You are giving away your most precious resource, and it is hurting your business
Information overload has made your attention a valuable commodity
I found an astonishing website today. It is called Worldometer, and it updates various world statistics in real-time. I found the site while looking for figures on the amount of content thrown at us every day. Here is the astonishing part—in the past ten hours, the world has produced:
- Nearly 4 million blog posts
- 120 billion emails
- 364 million tweets
Imagine what those numbers might be by the end of the day. Or by the end of next week. Or next year. The numbers on the counters fly by so fast that lower numbers are a blur. So have a look for yourself. It will make quite an impression.
How much of this content heap was intended for you? Is your inbox clogged with email? How many tweets did you get today? How about Facebook messages? Did you read or post a blog? Do you find that whenever you do a Google search, ads relevant to your search miraculously appear in your sidebar?
And, what about your customers? Is your message (or your listing or your auction) getting lost in the abundance of noise? How much of your customers’ reading is factually incorrect?
Information is unlimited. Attention is scarce.
In 1999, business luminary Peter Drucker wrote an article for Atlantic Magazine titled Beyond the Information Revolution. He predicted that the Information Revolution of the late 20th Century would sprout roots and become an Information Economy. The subsequent growth of eCommerce proved him correct.
But we’ve moved on from there. Information is abundant. Too abundant, many would say. Content marketing, pay-per-click ads, email drip campaigns, and tracking algorithms bury us in information that we never searched for. Indeed, free social media has transformed our attention into a product.
The Information Economy has mutated into the Attention Economy. Before anything can be sold, marketers must first get our attention. Promoters of every ilk—from soap sellers to politicians—buy our data. Our computers and smartphones track our every move so advertisers can bang their drums with the hope of getting our attention. This wealth of information is designed to consume the attention of viewers.
The new business battleground is the Attention Economy
But attention is scarce. We are bombarded with so many messages in a day that our brains do what they were built to do: quickly scan each message looking for threats or rewards. Our focus is scattered. Marketers have no more than the blink of an eye to get our attention. Attention is the limiting factor, not information. In their 1996 book Rules of the Net, Thomas Mandel and Gerard Van der Leun wrote:
“Attention is the hard currency of cyberspace.”
Or this from Natasha Dow Schull, author of Addiction by Design, in The Guardian:
“In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention which is measured in clicks and time spent.”
Sherlock Holmes’ lesson for our Attention Economy
In A Study in Scarlet, Dr. Watson is surprised by Holmes’ ignorance of Copernican theory. He asks Holmes why he never studied such fundamental science. Holmes replied:
“There comes a time when, for every addition of knowledge, you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
Of course, this isn’t the case. But I take Sherlock’s point: We must focus. We must consciously decide where our attention will go. If we don’t choose, others will choose for us. The new currency of the Attention Economy is (of course) attention. It’s your most valuable asset. So we must learn to manage it in the way we manage our time and our money. We can give it away, or we can spend it wisely.
Action items for survival in the Attention Economy
As consumers, we must discipline ourselves to cull unwanted messages from our social and email feeds (no small task, I’ll admit). Block email addresses that spam you. Learn to recognize clickbait and do not respond to it. When you get the urge to click, ask yourself if the subject is worthy of your time. On social media, click or tap only items that you are genuinely interested in. Do not succumb to friends’ requests to play a game, participate in a survey, or answer silly questions about what you did in “the good old days.” Doing so gives the algorithms permission to send you more of the same.
As business owners, we must be careful not to overwhelm customers with unnecessary content. For the past twenty years, marketing gurus have told us that “content is king.” In 2021, attention is king. So, for the sake of your business, keep things simple. Do not post content just to get something up on your website. Posts must be timely and relevant.
Your website home page should address your customer’s primary concern in just a few sentences. Don’t waste time telling them how great you are or how long you have been in business. They don’t care. They are there for themselves, not you.
Here are 4 specific tactics for delivering your message to customers:
1. Local focus
Don’t try to take on the mega-sites. David beat Goliath in the Bible, but in commerce, the little guy usually gets crushed. Work your local market. You can be sure that the Big Guys don’t have the resources to work every local market in the U.S. In their classic book Marketing Warfare, authors Al Ries and Jack Trout call this a flanking move—doing something that your competitors either will not or cannot do. If you own a brick-and-mortar store, host a regular open house, or set up a meeting room for local clubs. Show off your new inventory on YouTube videos and post them to your website. Have a local antiques appraisal event. If you are an online or show seller, buy table space at local fairs. Join the Chamber of Commerce, or Rotary, or other civic organizations. Be seen.
2. Multichannel selling
As you strive to claim your home market, include a multichannel selling strategy in your efforts. After all, there are more customers outside of your home market than in it. My column 6 Ways to Boost Antiques Sales With Multichannel Retailing provides a primer on the topic.
3. Content curation
Chances are, you keep up with what’s happening in the antiques business. You know the latest top auction prices, recent top-sellers, where to find collectors clubs, and so on. When you find an article that might interest your customers, add it to your website. You will save them time and focus their attention. They will appreciate being included in your inner circle.
Don’t duplicate the content. Instead, offer a paragraph or so of your thoughts as an introduction (or have a writer do it). Then, copy and paste the first 100 words of the article, followed by a “read more” tag. Finally, link the “read more” to the original article. In their content curation discussion, Bytes Technolab says that a good rule of thumb for a website is 60% curated to 40% original content.
4. Content format
Digital content is often seen as less valuable than printed content. But, I would rather pay $15 for a print-on-demand paperback than download the same information on a free PDF. Be assured that if a customer signs up for your printed newsletter, they will read it when it arrives. Yes, this is more expensive than an email newsletter. But, print has a 3%-5% response rate, vs. a ½ of 1% for email. Increased sales will more than pay for the cost of a print newsletter.
Focus is the key to survival in the Attention Economy
Information is increasing exponentially. Marketers will become more aggressive in their slicing and dicing of the data they collect. Their attention will be focused on getting our attention. We can give it to them—for free—or become hyper-aware of where we focus our attention and what content we present to our customers. That is the way it is. That is the new normal.
Wayne Jordan is WorthPoint’s Senior Editor. He is the author of four books: The Business of Antiques published by Krause Books, Antique Mall Profits for Dealers and Dabblers, Consignment Gold Rush: the Ultimate Startup Guide and Relocate for Less published by Learning Curve Books. He is a regular contributor to a variety of antiques trade publications. He blogs at sellmoreantiques.net.
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