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Attention Is The New Currency. What Will Get Clients To Pay?

Vered Zimmerman 18 January 2022

Amid the coffee and bagels, it was demand for content that seemed insatiable. Investment marketing is infatuated with content at the moment, and at each of the industry events I attended last year, people spoke with fervour on the need for more articles and videos.

I was surprised no one was talking about content shock.

Since the internet doubles in size every 12–18 months, but the time we spend on it does not, the cost of getting people to read your stuff is always rising. People are – quite literally – paying with attention. Welcome to the so-called attention economy.

Today, 70% of internet traffic is driven either through Facebook or Google, proving immensely profitable for the Attention Duopoly. As a result, media companies – no longer the main gateways to people’s attention – have begun bleeding advertising revenue.

Over time, though, a peculiar switcheroo took place: Non-media businesses, which developed the publishing capabilities of media outlets, began believing they had a media business’ problems.

Media companies needed to demonstrate to advertisers – via clicks and page views – that their content attracts a vast online readership. Before long, businesses became equally obsessed with these metrics. They even took the same approach: Buzzfeed was doing listicles? So was your bank.

Then, as aggregators – chiefly Facebook – started hogging people’s attention, media companies began measuring and optimising for “social engagement”, meaning hits on ‘like’ or ‘share’ buttons. Sure enough, businesses began measuring their content’s success in exactly the same way.

As ever, what you measure shapes how you act. Desperate to gain exposure and chasing after ‘engagement’, media had little choice but to pump out huge amounts of short-lived content and incessantly post it on social media. Many businesses believed that, to get their clients to care, they needed to do that too.

In fairness, many businesses, particularly professional services firms, struggle to identify suitable alternative metrics, ones that would link content success to conversions and engagement to sales. In their absence, businesses revert to the familiar vanity metrics.

They may be ill-served by this tactic, because it neglects to acknowledge that professional services firms target relatively small and highly specific audiences, who tend to care about a specialised set of problems.

Certainly, target clients’ attention spans are eroding just like everyone else’s. But recognising clients as a select group can help the business produce less content, with a longer shelf-life, and not have to work that hard to push it.

First, listen to clients

Businesses – like people – find it easier talking about themselves: the products they sell, the work they’ve put in. But clients – also in very human fashion – are more troubled by their own bugbears, which consequently consume most of their attention. In this environment, creating a desperate deluge of content, to compete for the sparse moments when attention drifts, is akin to pigeons squabbling over breadcrumbs in the park.

Instead, be that pigeon waiting patiently near Greggs.

At Copylab, our absolute meatiest content ideas came from conversations with clients. They told us, for example, that they often get asked by their clients how environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations fit in with their fund management process. They also told us it was important to showcase their commitment to these issues.

In return, we conducted extensive data research to identify ESG content gaps, compiling our findings into a whitepaper. Kim Kardashian needn’t have worried; measured by likes and shares, this article did not, in fact, break the internet. However, marketing managers in investment houses loved it, and the paper was our most downloaded piece of content in 2017.

In fact, merely having conversations with target clients can be a big draw, as sussing out competition is always of interest to your customers. Sure enough, our most read article in 2017 was an interview with a client.

Think in themes, not pieces

Nobel Prize winner and behavioural researcher Daniel Kahanmann explains that the way we decide on which article to click when we scroll down a news feed is governed by a snappy-yet-flaky mental-processing system. Due to content shock, this system is biased towards a No.

But this bias can shift into a YES by consistently creating a value signal.

Herein lies the idea of thematic content. On anything relating to general news, your target audience is likely no different to the general public: some care about politics, some read about sports, and everyone’s fairly fed-up with Bitcoin.

On professional matters, though, your target audience likely unites around super-specific issues, which tend to play out over longer stretches of time. For investors, topics like quantitative easing and central bank policies have been a core focus since 2008. Likewise, the growth of the big-data FAMGA stocks (Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon) has proved an attention magnet.

A thematic approach to content would slot each additional story on the topic into a growing puzzle, with an overarching view holding it all together. Visualisation tools can be further used to effectively demonstrate progress over time.

To compare unstructured content to the thematic approach, look no further than Deutsche Asset Management: their general thought leadership page is structured as a blog, in line with industry practices. For ESG content, however, they’ve structured a dedicated thematic page.

The metrics to chase

Suppose you’ve nailed your content: you’re offering value to your target audience and your analytics show they’re reading it. Readers are staying longer on your page, browsing related articles – and some are even clicking that thumbnail!

But wait: though this may help content spread further, it left you none the wiser on what your audience is thinking having read your piece.

Some companies now end their articles with a two-option poll question. “Was this article worth your time?” is a good one, offering insight while still costing readers just one click.

So in the spirit of better understanding our readers, please do let us know in the comments if this article was worth your time or if there’s something you’d like to see us write about.