Why Marketers Must Understand the Difference Between Empty Behaviors and Meaningful Attention
For as long as brands have tried to persuade the public with advertisements, marketers have sought to quantify and measure the impact of these campaigns. Every player in the advertising ecosystem seeks to understand whether their actions made a difference. In digital marketing, we use metrics like pageviews, clickthroughs and conversion rates to determine whether an ad was effective or not. Yet these are dramatically simplified tools that fail to capture the complexity of the situation.
How can we understand what’s going on in the consumer’s head when they click on an advertisement or visit an online store? How do we know whether an advertisement actually influenced a customer’s actions – or if it failed to make an impact?
Today’s marketing environment is flooded with data points and technology solutions designed to help brands understand the effectiveness of their campaigns. But this abundance of information can make it difficult to cut through the noise and understand the signals. To truly measure how consumers are interacting with and reacting to an advertisement, marketers must focus on meaningful attention — the attention that leads directly to a measurable action.
Here’s why meaningful attention matters and how brands and retailers can hone in on it.
What Makes Attention Meaningful?
There will always be limits to our abilities to understand the motives behind a customer’s behavior. We can’t see inside their mind, we can’t interview every customer about every choice they make – and most would likely find it impossible to truly explain the meaning behind their decisions, as most decisions are made by what is referred to as “the implicit” System 1. However, we can identify attention that we know to be meaningful by looking backwards from an objectively meaningful moment – such as a purchase or transaction.
By definition, attention is meaningful if it leads directly to a response. If a customer views an email advertisement, clicks through on a link to an online store and then purchases a product, we know that they were paying attention to the message. This is what separates the concept of Meaningful Attention and, specifically, “Meaningful Attention Measurement”, from existing measurement tools: metrics like click rates and pageviews track stimuli, looking at the purchasing movement from the beginning of the interaction, often stopping in the middle of a process. Meaningful attention follows through. While also beginning with the initial stimuli, it allows for more certain conclusions – as the actual decision (or occurrence of a desired action), i.e. the meaning, is also included in the test data and available for analysis.
This result-oriented approach to measurement allows organizations to identify the moments when a customer is paying focused and purposeful attention to an advertisement, processing the message on a deep level. From there, brands can make more effective adjustments to their marketing campaigns. What difference does it make to conduct A/B testing if the customer isn’t paying meaningful attention regardless? Once a brand has confirmed that they’ve captured the viewer’s interest, they can then begin to make the subtle adjustments that will drive up conversions and customer retention.
How can organizations move beyond surface-level measurements to begin understanding meaningful attention? The key is to identify the three key moments that lead to a purchase and then to establish metrics for each of those moments:
- The basis for meaningful attention obviously is actual attention. This involves several or all of the interlocking yet distinct systems of human experience. Attention is achieved through perception by the senses (system 0), which then touches the emotions (system 1) and eventually cognition (system 2) as well. While viewability and eye tracking make sensual perception more readily apparent, surveys can shed light on the more explicit cognitive experience of customers. Additionally, technologies such as facial expression recognition or skin conductance responses help to analyze implicit emotional experience.
- Beyond (factual) attention, we enter into the realm of relationship building. While attention per se is the smallest necessary denominator of building a relationship, the art of marketing goes beyond that – into the sphere of interaction. Did customers take any actions that demonstrated increased interest in the product? Did they click through to the online store, watch an additional video, or sign up for a newsletter? Did they spend time hovering over an advertisement or browsing a store? These moments demonstrate the consumers’ interest, indicating that they paid meaningful attention during the first point of contact.
- Usually a transaction is the goal of the engagement. Therefore, the metric that matters most is an actual purchase. Establishing this actually “validates” the previous moments of interest and attention. By going through an entire conversion process (from exposure to completion) brands can test and analyze the performance of their creations in the most meaningful moments. Amid thousands of data points, the overarching concept of “meaningful attention” enables advertisers to identify the few, decisive actions that will make a tangible difference on sales and marketing results: If, for example, two creative executions both attract attention, but only one delivers a transaction… Wouldn’t it be good to know which one that is?
Context and Design
Whenever possible, marketers should aim to track customer behavior comprehensively and in context — studying how consumers react to an advertisement within the actual context of an online store or within a realistic social media channel itself, rather than in a vacuum.
As marketers consider how to design and measure their next campaigns, they must zoom out and understand exactly how a customer will go through the purchasing cycle. When we look too closely at individual, disconnected metrics — clicks, pageviews, email opens — we lack the context we need to understand whether that behavior is truly impactful on the bottomline.
The tools exist for brands and marketers to analyze and understand the impact of their advertising campaigns. The challenge is to cut through distractions and misdirections, in order to find the moments that truly make a difference. It’s time to filter out the noise and make attention in those moments meaningful.