The (St)art of Attention

- by Ross Thornley


Let’s lay it out there – Google is your number one, two, three competitor, the one you need to have a special focus on. The one that has unlimited reach, money, influence. And the one that is not only involved in the market that you inhabit but builds and manages the platform that your digital offering sits on, tracks what happens on it and has created the metrics that you measure yourself against…

In any other industry the monopolies and mergers commission would put a stop to its control. But in the digital industry — a horizontal market which today straddles every other conceivable marketplace, the lines between control and competition, ease of service access and complacency can sometimes become blurred but more often are ignored in the race to keep up in the race to a digital Shangri-La.

Why is Google your competition? How on earth can a global monolith be a serious competitor to you? Your competition are the guys that sell the same things you do, provide the same services you do, work in the same market as you and even in the same location — right?

Well, partially right. It is worth considering that Google competes with you on a number of levels but I would (for the purposes of not turning this post into an essay) like to focus on two related points;

  1. They compete with you for your potential customers attention and not just in the obvious YouTube videos of cats tap dancing on a washing machine (you’ve seen that?). Attention is the most valuable commodity of the ‘modern’ web user, gaining it is hard and maintaining it is even harder. Capture a users attention and you increase the likelihood of the user engaging with you — whatever measure of engagement you use. The level of distraction, choice, services and sheer size and scale of the web mean that users are ever transient in their use of digital — be this a website, social media platform, app or piece of software. Where can customers locate and gain access to these competing tools? Google.
  2. They compete with you in respect of their (seemingly) core service — search. A customer can go to Google and find out, the same information and services that you provide for free. As an example — if you are an organisation that acts as a professional listing or directory service and charges a fee to access the information then you can be sure that a large part of the information you provide will be available for free elsewhere and accessible via Google. Sure, the information may not be of the same quality, but the core information will be — and more importantly — it will be of a good enough quality for a customer to be motivated to continue their ‘free’ quest. In addition, this strength of search clearly also ‘results’ in customers being able to find your historical competition on search — and if they have paid Google or invested internally in good SEO resource they will appear in a more prominent position that yourself.

So, how to counter this challenge? Give all your information and services away for free? Put content on your website or on your Social Media channels that has nothing to do with your business but creates a spark of interest? Pay Google money for PPC advertising or invest in a senior SEO resource to level the playing field? Well yes  –  you could do that and indeed many companies have taken that scattergun approach to online engagement and achieved a level of success.

My own thought is that the answer lies in understanding your existing and potential customers as individuals and moulding your offering around them. Not rocket science hey? Not even remotely clever  –  but actually in practice incredibly hard to do properly.

Understanding your customers in detail enables you to understand what will attract and retain their attention. So, you will have undoubtedly a customer database and some level of information about buying history and propensity. More than likely you may have been sold a piece of software that does this for you or maybe even a number of different pieces of software…

As a starting point how about look into these systems from a different perspective — are there any clues within the data that may indicate trends in respect of attention? For example:

  • Accessing the website or an app on a mobile? Smaller, quicker transactions and interactions (marketing content) may be the order of the day for such users.
  • Accessing the website at a certain time of day  –  over lunch maybe? Well, maybe showing slightly longer content — maybe in the form of a slightly fun video  –  may be just the release and attention retainer that the customer needs.

The customer telephones you up for an enquiry? Phone them back, talk to them  –  be human and create a relationship based on mutual interest  – don’t just send them an email and then an automated follow up. That does not gain attention it creates disinterest and frustration.

These simple (albeit example) approaches then naturally generate a level of communication between those that have been in contact with you and those that may be in the future. Social media conversations, recommendations, word of mouth are all (now) automatic human reactions to a receipt of good, attentive service.

These will happen through an understanding of your customers from the initial measurable objective of gaining just a small part of their attention. Focusing on gaining customers attention can often come as a result of recognising that Google is your number one competitor.

Gaining and maintaining customer attention (through understanding them in attentive detail)  –  pulls (and keeps) them away from other providers for just a little longer, generates conversation and contact between existing and potential customers and organically creates interest and therefore improved visibility in search results. Focusing on one challenge posed by Google (attention) has the effect of enabling solutions for the other (visibility).

Give customers attention to gain their attention and I think you can move into the next phase of the digital revolution with confidence and an understanding of where to invest your own attention.

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