The Attention Economy

One of the most influential concepts I came across as a serial entrepreneur was the concept of “the attention economy.” Wikipedia has a defining quote from Herbert Simon on this concept:

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it”

I first came across the attention economy in a paper by Michael Goldhaber called The Attention Economy and the Net. Highly recommended reading!

When it comes to pitching investors, customers, job candidates, advisors candidates or just communicating with anyone else keep in mind that attention has become one of the most limited, and therefore most valuable, commodities there is.

TV ads used to be 60 seconds, then they went to 30, 15 and now I think there are even shorter ones. Why? Because people’s attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. And why is that? Because with the advent of the smartphones, notifications, and social media, the opportunities to have your attention interrupted have increased exponentially.

The point of focusing on the attention economy when it comes to pitching and communicating is very simple: you need to grab your audience’s attention not in 60 seconds, not in 30 seconds, not in 15 seconds, but probably in one or two seconds! And you have another  just another 10 – 15 seconds or so to anchor that attention, at least temporarily.

There are many ways to grab an audience’s attention immediately, but one way that does not work (unless you are a celebrity) is by starting with your name, our title and the name of your company! No one cares, no one will remember and now you’ve wasted that 1 to 2 second opportunity to grab their attention.

So far better to start off with “Hi, I’m here to tell you how we’ll solve the problem of lead in our drinking water and in the next 6 months” than Hi, I’m Steve Bayle, Chairman of PopSleuth, Inc., the makers of the Endorfyn app that notifies you of new stuff released by your favorite artists.”

The journalist story telling framework

Journalists tell stories in their articles for the media. Traditionally every story had to answer the following six questions to get by the editor’s desk: Who?, What?, Where?, Why?, When? and Where?, not necessarily in that order!

I’ve found that asking an entrepreneur to put the story of their company into this framework can really help them clarify their thinking and improve their ability to communicate the story of their business to others.

Here’s what I’ve added to those six questions to make them relevant to telling the story of a business.

What is it you do?
  • What problem do you solve?
  • What opportunity do you create?
  • Are you a pain pill (must have!) or a vitamin (nice to have …)?
  • What are the benefits to customers? to the company?
Who do you do it for? Who are the:
  • End users
  • Economic decision makers
  • Influencers
How do you do solve the problem or create the opportunity?
Who are you? The team
  • Why it your team best equipped to do what your company does? Experience? Education & Training? Expertise?
  • Gaps to be filled?
  • Others involved: Board of Directors, advisors, consultants & contractors
Why do you do it?
  • What is your mission?
  • What motivates you and your team members personally? (Money? Fame? Impact on the world?)
When is it your product or service used?
  • Is this a service or product that is used once?
  • Used occasionally?
  • Used regularly?
  • Used only for a fixed period of time?
Where is it used?
  • In business
  • In schools
  • In the home
  • In the car
  • Mobile
  • Elsewhere
  • Everywhere