The Measure of Attention

Seth Godin perceived that we had transited from the manufacturing and services economy to what he defined as the ‘Attention Economy’. He correctly deduced that the interest in a brand is driven by the attention it commanded. And while Apple is held aloft as the beacon of the concept, few others are able to emulate its success. Now that the Pied Piper of Apple has departed, a follow up with the same intensity is next to impossible. Steve Jobs was the sum total of the experience he garnered throughout his life. In some primal way, he was able to tap into our collective psyche and define exactly what we crave and lust for. The brand alone is not the focal point of attention. It’s what the brand stands for and the meaning it imparts that make the difference.

So what exactly is the attention economy? Our lives revolve around our interests and aspirations. The products and services that fulfil certain aspects get admitted. The others have to be content to be on the periphery, no matter how attractive the price point. Yes, we will need soap and detergent and toothpaste, but they are not things we will ever pay a great deal of attention to. No matter how many television commercials are made about how they improve our social and community prospects, we won’t live and die by it. Or accord it more than a passing thought in the minutiae of our daily lives.

The internet may have millions of channels but the ones that have a passionate following have widely dispersed audiences. Ravelry is a social network for the knitting community. That’s right. It offers the best platform for knitters and crocheters to get together. For the companies making products that cater to these interests, it offers the most cost-effective channel. They don’t need to clamour for attention with all the other brands out there. They can address their base with the best possible results. And since it is a close-knit community (no puns intended) manufacturers and service providers get instant feedback on what their community wants.

Ning is a successful platform for building social media networks – from getting people together who are interested in the same music band or macro photography or vintage cars or welfare causes. You may not have friends in the same city interested in what you are passionate about. But you now have the opportunity to pursue that interest far beyond your country. If you are interested in professional cycling in India, for instance, you may not have too many people who share your enthusiasm. But join Veloist and you have worldwide access to a community of cycling enthusiasts and you can expand and grow that interest commercially in India.

The great thing about the attention economy is that it is now about us – not just about what can be manufactured and marketed to us on a global scale. As markets splinter into focused interests, it allows us to explore and expand facets that may never have made sense in a less-connected world.