So You Want (A Piece) Of My Attention

Perfect day in #NYC via aberkson

Back in 2011 I was trying to get a handle on the rapidly increasing velocity and agility of communications. Instagram was a new toy with a paltry market value south of $100 million, Android was changing the face of mobile, and Google+ was the new kid on the block.  It was posing a challenge for marketers as they struggled to find ways to get attention on a given channel, but they were also coming to the realization that the attention was no longer where they thought it was. And that’s the challenge today. Marketers want my attention, but it’s increasingly difficult to figure out where it is!

Marcom professionals today talk about “multi-channel” to describe strategies for reaching and communicating with customers. But that just doesn’t feel right to me. I look at my post-Millennial children — called plurals — and how they communicate. The things I took for granted as a kid — living by the TV schedule in the days before VCR’s (let alone DVR’s), having a “home” phone number that we all shared (and had a busy signal  when it was in use), and having to stay up late to catch an old movie on TV — are alien to them. They have very little conscious awareness of a TV programming schedule, everyone they know has her own telephone, and they can watch pretty much anything they want, at any time.

Back in the old days there was something called Nielsen Ratings and brands used them to figure out when and what I was going to watch on TV. Magazines and newspapers did surveys to determine the demographics of who was reading their publications which were then used by brands to figure out what I might be reading. Why? So they could know where my attention was and pay for a piece of it.

Today, brands talk about channels, second screen experiences, and targeted advertising. I feel like we need to get past the word channel when it comes to communications and media. Channel implies structure and a linearity of communications. Communication is less linear than it’s ever been. I’ve written about “pervasive communications” and “pervasive media”. Maybe they aren’t the right terms, but I think they bring us closer to what we’re experiencing. Back in 2011 I wrote about pervasive communications:  “It is now chaotic, hyper-connected, ubiquitous and decidedly non-linear. Conversations now leap among platforms and channels with an unprecedented fluidity — a Twitter update engenders an SMS text which leads to a phone conversation that informs a blog post that points to a web-site viewed on a mobile device which generates a sale in a brick-and-mortar venue.”

Object Oriented Communication

Back in my salad days as a programmer on Wall Street I was first introduced to object-oriented programming (OOP). It was a leap forward in the craft because it allowed a new way of looking at programming and data. A team could spend months developing the appropriate “objects,” then rapidly deploy applications by simply stringing together objects and methods.

Yes, this relates to marcom. Stay with me. A key feature — and paradigm shift — was encapsulation of the state of an object separate from the program itself. Any programmer could access objects which already had state and context without having to recreate or redefine them. There’s an analog here for communications and channels. A customer is the equivalent of an object. It has context and data that should be available regardless of the channel being used. An interaction with a customer is a program which can be much more effective knowing the context and data the customer already has.

Let’s go back to my statement about “conversations leaping among platforms and channels.” In a typical silo’ed marketing environment, the person from a brand communicating with me on Twitter may or may not be aware of  the other interactions I’ve had with that brand on other channels, like email for example. To the brand it’s (most often) two different conversations, but to me it’s all one conversation. You (as the brand) should do your best to know all of my interactions to make the most of your opportunity to communicate with me.

So you want to get my attention? Show me you understand the history of our interactions and make each of your subsequent communication attempts relevant based on that context. Then, no matter what channel I’m on, I just might pay attention.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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