Let’s look at our lifecycle as a typical customer. We see an ad, or find a link in a search, or get a reference from our network about a new brand. We go to the website or app. It is not always that we will do a transaction in the first instance. In the event that we don’t, the brand will get some info for retargeting us via a cookie. This is the first place brands miss a trick by not persuading us to provide an email address to ensure they have a direct relationship to bring us back to their property in future.
If we do a transaction, then the brand gets some information about us. For digital products, we are asked to create a login and a first-party relationship is established. For physical products, we will be asked to provide much more personal info. All this assumes the transaction is happening at a brand’s own property. In the event that a transaction takes place via a marketplace, very little direct information is accessible to the brand – the intermediary has the info and the power over the relationship and future purchases. Even social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp which allow for content subscriptions control what we see via their algorithms, further reducing the power brands have to make their voice heard.
The situation gets compounded by the huge array of choices customers have. As such, attention is short and temporary. Brands who have the digital identity of customers can start pushing messages to attract customers back. But in our inbox, every message looks just the same. We decide in a second or two whether to ignore or open. With many brands vying for attention, and spammers too having access to our inbox, the flood of incoming messages keeps increasing.
While the mailbox platforms like Gmail or Yahoo do track our opens and clicks (engagement), the inflow of messages keeps increasing. Gmail has created multiple folders to sort our incoming messages. For brands, this isn’t the ideal situation: Gmail’s algorithms are determining what sort of attention relationship the brand can have with the customer. Inbox communism (every brand message treated alike) leads to attention recession (almost every brand message ignored).
Across the three inboxes that dominate our digital lives, we as recipients have already made our choices. We open just 10% of emails (meaning we ignore 9 of every 10 incoming messages). We do almost the same with SMS – in fact, now that person-to-person messages have moved to WhatsApp and OTPs are auto-read by apps, we barely bother with SMSes. We block about half the push notifications from apps. Taken together, we probably ignore 80-90% of brand messages sent to us. And as we ignore brand messages, the primacy of that brand in our lives diminishes and the line of communications breaks. What is the brand’s response to this attention recession? Pay money to Google, Facebook and Amazon to win us back! And with every brand doing the same, marketing departments become collection agents for Big Tech.
What actions can marketers take to stop getting caught in this spend spiral? Brand messages today are focused on delivery rather than delight – which leads to our mindset of delete. Marketers need to think incentives and gamification to invert the open-ignore ratio. Attention Messaging is the way to make this happen.