Blipverts vs the Attention Economy

There’s a scene in Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 film, “The Man Who Fell To Earth”, where David Bowie’s character sits watching a bank of TV screens, each tuned to a different station. At the same time he is channel surfing – either because his alien powers allow him to absorb multiple, simultaneous inputs, or because his experience of ennui on Earth leads him to seek more and more stimulus. Obviously a metaphor for the attention economy, long before such a term existed.

Watching the alien watching us… Image sourced from Flicker

At the time in the UK, we only had three TV channels to choose from, so the notion of 12 or more seemed exotic, even other worldly. And of those three channels, only one carried advertising. Much the same situation existed in British radio, with only one or two commercial networks, alongside the dominant BBC. So we had relatively little exposure to adverts, brand sponsorship or paid content in our broadcast media. (Mind you, this was still the era when tobacco companies could plaster their logos all over sporting events…)

For all its limitations, there were several virtues to this model. First, advertising airtime was at a premium (thanks to the broadcast content ratios), and ad spend was concentrated – so adverts really had to grab your attention. (Is it any wonder that so many successful film directors cut their teeth on commercials?) Second, this built-in monopoly often meant bigger TV production budgets, more variety of content and better quality programming on free-to-air networks than we typically see today with the over-reliance on so-called reality TV. Third, with less viewing choice, there was a greater shared experience among audiences – and more communal connection because we could talk about similar things.

Then along came cable and satellite networks, bringing more choice (and more advertising), but not necessarily better quality content. In fact, with TV advertising budgets spread more thinly, it’s not surprising that programming suffered. Networks had to compete for our attention, and they funded this by bombarding us with more ads and more paid content. (And this is before we even get to the internet age and time-shift, streaming and multicast platforms…)

Despite the increased viewing choices, broadcasting became narrow-casting – smaller and more fractured viewership, with programming appealing to niche audiences. Meanwhile, in the mid-80s (and soon after the launch of MTV), “Max Headroom” is credited with coining the term “blipvert”, meaning a very, very short (almost subliminal) television commercial. Although designed as a narrative device in the Max Headroom story, the blipvert can be seen as either a test of creativity (how to get your message across in minimal time); or a subversive propaganda technique (nefarious elements trying to sabotage your thinking through subtle suggestion and infiltration).

Which is essentially where we are in the attention economy. Audiences are increasingly disparate, and the battle for eyeballs (and minds) is being fought out across multiple devices, multiple screens, and multiple formats. In our search for more stimulation, and unless we are willing to pay for premium services and/or an ad-free experience, we are having to endure more ads that pop-up during our YouTube viewing, Spotify streaming or internet browsing. As a result, brands are trying to grab our attention, at increasing frequency, and for shorter, yet more rapid and intensive periods. (Even Words With Friends is offering in-game tokens in return for watching sponsored content.)

Some consumers are responding with ad-blockers, or by dropping their use of social media altogether; or they want payment for their valuable time. I think we are generally over the notion of giving away our personal data in return for some “free” services – the price in terms of intrusions upon our privacy is no longer worth paying. So, brands are having to try harder to capture our attention, and they need to personalize their message to make it seem relevant and worthy of our time – provided we are willing to let them know enough about our preferences, location, demographics, etc. so that they can serve up relevant and engaging content to each and every “audience of one”. And brands also want proof that the ads they have paid for have been seen by the people they intended to reach.

This delicate trade-off (between privacy, personalisation and payment) is one reason why the attention economy is seen as a prime use case for Blockchain and cryptocurrency: consumers can retain anonymity, while still sharing selected personal information (which they own and control) with whom they wish, when they wish, for as long as they wish, and they can even get paid to access relevant content; brands can receive confirmation that the personalised content they have paid for has been consumed by the people they intended to see it; and distributed ledgers can maintain a record of account and send/receive payments via smart contracts and digital wallets when and where the relevant transactions have taken place.

Next week: Jump-cut videos vs Slow TV

 

 

 

 

The Great #Data Overload Part 3: Differentiating in a #Digital World

Have you noticed that what was once old is new again? In particular, I’m talking about traditional direct marketing techniques, such as door-to-door sales, print circulars, and telephone cold calling. It’s as if businesses realise that to be heard and to get noticed in the digital world, you have to do something different or unexpected, and nobody expects to see a door-to-door salesperson these days!

MBPI mostly work from a home office, and in recent months I have had door-knockers trying to sell me car tyres, energy-saving devices and fire extinguishers. That’s in addition to the telesales calls persuading me to switch phone and utility providers, take out insurance or upgrade my security software (yes, I know that last one is probably a scam). Plus, more and more local businesses and tradespeople are using good old-fashioned leaflets and letter box drops (which is interesting, given that around 58% of local search is done on a mobile device).

