Business has always been about relationships. You need something, I have that something, and you are able to get it from me on mutually agreeable terms. It may be a one-time relationship, or, if the business provides sufficient value, the relationship may last years.With the web, we use content–information—as an essential strategy to reach out to customers to establish and reinforce these relationships. The interesting thing about a successful business/customer relationship is that it is founded on an assumption of relevance. But relevance is a difficult thing to establish these days. This came into clear relief after reading a fascinating post by Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital. Steve coined the term "Attentionomics" to refer to an interesting truism of our times:
"…attention is linked with economic value creation. However, with infinite content options (space) yet finite attention (time) and personalized social algorithms curating it all for us, it's going to be increasingly challenging to stand out."
There are at least three reasons why this 'crisis of attention' makes it difficult for businesses to be relevant to their customers:Relevance is difficult to establish when there is so much content to consume
From blog posts, to tweets, to status updates, videos, email newsletters, texts—technology has empowered businesses and individuals to say a lot, all of the time. How on earth is a business supposed to be the signal in that much noise? Relevance is difficult when content decays
Steve's post sums up some astonishing data from Sysomos and Virtue and TubeMogul about just how quickly content "disappears" online. On Twitter, for instance, 92% of all retweets (and 97% of replies) take place within the first 60 minutes. Clearly, if your intended audience isn't on Twitter when you send a message, they likely won't see it. Same with online videos: More than half of all viewers never make it to 60 seconds. Did you get that critical message in there? Short attention spans coupled with an avalanche of information results in content delay. Relevance is difficult when personalization allows customers to filter
The Google you see, is different from the Google I see. Same with Facebook. Companies are using "social graphs" and "interest graphs" to automatically show you the content they think you want to see. These "graphs" are the collection of people, and interactions you develop online. Google does this through personalized search and priority inbox. Facebook does this throughout their entire site, but particularly through the "feeds" where you consume the activities of the people and brands that you like. New companies like My6Sense are using predictive logic to determine what you want to see. From the marketing and communications perspective, it is a real challenge to achieve relevance when you have to do battle with algorithms tailored to individuals. But then again, the whole "battle" metaphor is part of the problem here. Don't fight your customers–help them. Businesses need to do what they have always done, deliver something of value, and communicate it mindful of Attentionomics. In fact, I would go so far as to say that communicating through the practice of Attenionomics needs to be at the center of a business's communication strategy. Deliver impact with relevance and timeliness
The practice of Attentionomics is here to stay. The only way we can communicate with impact over the long haul is to be relevant and timely. How do we get there?
While there are emerging tools that promise to schedule your communications at the optimal times for consumption, I believe that the age old maxim of listening works best here. It may feel like Social Media 101, but take the time to understand your customers and their media consumption habits. The not-so-hidden bonus here is that by understanding your customers better, you'll actually deliver better value to them as well.
Websites, email campaigns, social media campaigns, donor solicitations – they all improve when subject to testing. By using Google Analytics, social media monitoring, split testing, and other tools, you can accurately–and at great detail–track the effectiveness of your communication efforts. Are you delivering a relevant message? Is your message being seen? Do different types of messages and different delivery schedules produce different results? You don't have to guess. Test.
This is perhaps the most difficult step in my experience, because while companies and organizations like to learn things about customers, they often struggle with synthesizing that information into actions that produce revenue. It needn't be a struggle, however. If you make widgets, and learn that your email newsletter open-rates spike when you showcase customer photos of widgets, go ahead and develop strategies that take that information into account. In other words, don't sit on the information. Do something with it.
You can talk all you want. You can social media message until the cows come home. But if you don't consistently deliver value, both in terms of your products as well as your communications, you're going to struggle. So be awesome. Consistently.
It never ends. If relationships always stayed the same, divorce lawyers would be an endangered species. Things change, people change. What it means to be relevant and timely will change as well.