The Attention Economy

How can brands capture consumer attention and build relationships with them without engaging in the “ick factor” of data abuse?

Pam and Val discuss the challenges of the attention economy with Kathleen Dundas, President of Data Strategy & Analytics at Zenith.

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We’re back this week with another excellent episode for Amobee Out Loud. In this episode, my co-host Val Bischak and I speak with Kathleen Dundas, President of Data Strategy & Analytics for Zenith, about the “attention economy,” the challenges and opportunities of capturing consumer attention in a fragmented, and distraction-saturated media landscape.

How Can Advertisers Leverage Consumer Data to Capture Their Attention?

We start off by asking Kathleen the million-dollar question: how can advertisers get attention in a world where consumers are exposed to extensive ads with very little attention? Kathleen says it boils down to how well a brand understands its consumer base. Brands often make the mistake of framing the issue as “who are we going to target,” or “who are we going to buy against,” when the value of consumer data starts way before that. In conversations with clients, Kathleen reframes the conversation as: who are our consumers? What are their interests, what are their lives like, and how can a product fit into their life? The real reason to use research-based, panel-based, or behaviorally-based data is not to “find” the consumer, but to better understand them. It’s the difference between the right place and time, and the right place + right time + right message.

If advertisers want to understand their consumers better, Kathleen recommends starting with research or panel-based data to get the broadest understanding of the opportunity, followed by contextual data to get a better sense of consumer behavior. While there’s no replacement for first-party data, Kathleen always asks her clients to clarify the role that first-party data plays in the overall strategy: why are they collecting it, and what is the value exchange with the consumer when they provide their data? What insight does that first-party data provide, and how can second and third-party data provide even more detail, because people are so much more than the action they took on a website. All of this information helps provide a well-rounded view of consumers and when, where, and how advertisers can find them.

Measuring for Attention vs Impressions

There’s been much debate recently about media measurement and the traditional method of measuring for opportunity versus measuring consumer attention. Kathleen says it’s not one or the other, but that both offer a unique perspective. Measuring for opportunity does a good job of quantifying time spent, determining whether there was engagement with an ad, and even capturing neural network data to understand consumer reaction to advertising. Attention doesn’t replace this, and it doesn’t solve the media measurement debate; it’s just an additional facet of measurement. Attention is about evaluating quality. Audience quality: who is the ideal audience and what do we know about them? Inventory quality: when, where, how are we engaging with this consumer? And business outcome: was there a direct conversion, or equity improvement? In this paradigm, measuring engagement is based on business outcomes, not just whether a consumer interacted with an ad in a particular moment.

The “Ick Factor” of Consumer Data

Measuring the quality of a consumer’s attention brings up issues of brand trust. As Kathleen explained, there’s a difference between privacy compliance and advertising practices that cultivate trust with consumers. Just because a practice is privacy compliant doesn’t mean that consumers will appreciate it. Kathleen offered the helpful analogy of searching for someone online before a job interview – it’s not that researching a job candidate is bad, but bringing up everything you know about them right away might come across as creepy. Is it appropriate to bring certain data about consumers into the conversation, even if you have access to it? It makes people feel awkward when brands know more than they should, and in some extreme cases, has led consumers to share their experiences on social media, where these stories can go viral and have much larger consequences for brands.

If brands want to cultivate relationships with their consumers, they should consider what consumers are comfortable with brands knowing and then strategize how to use that information in a compliant way that garners trust. In fact, the whole concept of brand trust has evolved over time. It used to be about consistency in service or product and brand reputation. Today, brand trust is about transparency and authenticity, says Kathleen.

The Renaissance of Contextual Targeting

As third-party data deprecation becomes an industry reality, contextual data is experiencing something of a renaissance. Kathleen believes this is a good thing because, as she says, people are so much more than a single line of code that tracks what they’re clicking on the internet. Contextual data gives color to the mindset that consumers are in as they navigate the web – are they in business mode, and therefore an ad about diapers isn’t what they want to pay attention to at that moment? Or are they in parent mode, or vacation mode, and don’t want to be reminded of work right now? Putting an ad in the proper context will garner more attention from the consumer.

Efficiency vs Effectiveness in Ad Buying

Another factor influencing consumer attention is ad frequency. We asked Kathleen how she advises clients to think about CPMs in an increasingly fragmented media landscape. It’s not just about efficiency, she said, it’s about the effectiveness and determining the best investment before they sit down at the negotiating table. Marketing mix modeling (MMM) is an age-old method of measurement, but it’s still useful in analyzing different vectors and questions that marketers want to understand. She encourages marketers to think about not only the efficiency of an ad buy, but overall effectiveness. ROI on an ad buy isn’t the only way to understand effectiveness; other insights like how an ad impacted brand health data can create a clearer picture of how advertisers should be spending their money that reflects how and where consumers are spending their time.

It was an incredible conversation with Kathleen and we’re grateful for her perspective on the complexity of consumer attention. Visit us again next week for another recap, or you can listen or watch full episodes and subscribe here. Don’t forget to leave a review and join the conversation on our LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

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