Picture: Unsplash/Ahmed Zayan
Picture: Unsplash/Ahmed Zayan

In an era where people’s ability to focus seems increasingly on par with that of a goldfish, consumers are literally being driven to distraction by the volume and frequency of “stuff” that demands their attention daily.

So how does a brand build, boost and bag the attention of an audience in today’s world?

In the latest instalment of the Future of Media online conference series, host Siya Sangweni picked the brains of his creative panel around the topic of “Fighting through the fog: consumer attention as a scarce commodity”. The Future of Media online conference series is in partnership with Vodacom, EziAds, Primedia Outdoor, The MediaShop, Tilt, WAN-Ifra, The FM Redzone and The Media Online.

Sangweni started the conversation by asking panellist Kendal Zoghby, head of communication strategy at Yellowwood, what one of her biggest consumer behavior or attention challenges were during the pandemic. Zoghby said that at first the biggest challenge was to get people to realise how permanent this is and to be very aware of how consumer journeys were going to be altered because of Covid. “We had to make sure we were now aware of the changes in how people are consuming content, what consumption habits now look like in the home space and what brands people are buying into. So the challenge was really the change in mind shift,” she said.

With consumer habits changing constantly, surely applying the lessons from 2020 will help us gain a better understanding of consumer behavior?

Attention economics is not a new concept,” said Charis Coleman, market engagement manager at Kagiso Media Radio, pointing out that Netflix has 207-million paid subscribers worldwide, and that last year digital users spent on average two hours a day on social media, with estimates that this figure will increase to three hours per day this year.  Coleman explained that businesses and brands have realised that attention is not only a valuable resource, it’s also a currency, and the most valuable resource of the century.  However, “unfortunately, the attention economy has turned humans into products that can be bought or sold, and brands need to entice users to volunteer their attention”, said Coleman.

When it comes to curating relatable content that will make people volunteer their attention, Danny Druion, creative director at Wunderman Thompson, put it simply: “My No 1 rule is to keep it consumer centric and not about the business.” He said to make a real impact, brands need to aim for the extreme and stand out. “Remember, we are preprogrammed to notice what stands out, like a pigeon wearing a bikini.”

Isla Prentis, intelligence lead at Tirisano Consulting, within The MediaShop, said that though being extreme will get you noticed, sometimes less can be more when it comes to attention. She added that whether it’s less or more, the biggest objective should be to cut through the clutter. “Digital users have an attention span of three to five seconds, leaving the advertiser with little to no control. Ultimately, consumers will look for what they want, so a good balance between being extreme and having a focused message is probably the best way to go,” she said.

There are also more “proven” ways to reach and connect with an audience, Coleman pointed out. “We use data to analyse and build real connections. We use the insights gained to guide the content strategy, to help our clients build successful campaigns and to give our audience the best experiences, which in turn helps create brand ambassadors.”

Prentis had advice for brands on what they should do to capture the right type of attention. She said there are so many options out there, all with their pros and cons, but every single option has one starting point: to be customer centric and to focus on the human being.  “Knowledge is easy these days, but understanding is a lot more difficult. Brands need to understand their consumers; by doing that, they will ensure they are getting the right type of attention.”

It’s been said that social media can turn anything into a conversation, but in the context of Covid, social media strategies had to change. Druion spoke about the biggest strategic change in their business: “We needed to uphold the values of consumer centricity and in order to do that, we were interrogating our work all the time. Social media really has become an important way to showcase experiences instead of looking at a platform in an isolated way.”

When advising brands on how to deliver an effective campaign, how to get more with less and how to stand out from the rest, the panellists had these tips:

Zoghby recommended that to deliver an effective campaign, brands should have a good integration plan. Try integrating your communication plan into your creative plan, and that plan into your consumer journey plan. “While integrating everything, remember to keep the customer and human focus at the centre of all your plans.”

Coleman said: “What we’ve done for the past year is test the content, see how it relates, look at how it can be measured and understand how it can be adapted. Remember that not everything will work for every campaign, so sometimes you will need to test, fail and move on.”

Druion mentioned that collaboration also plays a big part in the success of a campaign, especially if you are looking at making sudden changes. “More collaboration will allow you a great understanding of how the ecosystem works, so when things need to change quickly, having a good working relationship with a collaborative partner dissolves any agility challenges there may be.”

He added: “Bravery is often rewarded, whether that’s through success or learnings.”

To watch the full discussion, click here.

The next online event, “Shaping a predictable future for the SA media industry, will be on June 2 2021 at 10am. For more information, or to register, click here.

Big take-out:

Brands need to entice users to volunteer their attention by truly understanding the consumer and giving them the best experience

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