or increase its conversion into sales.

Teixeira’s  look at large organizations’ internal issues underscores the likelihood that numerous “experts” don’t know what they’re doing:

In most large firms the CMO proposes and defends the marketing budget, the CFO
scrutinizes and allocates the budget, and the CEO oversees the negotiation process and
ultimately approves the budget… CFOs are notoriously skeptical of the demand‐generation activities coordinated by CMOs, argues a recent McKinsey study ([14]), particularly those concerning advertising. According to the authors, the lack of data and lack of rigorous analytical approach, which are present in only a third of proposed marketing campaigns, contributes to constant tension during the budgeting process.

Adobe Systems Incorporated’s DIGITAL DISTRESS: What Keeps Marketers Up at Night?, which is based on survey research of 1,000 U.S. marketers in 2013, presents another scathing view of the situation (as it pertains to digital marketing). Here are findings reflecting the overall situation as well as marketers’ doubts about their skills, effectiveness, and ability to measure impact:

  • Seventy-six percent of respondents [comprised of Marketing Staff (n=499), Marketing Decision Makers (n=436), Digital Marketers (n=263), and Marketing Generalists (n=754)] say marketing has changed more in the past 2 years than the past 50.

  • Only 48% of digital marketers and 37% of marketing generalists feel highly proficient in digital marketing.

  • Most digital marketers lack formal training; 82% learn on the job.

  • Only 9% of respondents strongly agree with the statement “I know our digital marketing is working.”

So I believe my skepticism towards those who’ve hoped to get business out of me is justified. However, this situation where most people have to figure out ways to efficiently reach their intended audience remains, and even non-marketing professionals desire to promote something online (services, products, messages, ideas, etc.). Given the scarcity of quality attention, how does one maximize content sharing? Teixeira’s findings on likelihood of sharing content according to personality traits and contextual conditions follow:

[E]xtroverted (versus introverted) people are more likely to share an ad, and they are more likely to share it broadly with many people. Counter to expectations, self‐directed people (versus others‐directed) are more likely to share ads and to do so broadly. We found that the ads that were highly shared got in the hands of self‐interested people, those focused on themselves as opposed to others. [Teixeira] did find that some viewers shared funny ads altruistically, some of the time. But by and large, the majority of views originated from a sharer with a high degree of self‐interest.

When it comes to propagating viral ads, anyone with the ”right” personality can be an influencer. The ads most shared also had a special characteristic; they used content that enabled the self‐interested person to benefit personally and gain some element of social capital from the act of sharing. For example, these ads boosted the sharer’s social status by allowing them to communicate their values to others, to foster a tribal relationship based on an inside joke, to be seen as someone with privileged access to good content, or even to show that they were the center of attention…

When marketers stop asking “what do I want to achieve from the advertisement?” and
start asking “what can my consumers achieve if they share the advertisement?” they then start the process of creating truly consumer‐centered advertising…

Do any of these findings surprise you? What are your thoughts on these recommendations?

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