It seems like we’re stuck with ‘the attention economy,’ despite numerous voices calling out the phenomenon as unhealthy and unfortunate. The term, traced to theoretical physicist Michael Goldhaber’s 1997 announcement that the world’s economy was transitioning from a material-based economy to an attention-based one, is certainly not new, but seems to become more accurate every year.
How can you navigate the attention economy? We’ve certainly got some suggestions, but first, let’s nail down a definition for the attention economy, and see why it’s seemingly here to stay.
The Berkeley Economic Review provides a definition of attention from the American Psychological Association: “A state in which cognitive resources are focused on certain aspects of the environment rather than others.” This definition might sound like a verbose way of saying “focusing on something,” but the point about “certain aspects of the environment rather than others” is crucial.
We don’t pay attention to our surroundings if our brains determine them to be unimportant; this is why witnessing something scary or shocking can cause other details of the moment to fade. If there is a tiger in the room, your brain is no longer paying attention to the color of the ceiling lights, for example. It’s a vestige of an ancient impulse: pay full attention to the threat, or the food, or the area best suited for shelter. Remember this evolutionary element—we’ll be revisiting that in a bit.
Lexie Kane defines attention with a similar emphasis on the exclusionary element: “a selective focus on some of the stimuli that we are currently perceiving while ignoring stimuli from the environment.” Let there be no ambiguity: attention is not an equal-opportunity mind-state.
The exclusivity of attention is at the heart of the attention economy. Kane quotes Goldhaber as saying that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” As the sentiment implies, attention is now a commodity—a currency all its own. And if a brand has your attention, their competitors do not.
Kane goes on to interpret Goldhaber’s thoughts on attention as currency, stating that the prevalence of free online services proves that the modern model demands that “users pay for a service with their attention.” This has led to companies consciously working to keep users on their apps and websites as long as possible, aware that they are in a struggle for “the limited resource of users’ attention in a highly competitive market.”
This battle for user attention has created what some deride as “a culture of perpetual distraction,” in which notifications and pings from social media and subscriptions fight to get and hold our interest, seemingly without end. And since research suggests that it takes us 20 minutes to get back into a steady work rhythm once we’re drawn into our devices, it’s understandable that the attention economy has its share of detractors.
Yes, the borderline subconscious way we check our phones (an average of eighty times a day) doesn’t sound like social progress; nor, for that matter, does the ‘toxic psychology’ that surrounds the need for social validation through ‘likes’ and other social media reward triggers.
But let’s be serious: no number of essays or thought experiments on the downsides of the attention economy will make it go away. People are not going to discard their devices, social media is not going to disappear, and e-commerce gains more and more ground every day. You attention will be of particular interest to companies for the foreseeable.
The answer you organization needs to find is not how to ‘beat’ the attention economy, but to profit within it. To do that, you’ll need to rise above the competition’s efforts to control the attention of consumers. You’ll need to differentiate yourself, and truly be worthy of the prolonged interaction from consumers that translates into dollars in the attention economy.
Importantly, when I refer to rising above the competition, I’m not using ‘competition’ to mean purely the organizations that compete directly with you for your target demographics. They will still be there, to be sure, but as Janessa Lantz points out, “…you are competing with 24/7 global news, Kim Kardashian, the latest internet outrage, and news feeds filled with clickbait.”
In other words, the attention economy makes a competitor out of virtually everybody with a platform, and your marketing and other outreach efforts have a higher hill to climb to attain the attention they need to control.
One sure way to do that is with whiteboard video. Whiteboard has a lot going for it, but in the context of the attention economy, let’s focus on how it can differentiate you from the (sizable) competition, and engage your audiences quickly and lastingly.
First, whiteboard looks different, in the perfect ways. It’s simple, hand-drawn designs, filmed as the artist’s hand creates them on the whiteboard, bring a profound dose of humanity and authenticity to the medium. In a media landscape saturated with flashy computer graphics, garish ads, and endless requests for subscription, likes, and notification signups, it’s hard to find communications that feel… real.
Whiteboard brings that realism, and that’s far from all. When defining ‘attention,’ the evolutionary drivers behind the idea came up earlier—and they’re key to the creation of whiteboard video. At TruScribe, our content is created through the principles of Scribology, a term we’ve coined to describe the design choices that neuroscience and brain studies have proven to be most engaging and retainable.
Engagement is, in many ways, analogous to attention; the engaged mind is not only attentive, but actively seeking more of what it’s seeing or hearing. Whiteboard optimizes engagement through carefully utilizing the evolutionary tendencies of the brain at every level.
The mind is geared towards motion, and seeks out human forms wherever it sees them. This is why whiteboard uses the moving human hand to lock in engagement and maintain it. It’s also why we draw attention to the most important parts of the frame with an accent color, and why we value the surprise involved in creation of onscreen drawings. These are just some of whiteboard’s engagement-boosting abilities.
And while engagement/attention is the first and most important goal in the attention economy, organizations still need viewers to take some next steps. Whether those next steps are conversion and purchase, or simply maintaining engagement with a brand, whiteboard’s principled design features encourage the retention you’ll need from your audience to take action.
The attention economy might not be avoidable, but it’s definitely navigable. With whiteboard video, you can rise above the competition (no matter how much there might be) with substantially more engaging, personal, straightforward messaging. The attention economy may have changed the way organizations view consumers, but keeping up simply requires a tool to get consumers’ most valuable commodity. Get audiences’ attention, and keep it, with whiteboard video.