Investing in the Attention Economy

Ben Martin and I will be facilitating a session at the upcoming ASAE & the Center Membership and Marketing Conference. We had a short article in an ASAE newsletter recently on this very topic as a lead-in to the session. You can read the full text of it below. Ben and I will also be recording a short podcast on this topic early next week. Check back here on Tuesday to listen in.

Hope to see you at the session!

Investing in the Attention Economy
By C. David Gammel, CAE, and Ben Martin, CAE

The amount of available information is growing exponentially, but human attention seems to be a limited resource. We each only have a finite number of hours in the day with which to live our personal and professional lives. The same is true for our members.

In fact, associations compete with each other and thousands of other organizations for the attention of their members. People are distracted by millions of inconsequential information sources and must filter them out in order to recognize the things that are most important to them.

To cope, many of our members work in a state of continuous partial attention. Often they divide their attention among several things at once, such as scanning e-mail or news headlines while talking on a conference call. Your latest carefully crafted newsletter might only receive a cursory glance before hitting the electronic version of the circular file. The implication: Your members must be able to quickly scan and discern the value of your communications if you want them to invest a higher level of attention.

This has significant implications for membership recruitment and retention. Members, for instance, base their decision to renew their memberships on the basis of their feelings of connection and engagement. That’s why it’s crucial that you get an appropriate amount of your members’ attention. Generally speaking, a prospect’s attention must be 100 percent captured for at least a few moments in order to complete any financial transaction.

The study of attention is called attention economics–a combination of economic analysis and data about the things to which people give their attention. Steve Gillmor, a popular writer and podcaster on Web technology, turned this research into a trend by gathering data on what people are paying attention to on the Internet and leveraging that data to provide better service and content.

Attention economics raises many questions for associations. How much of your members’ attention do you receive? How much do you want? What will you need to give to your members in exchange for their attention? Does an increase in attention per member mean that your revenue per member will increase as well?

To help answer these questions and further explore this topic, be sure to come to “The Unsession: How to Invest in the Attention Economyâ€? at ASAE & the Center for Association Leadership’s 2006 Marketing & Membership Conference. This “unsessionâ€? will be highly interactive and driven by the participants. We’re limiting attendance to the first 40 participants, so be sure to arrive early!

Update: Ed Batista, Executive Director of the Attention Trust, posted some more details about Steve Gillmor’s role in developing the idea of the attention economy. Thanks, Ed! (Ed’s personal blog was just added to Tom Peters’ blogroll. Nice!)

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