Going down the digital rabbit hole

In the digital world, user attention is the most highly valued prize.
20 June 2019

How are you generating user attention?. Source: Shutterstock

Our intuitive sense of time’s passage cannot be completely trusted. It’s connected to the stimuli occurring all around us and the degree to which we find that stimuli interesting.

It has been rumored that Einstein provided the following tongue-in-cheek explanation of his most famous theory: “When you sit with a nice girl for two hours, you think it’s only a minute. But when you sit on a hot stove for a minute, you think it’s two hours. That’s relativity.” Along similar lines, the internet at large strives to provide good companionship that captures time and user attention. It then analyzes, classifies, and monetizes that attention. It skillfully blurs perception and redirects focus.

Regardless of whether an advertiser pays per impression, click, action, or conversion, they are paying to lull their prospect’s mind deeper into the digital experience. The advertiser doesn’t want the prospect to consider the screeching of a boiling kettle, the ringing doorbell, the notification on their phone if they are on their computer, or the open window on their computer if they are on their phone. They want them to exclusively consider the value of an offering. And if they can’t close them right away, they’ll hope to do so eventually through an integrated and personalized omnichannel strategy. After all, personalization is the essence of good companionship.

If a marketer is serious about long-term growth for their company, they strive for a sincere, relevant, and mutually beneficial relationship with each customer. Proponents of the net promoter score (an increasingly contentious metric) believe that highly satisfied, loyal customers lead to a lower churn rate, more purchases, and positive referrals. This means revenue growth. And this cannot happen if you don’t create value for your customer. But first, you must convince your customer that the value of your offering exceeds the value of all the other things going on around them. You need to dissociate them from time.

The value of user attention

Captured user attention is more relevant today than branding. According to attention economics, the surplus of information has turned user attention into a scarce and valuable commodity. In the past, marketers focused a lot on the design aspects of branding. They tried to figure out the best logos, trademarks, and jingles. We’re past all that now. In fact, the traditional mediums in which these types of things once reigned are now starting to resemble the internet.

For example, we could be seeing the demise of TV show intros. Digital experiences are now affecting broadcast.

Online, we see a lot of native advertising and seamless transitions between content types. Websites feel increasingly less structured. Instead of offering rigidly categorized content, a lot of sites just aim to pull the user into a rabbit hole by showing them different, appealing things that they can click on. This is often accomplished through intriguing thumbnails, clickbait headlines, and hot button content. Video streaming services urge customers to embrace their binge-watching habit and they do this by truncating credits and providing “skip intro” buttons. It’s all a beautiful mess without borders.

A recent decision regarding “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” mirrors this online approach. The show dropped its opening credits sequence.

Fallon told entertainment news publication Variety that the idea for excising the opener came directly from Netflix. He suggested that viewers were impatient and tired of redundant sequences. They wanted him to simply “get to the funny.”

In the article, Variety editor Michael Schneider added: “But it’s also clearly a bid to hold on to more viewers from its local news lead-in as the late-night ratings wars once again heat up.”

TV show intros were once thought of as a branding opportunity. The best ones cultivated familiarity and a sense of kinship with the characters. The intro to “The Simpsons” has always provided creative variation, sometimes topical in nature. If other shows follow Fallon’s lead here, perhaps some TV tradition will be lost. But with people consuming content in ways they never did before, trying to clutch onto tradition seems like a futile endeavor. And it’s hard to feel any nostalgia when your sense of time itself has already been distorted by the surreal, engrossing, noisy, and indispensable place we call “the internet.”