Why are some advertisers reverting to this form of direct marketing?

I can think of several reasons:

  • They need to cut through the digital noise and reach their target audience via “novel” promotional tactics.
  • Their products and services are less-suited to on-line or in-app purchasing decisions.
  • Their sales activities are focused on acquiring existing customers from competitors, a conversion process more likely to succeed via personal contact.
  • Or simply, the costs make more sense.

Why is it important to differentiate? 

It’s 10 years since “Blue Ocean Strategy” was published, which stressed the need to stand apart from your competition (“avoid the shark-infested waters”). The message is even more relevant today, because the ubiquity of social media and content marketing platforms means that everyone has access to the same tools, and it’s not that difficult to play technology catch up; and while there may be good reasons for your business to engage with these channels to market, you also need some alternatives, like offering direct customer engagement that is not wholly reliant upon on-line and digital. That’s why some banks are opening more branches as part of their growth and customer acquisition strategy, why some retailers are offering “buy on-line, collect in-store”, and why some service companies are moving to an integrated, end-to-end customer experience, so that customers get the same person helping to resolve their problem from start to finish.

How to differentiate?

Standing out from the crowd (for the right reasons!) is critical to attracting customer attention. Competing on price alone is typically a race to the bottom where nobody wins. Getting noticed, especially when everyone is using the same marketing tools and sales offers, may mean doing something unusual or unexpected (for example, ALDI‘s “anti-ads”) as part of your marketing campaign. Or connecting directly with your audience in a way that doesn’t rely on “Likes”, “Shares” or “Follows”.

Sometimes it’s as simple as as this leaflet (shown above) found in my letter box the other day. At first, I thought it was a flyer for a local bar. Then, I noticed it was promoting a new smart phone app. On closer inspection, the flyer comprised a printed sheet hand-pasted onto a page torn from a magazine. That’s a lot of manual effort to promote a digital product, but using a lo-tech solution that totally makes sense! (No doubt, it appeals to the hipster crowd, ’cause retro’s cool, right?) So, the element of surprise (if that was the intention) worked – it got my attention because I wouldn’t have expected to receive a leaflet for a new app.*

Next week: “Why? Because we’ve always done it this way…”

Notes

* For an interesting story on the power of the unexpected, see Adam Posner’s talk on customer loyalty programs.

 

A couple of No-No’s for content marketers

If you are just getting started in content marketing, or if social media is still a bit of a novelty for your organisation, there are a couple of things you should definitely avoid when attempting to use third-party content for your own promotional purposes: don’t misappropriate, and don’t misrepresent.

All marketers will be alert to false, deceptive or misleading advertising. More experienced content developers should also understand legal issues such as plagiarism, copyright infringement, passing-off and libel. However, even seemingly innocent and well-intentioned references made to third-party content may inadvertently border on unconscionable conduct.

Last week, I had the rather disturbing experience of a company attempting to use my blog to promote a service, and in a way that not only implied I was endorsing that service, but also suggested that my blog was somehow the reason why customers should sign up for it.

I found this problematic for three reasons:

First, I had no knowledge of or connection with this particular service, and the promotional message gave the impression I was endorsing it, which was obviously misleading, and it quoted my article out of context. At an extreme level, if I ever wrote a blog about the “10 reasons why I take public transport”, and then a political party co-opted my content to say “10 reasons why you should vote for our transport policy”, that would be misappropriation (of my content) and misrepresentation (of my views).

Second, even though the service referred to was being offered for free, if the company had managed to generate new clients via this particular campaign, there’s no direct benefit to me or my business, but lots of benefit to the company and/or its partners. In this increasingly self-directed, interconnected and collaborative environment, it’s important to make sure we are all “paying it forward” in a constructive and mutually beneficial way. (I have no problem with receiving a referral fee or a direct benefit in kind if my efforts have been instrumental in securing new customers for your business!)

Third, I am fortunate that a number of my blog articles have been re-syndicated via social media and other channels. In writing about third-party products and services, I am very careful not to endorse specific businesses or brands, other than to mention names (and link to relevant sites). Where I am providing criticism, I endeavour to do so under the auspices of “fair comment”. This is important when establishing credibility with an audience: that my content is seen to be authentic, that I demonstrate awareness about the purpose and context of my blog, and that I attribute whenever I am referencing or citing third-party content. (See an earlier blog I wrote on this topic) But, if in doubt, always ask the content owner in advance before linking, referencing, quoting, attributing or re-contextualising their content.

Finally, if I can be of any assistance in relation to your own content marketing, please let me know via this site.