Turning The Volume Up Won’t Get You More Attention

Recently, I was asked to comment on the impact of attention scarcity in modern marketing.  It was for an eBook on The Attention Economy sponsored by the people at LookbookHQ.  The eBook is really outstanding, with some very interesting views from a wide range of sales and marketing leaders.  I encourage you to take a look at it.

As a sample, I thought I’d provide the text of my piece in the article.  It follows below:

Some years ago, I was in Nairobi on business. In the morning, as I walked out of my hotel, I was surrounded by dozens of children (and some that looked as though their childhood was long past). All were jumping up and down, waving their arms and screaming “Me, Me, Me….” And yes, a couple of them were trying to pick my pocket or wrestle my briefcase out of my hand.

Today, I feel as though most of the marketing and sales world emulates those children: Everyone is jumping up and down trying to catch my attention, yelling “Me, Me, Me,…,” and sadly a few are trying to pick my pocket.

It’s fairly easy to ignore those messages. I mark them as SPAM in my email and ignore phone calls from people I don’t recognize. The customer’s sophistication in leaning how not to pay attention increases at almost the same rate as the marketer’s clever new ideas and approaches to try to capture that attention.

But for the most part, to address this lack of attention, what sales and marketers do is just turn up the volume, figuratively and literally. The number of messages across all channels skyrockets – the content hasn’t improved, but the volume simply increases.

Customers filter that out, as well.

Theoretically, we know the answer to this: It’s relevance, impact and meaning.

Sadly, the practice is far from the theory. Recently, I read research on email marketing: 42% of email marketers use no targeting techniques at all; 37% use limited targeting.

What this data says is that as much as we talk about relevance, impact and meaning, all we are doing is jumping up and down, waving our hands and shouting “Me, Me, Me….”

Modern marketers and sellers concerned about the issue of attention scarcity implicitly believe they deserve, or have earned, the attention of the customer or prospect. Yet the behaviors and practices of modern marketers and sellers demonstrate that they don’t deserve the attention they crave.

I believe there is an attention scarcity problem, but it’s felt by customers! Sales and marketing are busy saying “Me, Me, Me…,” but spending scarce time in understanding what challenges their customers face as enterprises and individuals and what solutions they need.

Customers aren’t being engaged in relevant or impactful conversations about the issues they face. While sales and marketing have tremendous tools they can leverage to research and understand the enterprises and individuals they are targeting, only a few do. I suppose it’s too much work to be relevant, timely and impactful. It’s far easier to send 100s and 1000s of generic messages, hoping to get some response.

Yet customers want us to solve the attention scarcity problem. They are so busy managing the day-to-day, they seldom have an opportunity to question, “Are we missing something? Are there ways we can improve? Are there opportunities we should be exploiting? Can we be better?”

Customers are eager to learn – but about the things they care about, in terms that are specific, relevant and impactful to them.

We can solve that problem. We can solve the customer attention scarcity problem – separating ourselves from everyone else. But we have to do the work.

We have to know what problems we are the best in the world at solving (being honest with ourselves), then focus on customers who have those problems and not waste our time on anyone else.

We have to leverage the great marketing, sales and analytic tools available to reach the right people with the right message at the right time. We have the capability, particularly with sales, to tailor an approach that is specific to the individual and enterprise, to engage them in specific discussions about them and their business.

We just have to do the work.

The most effective way to get customers to pay attention is to first pay attention to them!

Be sure to take a look at the eBook, The Attention Economy.  Thanks to the folks at LookbookHQ for asking my participation.

A version of this post was published on Partners in Excellence Blog.

Photo Credit: Guitarras en venta Colombia Flickr via Compfight cc