May I have your attention?

There’s been a strange synchronicity in my reading the last few days. I just finished Matthew Crawford’s new book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, which, by the way, I recommend wholeheartedly. As I was about halfway through Crawford’s book, Marketing News showed up, and the cover story is about Richard Thaler’s prize-winning research on behavioral economics – specifically, the “nudge.”

The book is likely to end up being fodder for a whole bunch of blog material in the Meanderings category of this blog, but I want to focus on the intersection between the book and the article.

Both of these works focus in part on the fact that people are irrational beings. Traditional economics has posited that people make buying decisions from a rational framework of costs, benefits, and preferences, while social science (and marketing) has long known that to be untrue. Behavioral economics focuses on the truth of how people really make buying decisions.

In the article, the nudge is explained as the potential to alter someone’s behavior without eliminating any of their choice options or changing their economic incentives. Examples include putting a snack bar near a drink fountain resulting in purchase of more snacks, or putting products at eye level increases purchase of those products. No choices are eliminated, nor are economic incentives offered, but buying behavior is altered.

Crawford, however, alters this theory somewhat – our choice options are already limited by “choice architects” – essentially, marketers who choose what products are available and known to us. We’re already choosing from a limited menu. The nudge simply moves us to a particular choice on that menu.

There’s also another effect here, posited by Crawford – our attention spans have been decreasing not only since the advent of frequently-blamed technology, but since the Enlightenment, due to philosophical concepts of individuality and autonomy framed outside the real world, accompanied by capitalism taking advantage of those concepts. So you have an irrational consumer with a short attention span purchasing from a limited menu of options.

So what do you do about that?

  • Make sure you’re on the menu – while some scoff at brand equity activities, that’s how you get on that menu of limited options. If you’re not known, you’re off the choice menu, and you won’t garner that little bit of attention.
  • Appeal to convenience – make it easy to consume your products. For product marketers, placement is crucial. For services and B2B, make the buyer do as little as possible to purchase your product. Ask only for the information you need. Keep the contracts short, with as few signatures needed as possible.
  • Keep it short – take advantage of short-form content to get attention, while using long-form content to drive SEO and thought leadership. The 6-second Youtube pre-roll offers a wealth of possible nudges.

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