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Last October, YouTube users experienced a major global outage that lasted for more than an hour, triggering a material spike in Netflix subscriptions. While this may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Especially considering that in March, Nielsen reported that overall media use remained unchanged year-over-year. Time spent with media isn’t increasing. Instead, consumers are shifting how and where they spend their finite amount of attention.
Clearly, we’ve reached a saturation point as there’s simply no longer any additional attention to give to media. This means the so-called “attention economy,” the very thing many marketing strategies are based upon, has jumped the shark. Consumers are finding themselves in a continuous prioritization exercise that involves making on-the-spot media tradeoffs: What am I going to give up paying attention to in order to give my attention to something else?
Savvy brands recognize this shift. For example, Netflix recently implied that its user base has to prioritize whether to binge on shows like season two of On My Block or instead play Fortnite Battle Royale. Yes, Netflix is acknowledging its biggest competitor isn’t HBO–it’s really Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite. Of course, with Disney, WarnerMedia, and Comcast all planning to launch their own streaming services chock-full of enticing original series, you can bet this will further exacerbate the issue.
Across the media landscape, the effects of reaching the attention ceiling are evident. It explains why more and more people are taking extended breaks from social media, or why cord-cutting doubled last year, or how eSports fans barely watch television anymore. It’s also why brands must move on from “attention” as the currency of their marketing strategies to something much more relevant. But what? The answer may lie in looking at the top emerging tech trends:
Instant: Textless UIs including voice and image search, the promise of 5G speeds, practical uses of IoT and AI, as well as cashless transactions like NFC payments and social commerce are increasing consumers’ impulse to take action, but also decreasing their patience and attention.
Immersive: The growing maturity of experiential, sensory, and interactive media - including AR, haptic, and OTT - are paving the way for a heightened level of immersive storytelling and experiences that better captivate consumers with meaningful interactions.
Non-Intrusive: The rise of subscription-based premium ad-free media (including Apple’s recent AppleTV+ announcement) as well as consumers’ increased appetite for data privacy and security means non-interruptive media experiences are moving from being the customer exception to the customer preferred.
"When “devotion” replaces “attention” as the marketing currency of choice, effectiveness can be far more meaningfully tied to business outcomes"
The net of all of this is that our collective attention is being prioritized toward a growing number of environments and platforms that are instant, immersive, and non-intrusive. This is very different than the traditional advertising-saturated spaces that have fueled the attention economy, where so many marketers have gotten comfortable with it.
A new marketing currency is needed to better align with modern consumer preferences and priorities, one that materially moves marketing strategies from “Are consumers noticing my brand?” to “Are consumers loyal to my brand?” While the former is what the attention economy has largely been based on, the latter is what I’m calling the devotion economy. In the devotion economy:
Interactions with brands are seamless and gratifying.
Content and experiences appeal to multiple senses.
Media consumption is safe, secure, and uninterrupted.
When “devotion” replaces “attention” as the marketing currency of choice, effectiveness can be far more meaningfully tied to business outcomes. Instead of relying on superficial metrics like reach, impressions, and viewability, brands will instead focus on KPIs like retention, churn, advocacy, and, yes, sales.
To compete and win in the devotion economy means that brands must truly respect the customer at every touchpoint through consistently compelling products, content, experiences, and service. But simply doing all of this isn’t quite enough, either – in the devotion economy, brands need to go a step further when being customer accountable.
Being “devoted” to something implies a true belief in its purpose and values. In the devotion economy, consumers have higher expectations of brands’ behaviors in culture. In fact, Forrester found that 70% of millennial actively consider a company’s values before making a purchase. Brands are now being held to higher ethical standards, not just to act responsibly but to serve a greater purpose in society. Take Patagonia, for example, who recently announced it would only merchandise its corporate-branded fleece vests, moving forward, to like-minded companies that prioritize the planet.
In the end, a focus on attention just isn’t cutting it anymore. Consumers have greater choice than ever before as the media landscape becomes increasingly more fragmented. Underlying these trends are tech innovations that empower consumer behavior while putting more pressure on brands to be better. Let’s face it, the attention economy is dead. Welcome to the devotion economy.