7 Marketing Trends in 2017, Part 4: The Digital Attention Gap

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The major consequence of peak social is the digital attention gap.

What is the digital attention gap? It’s the space between everyone we as marketers want to reach online and our ability to do so. Once upon a time, social media and digital marketing promised us nearly unconstrained reach. With the web, search, email marketing, digital advertising, and social networks, we began to believe we could reach our total addressable market.

Over time, we saw that belief eroded:

  • Search engine optimization became far more competitive and complex, especially with the introduction of AI.
  • Search engine marketing and pay per click advertising costs skyrocketed.
  • Email marketing was shackled – appropriately – by legislation preventing us from just emailing the entire planet.
  • Social networks implemented algorithms favoring paying for advertising.
  • Social advertising costs skyrocketed as more marketers flooded the social ad exchanges.

Our reach, our ability to communicate with our audiences, has steadily diminished for all but the largest marketing budgets. This is the attention gap: we want our audience’s attention, but our ability to reap attention on demand with standard digital marketing tools has collapsed unless we’re willing to spend millions of dollars.

The digital attention gap will only grow as more marketing budgets go digital. Every new dollar that flows into the overall ecosystem is a dollar we are forced to compete with – and those dollars are growing:

cmosurvey digital spend.png

Source: The CMO Survey

Above, we see CMOs investing more and more into digital marketing, with a sustained twice-annual growth rate of more than 10%. Put in context, a digital marketer who began spending 1,000 in February of 2012 is spending2,600 today.

How to Bridge the Digital Attention Gap

If our total addressable audience is out of reach because of resource constraints, what are we to do? The bridge over the digital attention gap is the curated audience. Rather than try to reach everyone online, we must try to reach the most valuable portion of our audience. Who are these people?

The curated audience is composed of individuals who:

  • Have heard of us
  • Have explored what we have to offer
  • Have engaged with us in some fashion
  • Have chosen to continue communicating with us

How do we curate our audience? We must use a combination of marketing technologies:

  • Robust digital tag management with fine granularity
  • Retargeting and remarketing advertising
  • Robust, integrated email marketing
  • Flexible, agile marketing automation software
  • Extensive, accurate third party data
  • Private conversational forums and groups
  • Statistical and behavioral analysis software

Let’s walk through a practical example. Suppose I care about people who might purchase one of my online courses. In the old days, I’d simply set up Google Analytics and show ads to anyone who visited my website.

In the era of the digital attention gap, I need to take these steps:

  • Set up distinct, unique tracking pixels with Google, Facebook, Twitter, AdRoll, DSPs, and native advertising software for only course-related pages on my website, deployed by my tag manager
  • Set up distinct, unique tracking codes and tags for social media and referral content about my courses
  • Set up custom segments in Google Analytics which track the behaviors of people who have visited course-related pages
  • Set up custom scoring rules which give additional points and/or assign tags to course-related individuals (such as people talking about my courses or sharing links to my courses) in my marketing automation system
  • Examine who has already purchased my courses by job title and company type, then use data enrichment software to build lists of similar people to show advertising to
  • Set up a private Slack channel or hidden Facebook group only for purchasers of my course so as to further engagement and fuel the organic word of mouth engine
  • Use statistical analysis (linear analysis of variance) on all my course-related analytics (engagement, page views, registrations, landing page views, shopping cart starts, shopping cart completions) to identify when a course has run its course and needs to be refreshed

What makes this different from any old marketing plan? This plan is specific to one slice of my audience, an audience that I care deeply about. Rather than expend dollars and resources on everyone in my audience, I’d invest only in this thin slice of audience. This is a curated audience, an audience set apart and above the general audience I have access to.

Bridging the digital attention gap is about focusing our resources tightly on our most valuable audiences. We cannot afford to reach everyone, or even a significant minority of everyone. We can either spread ourselves too thin, or focus on just the audience which is of greatest mutual benefit, then curate it carefully.

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