What is Attention?
Every communication – each interaction that builds a mental image of your brand – first has to engage conscious attention.
Hundreds of pieces of information pass by each day, but how many do you pay attention to? Banner ads create noisy frames around everything you read online. Radio ads insert themselves into the spaces between songs. Print ads distract us from the corners of magazine and newspaper pages. Organizations do what they can to attract our conscious attention, but we don’t give it away easily, and this is the entrepreneur’s first hurdle. No matter how you choose to attract customers, you first have to consciously engage their minds.
But what is attention, exactly? Attention is really nothing more then a moment of introduction. It's the brain's way of saying, "Something's coming — what are you going to do about it?" During a moment of attention you analyze information and decide what to do next. Even if that action is inaction — to do nothing — you make a decision about how to respond to whatever drew your attention.
You're walking in the park. A shadow crosses your path. In a millisecond, that shadow attracts your attention. Instantly you examine the shadow and attempt to recognize its shape — it’s a bird. Immediately you determine what you will do. If it's a small bird, you may look up. If it's big, you may duck. (If you're a squirrel, you probably run.) In less time than it takes your heart to beat, all of your memories and emotions are accessed. That information is compared and analyzed, and a decision is made about what to do next. An instant of attention is followed by a moment of analysis and a decision is made that determines what course of action you take.
The same thing happens when you’re shopping. You enter the grocery store and see a big display of various brands of soda 12-packs. In that moment you see the brightly colored boxes, and recognize what they are. You immediately make a decision. You may decide to add a box to your cart. You may decide to keep walking. You may decide to look for a price to find out if a particular brand is on sale. That brief second of attention is not what makes the decision — it is the information you receive in that instant that makes the decision possible.
How many times have you seen a product, picked it up, failed to locate a price tag and put it back down again? If the price was available and within an acceptable range, you might have bought it. But since there was no price, and you didn’t want to take the time to find out what the price was, there was no sale. The business owner failed to give you the information you needed to make a decision. And this same process happens over and over, day after day.
As a business owner, you have to understand that attention is not an end in itself. You must attract attention and clearly define what you want people to know. Once a customer’s mental spotlight is trained on your business and your offering, you must create desire: you must provide both the emotional and intellectual rationale for a sale. This is as true for selling a 12-pack of soda as it is for selling a car.
Attracting attention is not enough — you must also provide something worth noticing.
So when we read your tweet or look at your ad; when we peer into your front window or glance at your billboard, what are you giving us in exchange for our attention? Are your products worth looking at? Are your communications worth thinking about? Are you creating desire, or just wasting our time?
In the graph above, you can see how these individual mental activities come together into one uninterrupted process, represented as a path. The thickness of the path represents the level of mental engagement used during each phase.
- Starting from no knowledge, we create initial awareness
- followed by the building of desire
- leading to the decision that creates a sale
- the experience of that sale
- then the work done to retain that customer
- and create additional desire, leading to a second sale.