summer / 2016

The magazine of branded content
5 steps to creating
content for the new
attention economy
Juliet Stott
Juliet Stott
Jul 27, 2016

In the last five years, technology has radically changed the way people communicate and the way they interact with the world around them. As a result, there’s a powerful new information and influence dynamic, which has complicated the attention economy, says Andrew Hanelly, the creative director of the newly formed agency Rev, a strategy lab focused on helping marketers and media companies grow. “There’s still 24 hours in a day, but there are infinitely more channels in which consumers can interact. There are more businesses and competitors vying for that limited attention, and that’s where we are right now,” he said.

Welcome to the new attention economy.

Hanelly, who has worked with dozens of Fortune 100 companies, says there are two types of companies; those that hope things will go back to the way they were [before the digital revolution started] and the rest who acknowledge that change is upon them, and there are some tough decisions to be made. Brands that are not paying attention, are stubbornly trying to fight it or are hoping that the old tricks will work in a new paradigm will be marginalized.

Hanelly shares his five steps on how brands can change their strategy and tactics to attract the attention of today’s consumer, and ultimately get them to invest both their time and money.

Step1: Make a philosophical change

A smart CMO knows that some things never change and other things always change. The constant is how stories create human connections, and how content and community appeal personally to all segments of society. The variables are the channels and how people interact, day to day. An effective CMO knows that audiences are more distracted, that there are more channels to consider and that to effectively reach their audience, they need to make a philosophical change, i.e., avoid interruption- style tactics and create content that people seek.

Hanelly says: “Brands should take inspiration from the playbook of magazines, reality TV, or experiential events. They must create editorial that attracts communities and provides currency and value to communities.”

Step 2: Add new seats to the table

As technology has infiltrated our everyday lives, the game has changed. There are new seats to fill at the marketing table: enter the growth hacker, the data scientist and the social journalist to name a few.

Hanelly says: “My advice for a CMO is, develop a blueprint for the recalibration of your entire marketing function. Unfortunately, the best time to have done that was five years ago. The second best time is right now.”

Step 3: Rediscover your purpose

Marketers need to be nimble enough to react to the speed of social media. They see wins like the Oreo campaign and believe they need to wait for that perfect viral moment. But the best companies are developing strategies that are less about moments and more about how their brand and the consumer can find synergy. Brands that are addressing their core purpose, asking where they add value and demonstrating how their products are genuinely useful have the best chance of engaging the consumer in today’s attention economy.

Hanelly says: “Brands that understand their true purpose can earn consumer’s permission to participate in cultural moments and communities. This is about brands really serving the communities they want to sell to.”

Step 4: Create small experiments

Hanelly admits he’s never convinced a CEO or CMO to make a huge initial investment in content marketing. It usually begins with an experiment, allocating 10-20% of an ad budget. It takes time to prove to them that they need to move away from spending large sums of money in channels that target mass audiences with advertising. Content marketing doesn’t require a huge upfront investment to begin to see results.

Hanelly says: “You could start with a once-a-week magazine-style series on a website that is small and runs for three to six months. Measure for effectiveness, make adjustments, iterate quickly. You can pivot and grow from there or cut it and act like it never happened.”

Step 5: Take a nimble approach to budgeting

Marketers need to be nimble in this attention economy. Things change every single day. Content should be seen as a series of experiments, and the budget allocations should be flexible, e.g., if you’ve created one piece of content and it’s converting like crazy, divert traditional channel funds to accelerate the online success. If a piece of content is falling flat, slam on the brakes. It is critical to remain vigilant, checking the channels, reviewing metrics and responding in kind to whatever you’re seeing.

Hanelly says: “The balance between content creation and distribution depends on the real time data that you see. The idea that things are variable on a day to day basis is a bit counterintuitive to a traditional marketer’s comfort zone—but, that’s what it takes to be successful.”

Andrew was awarded The Content Council’s Rising Star in 2014. If you work with a rising star, nominate them for this year’s award.