brands and the quest for attention

I’ve been doing marketing in some fashion, at different levels and in varying fields and industries for over 10 years. I’ve led brand initiatives, social media and content marketing strategies, advertising and media plans, experiential campaigns and activations, influencer programs, and a range of other digital endeavors, to name a few. And I’ve done it on both the client and agency side. From this decade-plus of time and the many experiences I’ve lived through – I’ve found one above-all-others truth in marketing today…

It’s all about getting the consumers’ attention.

You might read that and say, “Duh, everyone knows that.” Do they? Really? It’s an unbelievably simple concept when you boil it down, but I’ve found it to be remarkably overlooked or dodged throughout my career, and at some very large, well-known brands. It’s one of those things that every marketer might have kind of locked away in their brain somewhere, for that “duh” moment, but it’s so obvious and on your nose that it gets missed; buried under all the other fancy, fluffy, hot metrics that define marketing success today, you know, the things that are so campaign-focused that they might even miss the bigger picture?

At the end of the day, your brand needs eyeballs. Yes. But when they get those eyeballs, do people lock on? Are they paying attention? You might be measuring impressions and/or reach. You might be looking at engagement that happens beyond the impression, whatever that means for your specific campaign or tactic. So?

Marketing today, quite frequently, is narrowly focused on the medium at hand. “This is a social media campaign.” Or, “we want to drive people to the website with this one.” Or taking it even more specific – “This campaign is all about getting people to share something with our brand on Instagram.” At the end of the fun, after all the media dollars spent to get your Insta campaign out there, you see you got a bunch of submissions or whatever you were trying to get. Pat yourself on the back, call it a raging success? For the sake of social media success? Is that what helps the bigger picture for your brand? Maybe for a blip, sure. But what happens when Instagram is no longer cool?

Forget about the medium for a second and think about this – regardless of where and how you interact with your consumers and reach those eyeballs, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about where, it’s all about if they’re watching. Or reading. Are they noticing you? That’s the holy marketing grail as we approach 2017.

Ten years ago there was no true social media marketing the way it is today and has been for several years now. There were no Twitter contests or Facebook apps or Instagram hashtag campaigns. You couldn’t buy your way into “engagement” that many brands still call true success. Quick engagement whether through social or even a coupon redemption doesn’t mean they really cared. It also doesn’t mean they didn’t care. But I can tell you from running countless similar campaigns – they likely didn’t. They took the bait and moved on with their life. Meanwhile you and your brand team were high-fiving and hugging.

There is so much content out there whether that be on social news feeds and timelines, natively through a Buzzfeed or Mashable, worked into a Netflix Original, during a mobile video game, or even on a digital billboard. It’s everywhere. Reach and impressions don’t mean nearly as much anymore. Our eyeballs are trained to not care in today’s world. Or we’re trained to simply skip over the noise.

This is why I still absolutely love REI’s #optoutside. You might have seen it on social media. Or perhaps on TV. Maybe an article about it in a magazine. Actually, since it was something so many people actually, truly cared about, you probably saw something about it shared by a friend of yours or an influencer you trust. This movement wasn’t about a medium or one tactic and wasn’t trying to get people to create one quick action. And in thinking wayyyyy outside the box on this one, they got people to stop and look at what they were doing. It’s as if they approached it from day one when coming up with the idea with “what can we do to make people pay attention to us?” versus a “what can we do to get people to really interact with our social media?”

In doing it with the bigger picture in mind, all that social media interaction and the engagement brands strive for, happens anyway.

Engagement is important, don’t get me wrong, and it can still absolutely be something your brand wants to get out of a campaign and that’s measured. But much of the same “engagement” today is what brands were trying to generate five years ago. It’s a different world now. It’s no longer just about the eyeballs and the quick action, it’s not about clicks or likes. It’s truly about fighting for the consumers’ attention. Brands are competing for time on those many screens, all those binge-watched shows, in those news feeds and everywhere else in between. There’s less and less attention to go around.

It’s where reach meets that engagement. It’s the sweet spot in the middle.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Facebook, Snapchat, a TV commercial, an email or a flash-mob at the mall. Are you getting people to notice? It’s the hardest thing in marketing today: Getting consumers to pay attention.

Peel away the many layers of tactics and mediums of campaigns and get back to the most essential and basic concept first. Nothing is more important in today’s world of marketing.




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