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Careers

Ready, Set, SQUIRREL! Why I Joined the Attention-Based Marketing Movement

If you have children, or are a big kid at heart, you no doubt know and love the 2009 Disney animated classic Up. In the movie, 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen, played by Ed Asner, travels to Paradise Falls in his home… powered by balloons. Along the way, he inadvertently picks up a young stowaway Wilderness Explorer named Russell and a loveable Golden Retriever named Dug.

A still from the movie Up showing Russel meeting the dog Dog as Carl looks on.

Dug and Russell encounter a host of “bad dogs” bent on capturing a rare bird named Kevin.

A still from the movie Up, showing the dog named Dug meeting the bad dogs with a smile.

Dug and Russell learn that these bad dogs can be easily defeated by yelling “SQUIRREL!” to distract them long enough for the good guys to get away, save Kevin and “happily ever after” ensues. My kids loved the movie Up so much, they named our own Golden Retriever Dug. He’s a good dog, but he’s easily distracted by tennis balls…

When you think about it, we all live in a “Squirrel!” economy today in which it’s all too easy to get distracted by the noise. The Internet and digital media services like Netflix and YouTube have conditioned us – like a Golden Retriever laser-focused on a tennis ball – to habitually stop whatever we’re in the midst of doing or thinking about and chase that next thing that’s a blur in the corner of our eye.

Modern marketers, maybe more than anyone, face this visceral challenge every day: How do you capture – and more importantly, hold on to – the attention of your busy, distracted and information-overloaded buyers? How do you adapt our content delivery strategies to provide more complete and, ultimately, more satisfying content experiences for buyers? It’s a challenge that I’m tremendously excited to be at the forefront of solving in my role here at PathFactory.

My Own Balloon Journey

Almost 10 years ago, I embarked upon a journey toward Modern Marketing excellence. As one of a group of charter members of Eloqua, I pledged to help marketers connect the dots between marketing spend and contribution to revenue with empirical results.

A still from the movie Up showing a house taking flight because of a huge number of helium balloons attached to the roof.

At the time, marketing automation was a nascent category that would come to be defined as the natural evolution of marketing. The premise was simple and elegant: Take any channel (like email), apply workflow automation for delivery, structure database scoring models around behavior analytics (website visits, opens, click through rates), combine with explicit data scoring (title, product interest, past purchase history) and apply thresholds to lead scores so that Sales received a better class of genuinely sales-ready leads. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, I believe we’re on the verge of the next big thing in marketing – a fundamental shift in the way marketers engage with their audience and measure the success of their marketing efforts. Here at PathFactory, we call it attention-based marketing.

As someone who functions well at the low end of the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) spectrum, I found myself strangely drawn to the PathFactory vision for how to meaningfully engage with a guy like me and sustain my attention.

Anyone who’s ever bought anything of value knows that we rarely research a major purchase in dribs and drabs. Who has ever made a considered purchase by looking at one website, reading one whitepaper, or perusing a single eBook? When we’re motivated to self-educate, we go all in. The world of the internet and Netflix have taught us to consume content until we’re full. Did you know that 70% of Netflix users binge-watch shows? The ubiquitous availability of information online has made us gluttons for content. We can’t get enough.

But Here’s the Problem…

Current marketing technology delivers content to a buyer based on a pre-planned and marketing-dictated campaign cadence that is completely at odds with the buyer’s desire to binge. If marketers adjust this cadence at all, they do so based upon surface metrics and outmoded constructs like email open rates and clicks – none of which tell the marketers whether the content was actually consumed.

Marketers infer that buyers looked at their content based on an open or click-through. What’s missing in the current model is that they don’t know how much of the content was read or viewed. Did I, with my low-level ADD, spend time with your eBook that I downloaded or did I glance at it for 10 seconds and shoot it over to the trash bin?

In our hyper-distracted era, attention is the new black. Marketers need to know how I engaged with it, whether I viewed the content at all, and how much time I spent with it. And they need to use this actionable content engagement intel as a feedback loop to adapt their content delivery and cadence to my behavior.

Applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to algorithmically determine the most engaging content based on factors that will ultimately influence and accelerate a purchase decision is literally the last lever left for the modern marketer to pull.

Having been involved in the successful sale and deployment of marketing automation solutions for hundreds of amazing marketing organizations, I am insanely passionate about the plight of the demand marketer in an era of shrinking attention spans. Every day, I see marketers fighting the good fight to drive awareness, qualified demand and revenue every day. In my new role as Senior VP of Sales at PathFactory, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with many brilliant and committed demand-focused CMOs who are not only struggling to drive revenue response from their marketing, but are under the gun to generate high quality leads due to the fundamental and profound attention deficit disorder that exists in the buyer landscape. And to be honest, much of the marketing technology that is supposed to help marketers reach their audiences has been slow to adapt.

Marketing Technology Needs to Evolve

Netflix, YouTube and smartphones have fundamentally rewired our attention span as humans. Let’s face it, humans want what they want, when they want it.  And that “when” is almost always “right now.” Have you ever watched only one YouTube video? Have you ever “binge-cheated” on your partner by watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones without them because you just couldn’t wait? Have you ever been at a dinner party where someone didn’t whip out their smartphone to look up the answer to a question right there and then? I’m old enough to remember a time before instant recall when we actually had to remember stuff and had an opportunity to debate a topic!

Most current marketing tech just doesn’t consider the re-wired attention span of the modern buyer. Buyers are so easily distracted by squirrels…and yet we continue to market to our buyers on our terms, with no allowance for, or consideration of, their limited attention. Let’s face it: today, true buyer attention is a gift; it’s real currency, every bit as valuable as money in the bank.

To address the lack of attention, which is manifested in low click-through rates and page visits that last seconds on average, marketers have fallen into the trap of simply producing more, throwing more and more content at the problem, but ever-waning buyer engagement and a flood of MQLs that aren’t accepted by Sales suggests that more isn’t working. We’re not pulling the proper levers to get and keep our buyers engaged, and it’s preventing us from accelerating purchase decisions and leaving the buyer unsatisfied.

Summing ‘Up’ (See what I did there?)

The attention challenge is here to stay – SQUIRREL! today, SQUIRREL! tomorrow. Nielsen Research says that, in the Western world, an average 17-year-old is exposed to more content and data in one year than a 70-year-old has been exposed to their entire lifetime. From social media feeds to binge-based streaming, earning multi-channel engagement from a distracted human has never been more challenging.

While I’m sure we’d all agree that marketing has never been easy, the limited attention of the buyer is truly giving us a run for our money. Here’s a few things to consider:

  • What’s the point of marketing if you don’t know who – if anyone – is consuming your content and how that content consumption behavior influences and accelerates buying decisions?
  • Are your current marketing technologies built on outmoded content delivery constructs that don’t allow the buyer to consume your messaging on their terms and at their pace?
  • Can you afford to lose potential buyers who are ready to engage, but who grow weary of waiting for the next piece of content you’ve teed up for them to arrive on your schedule, not theirs?
  • Are you able to capitalize in real time on the moment when a buyer elects to spend time with your content and convert from a casual browser to an engaged content “binger”?
  • How easy is it for a buyer to disengage from your marketing if they don’t feel adequately “fed” when their hunger for information is at its peak? Will they buy from a competitor who can and does engage with them on their terms and is ready to satisfy their appetite for more?
  • Can your current marketing engagement flow automatically “course correct” based on the knowledge of your buyer’s content consumption behavior as outlined above?

In the movie Up, the good guys win by exploiting the inability of most creatures to stay focused. In an Up world where everyone is turning up the volume and crying SQUIRREL! as loud as they can to turn heads, marketers need to change up their strategies, tactics and tools to focus on attention. That’s why I’m so thrilled to be a part of the attention-based marketing movement that PathFactory is helping to lead – and my dog Dug is pretty happy, too, that his buddy and master has found a good home.

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