The next differentiator for the attention economy

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash

After the attention economy

After we have given our attention, then what? How do (the ubiquitous) they keep it? How do they turn that 7 seconds into lasting impressions? Turn 7 seconds into 70 or 700 or…?

Thirty years in marketing has taught me two strategies that work over any length of time:

Show that you care.

Make it addictive.

It’s the first one I want to focus on here, although more about #2 below (spoiler: FB). Name a product you like, one of your go-to's. Clothes, toys, stuff, entertainment, cars, social media, unsocial media, food, you name it.

Why are they your go-to stuff?

Because they have proven that they care about you. Maybe you personally, these days. Even if not quite that personal, those companies provide an experience (whether that’s a good or service) that fills a need of yours consistently over time. In non-commercial life, who consistently fulfills your needs? Friends, family — your inner circle (whatever that may look like). And what makes them special? They care about you. And they make sure you know it.

Making a great brand is like friendship in reverse: friends and families care about you, so they fill your needs, which makes you care about them. A great brand will fill your needs in order to tap into that same brain process (“they fill my needs, so they must care about me…”). And beyond filling your needs, a great brand will anticipate them. In a UI (“Oh, there’s already a button for that…”), in a product line (“Ahh, just what I needed…”), and in their customer experience (“Wow, that was great…”).

Because of that track record, we also trust that they will continue to offer a great experience, make it better, and make new stuff that’s good, too. We’ll try new things from them because we assume that the same aesthetic or thinking (or both) went into products from those brands; their design or functionality or specific features are consistently above the bar (think Apple’s influence on how consumer products are even packaged).

They make us feel cared for. Our needs anticipated. Someone took the time to think about our experience and what else we might want and put it in easy reach. They also took the time to put that learning into their product or customer experience.

They care. Or, at least, let’s say that our interests align. I want a Coke and they make it easy to get and give me exactly what I want. It’s in both our interests for me to feel cared about. It sells me that Coke and makes me more likely to buy more in the future.

Today the practice of implementing that kind of thought is called Design Thinking and, ultimately, that is a vehicle for a company to show us that they care. They take the time, energy, focus, and resources to learn what we need. Then they provide it elegantly. They show us that they care about our experience and we respond.

Because everybody wants to feel cared about.

The Facebook problem

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

Seen through this lens, it is easy to see why FB is having such rapidly escalating problems; they have proven repeatedly that they don’t care. Not about us anyway. Which is one of the ironies of the technology industry these days; how can they not care about us? We are the entire source of their business. We are not only their customers, we are their product, too. How can they not care? We are the source of all of their revenue. But, because they show repeatedly that they don’t care, if a caring (and ethical) competitor came along tomorrow, FB’s future would be brief indeed.

That may be the case anyway. FB has crossed a line that very few people seem to acknowledge (in public, anyway): rather than earning our trust through caring about our experiences, they coerced it from us using the (at the time) newly understood processes of addiction. Far from the first ones to do this, the confluence of technologies allowed them to do it at a level never foreseen and it’s having effects that are unpredictable (which makes me have to ask, “what’s next?).

Your local heroin dealer doesn’t have care about their customers’ experiences. FB chose to design a user experience that leverages the same addictive pathways to get us hooked on a (marginal) product that may not be so good for us.

Whatever affect FB may be having on the world, their business model reduces our human value to our data and our transactions and it leaves most of us feeling a bit like we need a shower.

Who cares? GE.

As of this writing (7/31/19), is a great example of a website created to care for its customers (or, in this case, visitors, as probably doesn’t attract lots of GE customers).

Why do I say this?

It’s certainly possible that someone just came on this design suddenly and it just worked really well, but…probably not. Likely this was a product of lots of thought about the site and understanding how people are using it. I anticipate that they went through something like this thought process:

GE is a big company with thousands of products. Anyone already doing business with GE will know to go to a part of GE’s site that is appropriate for them.

Anyone coming to their home page is looking for something…something they may not know even exists. What’s the easiest way to help them? Give them a big search bar. Do people want anything else from that page? Probably not.

As a company, GE wanted their home page to, of course, make a good showing of their global scope and range of products. The answer?

A beautiful page with an opening line that is a friendly and compelling message: “What can we help you find?” Limited copy that still shows the breadth of GE, and images that support that mission.

Simple. Easy to use and understand. A beautiful environment to be in.

This is GE showing they care about each of us. They provide a great experience. And…

No shower needed. A much better outcome.

Storyteller, seeker, always curious, work-in-progress

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