In 2001, two scholars of management and economics penned a book called ‘The Attention Economy’, exploring the notion of how human attention is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity. Thomas Davenport and John Beck defined human attention as “focused mental engagement on a particular message or piece of information,” a process that advertisers and marketers compete for in their droves.
With the vast amounts of information available, content must focus on quality when hitting large audiences for it to get read. Much like advertisers, email marketers must be prepared to pay a fair price for a high return in attention and engagement.
Can we say ‘relevance’ enough?
Sending emails to lots of people is a necessary part of the engagement process and is a proven money-maker for brands. However, mass, non-targeted emails are neither appropriate nor effective in terms of grabbing attention. Huge numbers only work to a point, and are not an effective strategy, meaning it is increasingly important to know your audience and what content they are most likely to engage with and share. To ensure a return on investment, email marketers must develop specifically targeted campaigns and engage more with the people who are interested in their brand.
Like advertising, it’s about getting noticed at-a-glance. Grabbing somebody’s attention, or their ‘focused mental engagement’ to be more precise, is therefore reliant on the content of your email being following: Something your recipient wants to know about; Something your recipient is likely to develop an emotion or reaction to; or something your recipient is likely to act on.
Based on the mental processes an email must provoke in order to be attended to, popular advertising theory can be applied effectively to email marketing. The ‘Hierarchy of Effects’ model dictates that advertisers must appeal to the cognitive, affective and conative mind of the customer. Customers must be taken on a journey whereby they are attracted to, engage emotionally with, then ultimately buy-in to a product. This six-step journey is outlined below as:
1) Awareness: This is where a consumer or recipient becomes product aware and learns about your brand and what you do.
2) Knowledge: It is not enough for a customer to simply know that you exist. Your customer needs to gain knowledge of your product, what it is, what it does and how much it costs.
3) Liking: Once a consumer knows what a product is, the next step is for them to react emotionally. The first step here is simply for them to simply like your product or brand.
4) Preference: Furthermore, you also want them to prefer your brand to other alternatives and see a better value proposition being offered than by your competitors.
5) Conviction: The stage at which a consumer begins to develop a desire to purchase a product as they have learned about it and emotionally connected with it.
6) Purchase: Finally, the customer needs to be put at ease about the actual purchase. This involves being able to purchase in a simple, easy way and have a variety of payment options.
Attention, engagement and commitment
To respond to the challenges posed by the attention economy, advertising techniques such as these are well worth bearing in mind for email marketers, in fact, for any digital marketing campaign. Here are some tips to help email marketers push the right buttons.
Cognitive – Is your recipient thinking about your content?
1. Make the relevant information your customer needs to know stand out using contrasting colours and images.
2. Keep copy short and sweet so that customers don’t get lost in the fog and miss key messages.
Affective – does your recipient like your content?
If you know your customer base, you’ll know what will appeal to them and you should place your product in this context.
Evocative content may fall on deaf ears when sent to the wrong person. Make sure your email and product appeal to the specific emotional needs of your target audience.
Conative – will your recipient act on your content?
Once a customer is emotionally involved, setting a deadline (offer ends tomorrow) will make them think ‘I need to buy this now’.
Incentivise your customer further by offering discounts and exclusive offers to make them feel valued.
As an email marketer, it is essential that you know your most engaged recipients inside out, or at least that you get to know them well over time. A potential customer will not truly pay attention to your content unless they immediately react with interest and then feel that you are adding more value with your next email. This can only be achieved by identifying a topic that they already know about, will potentially find interesting enough to share, ultimately form an opinion of and hopefully act on.
Tink Taylor is managing director of dotMailer.