Your long-term success depends on winning the attention of others. If your boss doesn’t notice your work, how will you get a promotion? If your team doesn’t listen to you, how can you lead effectively? And if you can’t capture the attention of clients, how does your business or career survive?
“Attention is the most important currency that anybody can give you,” Steve Rubel of Edelman once told me. “It’s worth more than money, possessions or things.”
But very few people know the science behind captivating others. That’s why I spent two years researching the subject for my new book. I sifted through more than 1,000 psychology, neurology, economics, and sociology studies. I interviewed dozens of leading researchers and attention-grabbing thought leaders, including Sheryl Sandberg, Steven Soderbergh, and David Copperfield, just to name a few. And I drew on my years of experience with startups, both as co-Editor of Mashable and a venture capitalist.
Marketers in today’s always-connected, information-rich world face an enormous challenge: A consumer’s brain can hold only so much information before it becomes fatigued. A person’s attention span is unavoidably scarce, and with the explosion of information available in our hands every day through personal devices, mobile marketers are fighting big odds to reach and engage their audiences.
Teixeira has calculated the cost of attention to have jumped seven- to nine-fold in real terms since 1990, making it the most dramatic business expense increase in the last 25 years. The solution? Teixeira urges marketers to consider how they can capture attention in a cost effective way.
Automaticity. If somebody fires a gun in the air, you’re going to turn your head. If a female hitchhiker wears red, she’s more likely to get picked up. Sensory cues like these to direct our attention automatically. It’s a safety and survival mechanism that helps us react faster than our brains can think. I’m not suggesting you speak louder than everyone else and always wear crimson dresses or socks. But think about more subtle ways to play on people’s instincts to capture attention. For example, try giving a star prospect or client a hot cup of coffee or tea. One study published in Science found that exposure to that kind of warmth made them more giving and friendly.
Framing. Our view of the world is shaped by our biological, social, and personal experiences and biases. These frames of reference lead us to embrace and pay attention to some ideas and to ignore others entirely. To leverage this trigger, you have to either adapt to your audience’s frame or change it. One technique you might use to achieve the latter is repetition. A classic study from the 1970s found that if you expose subjects to the same statement (e.g. “Tulane defeated Columbia in the first Sugar Bowl game.”) repeatedly, they will start to believe it is true. So don’t be afraid to repeat a message if you want it to sink in.
By definition, a limited resource has value, making it a currency. This economic concept, called attention economics, treats human attention as a scarce commodity because a person only has so much of it. Moreover, the more information that is available, the more expensive attention becomes.
With a passion for the economics of attention, Harvard Business School Associate Professor Thales Teixeira has conducted research and published findings on how to leverage this limited resource. He promotes a scientific rigor to allow for a dependable, repeatable process that helps marketers engage more effectively with their audiences. His studies have centered largely around on-air and online video ads, but his findings are relevant to capturing attention with omnichannel and retention marketing strategies and on consumers’ mobile phones, where attention is even more fragmented.
Reputation. Consumers consistently rate experts as the most trusted spokespeople, more than CEOs or celebrities. There’s a scientific reason for this: in a 2009 study, Emory University neuroeconomist Greg Berns found that the decision-making centers of our brains slow or even shut down while we are receiving advice from an expert. This is a phenomenon Dr. Robert Cialdini calls “directed deference.” So, especially if you’re trying to capture the attention of people who don’t know you, feel free to lead with your credentials, establish your expertise and cite others who are most knowledgeable on the topic at hand.