The Attention Economy: How to Succeed with Ethical Marketing and Design

A Fixed Pie

In negotiations, there is this concept of a fixed pie. A fixed pie represents a zero-sum mindset people have when attempting to bargain: if I win, you must lose. This type of mindset is associated with an inability to fully grasp the motivations and desires of the opposing party. Unfortunately, in the attention economy, the zero-sum game is all too real.

The difference between an attention economy and negotiations is the number of debatable dimensions. Negotiations are multidimensional and have a multitude of negotiable items, allowing the parties involved to reach an optimal outcome that doesn’t lead to a fixed pie. In an attention economy, there is one dimensional: attention. This is non-negotiable. If I spend time on one platform, it is taking away from another. Organizations are way too aware of this in today’s day and age and has led to them, as Tristan Harris puts it, “hijacking our psychological vulnerabilities”
Although we have always been in an attention economy, it is now a highly competitive landscape in which everything demands our attention. This becomes increasingly wearisome when considering the misalignments of incentives within companies today. Luckily, there are things that we can do from an organizational point of view, and that Semeon Analytics has put into action that will make you thrive in this economy.


Misalignment of Incentives


Any large corporation is subject to incentives that don’t always align in the best interest of the customers.
Yes, the human population would probably be better off if kids spent less time on their iPhones at the dinner tables and more time embracing the warm love of their family. Yes, peoples lives would probably improve if they took a couple of days off social media here and there. But has Facebook, Google, Twitter, YouTube ever advocated for that? No. Of course not. Their job is to make sure people are not controlling their media usage but on the contrary: their main motivation is to get you on their platform as much as possible.  For example; the book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology, put it:
“Welcome to the age of behavioural addiction—an age in which half of the American population is addicted to at least one behaviour. Everyone obsesses over emails, Instagram likes, and Facebook feeds; we binge on TV episodes and YouTube videos; we work longer hours each year, and we spend an average of three hours each day using our smartphones. Half of us would rather suffer a broken bone than a broken phone, and Millennial kids spend so much time in front of screens that they struggle to interact with real, live humans.”
The average smartphone user checks their phone 150 times per day, a startling statistic. 61% of users check their phone within 5 minutes after waking up. Companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook are far too aware of these statistics and they don’t want some of your attention, they want all of it. This has led to design and marketing practices that utilize A/B testing to optimize the customer experience. Many of the decisions that you make to check your iPhone and apps are not as conscious as one may think. In fact, a lot of it is unconscious and has to do with companies racing to the bottom of our brain stems. Primitive psychological tendencies such as the need for social approval, social reciprocity, FOMO (Fear of missing out) are all being manipulated to take our attention away from us. Initially, this happened by accident, but in today’s age, tech designers use our own evolutionary structures to get us addicted to their products.
So how do we deal in this new economy? Whats the protocol that is acceptable?


Ethical Marketing and Design in an Attention Economy


In a passionate, opinionated article by Mark Manson titled, In The Future our Attention will Be sold, he stated that “This is life now: one constant, never-ending stream of non-sequiturs and self-referential garbage that passes in through our eyes and out of our brains at the speed of a touchscreen”. As strong of a statement as this is, it resonates and can shed light onto how companies should operate in this new age attention economy.
The first step? Provide value. Create products you would personally use and solve real problems people have. The most upsetting aspect of large tech firms today is that they all started out with a solid value proposition revolving around the customers but was unfortunately lost under a massive pile of money and corporate governance. Providing value is an art. There is absolutely nothing wrong with providing a consumer with a product or service that will make their lives better off. The fixed pie analogy I mentioned in the first paragraph falls short for these types of companies. Good business leaves both parties involved better off.
Secondly, know your customers. Hopefully, this is obvious, but understanding who your customers are and what they want is crucial. It often helps at this point to learn from each of your touch points with the customer. This is actually where Semeon provides a lot of value. Processing vast amounts of data from different touch points are essential and are often impossible with the given resources of organizations. Semeon Analytics uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to process all of this data in an instant. Anything text related, we understand: this could be emails, blog comments, Facebook posts, surveys, etc…
Thirdly, Exceed Expectations. Going above and beyond what the customer expected is essential. Providing value is a great start, but being able to exceed value is what makes customers remember who you are.
Last, but certainly not least, don’t take more than you need. There is a fine line between providing value as a marketer and harassment. I have fallen into the vortex of a few organizations email campaigns in my lifetime. It’s not fun, and I will never use these services again. What is the ideal amount of interaction? That’s up to your discretion, but less is better than more.




If you enjoyed this article be sure to check out a few of the resources I provided below, subscribe and leave a comment about your thoughts on the issue at hand! We, over at Semeon, would love to speak with you if you are an organization interested in learning more about your customers and receiving actionable business insights through the use of artificial intelligence!


Some Interesting Reads if you liked this article:
Tristan Harris – How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind — from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist
The Economist – The battle for consumers’ attention
Mark Manson – In the future, our attention will be sold
Adam Alter – Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

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