Oh click-through rate thou art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. As digital marketers we’ve become disciples of the click. We know what it needs. We know what it wants. We know how to increase it by 35 percent and then explain how it really might be higher because we didn’t track every instance.
We’ve become so adept at grabbing attention, we may have forgotten how to keep it
What if we shifted our goals on digital from focusing on a physical action – click, share, buy – to one of mental action. What if we focused on how a piece of content would resonate in the mind rather than in our metrics? Actionable content is great; it’s trackable; it’s informing; but it’s also ephemeral. All the value is for the marketer, not the consumer.
It’s time to take creative content marketing out of the hamster wheel of pure traffic generation and bring it into true brand building. It’s the long game, but it’s the route that leads to owned attention rather than attention we have rent out every day.
Losing the Race to the Bottom
In his book, “The Attention Merchants,” Tim Wu opens the first few pages with a story of the early penny papers. Publishers first made their money from the actual sales of their paper. People wanted what was inside the paper, so they paid money to get the content. Makes sense. Then a revolutionary shift took place. Instead of selling their papers to readers, publishers instead sold their reader to advertisers. The goal of the publisher then shifted as well. The goal now was only to ensure a paper was picked up, not that it was actually read.
With different goals we get different tactics. As Wu puts it:
“This means that under competition, the race will naturally run to the more garish, lurid, outrageous alternative, whatever stimulus may more likely engage what cognitive scientists call our “automatic” attention as opposed to our “controlled” attention, the kind we direct with intent.”
When we sink to the base level of attention grabbing, consumers are having an almost involuntary experience with our content. If we just want a click, fine; however, if we’re actually trying to build a brand, we are doing the opposite.
When people “automatically” click on our content, they never actually register any organic “want” or “need” for our content and thus our brand. And just like all the other things in life that are involuntary, we take it for granted.
Two marketers racing to the bottom only makes the industry lose faster.
"Apperception": An old word for a new objective
So if we get ourselves out of the click race, where do we go? Well the first step it so set a new foundational rule – not all engagement is created equal.
In 1902, Walter Dill Scott wrote about the differences between perception and apperception in “The Psychology of Advertising in Theory and Practice.” Perception, as he would describe it, is contact with the outside world that we feel to some extent.
“The more intense the contact, the more intense the sensation, and the quality of the sensation changes with the quality of the contact.”
Today that translates into: An impression is not a click; a click is not a read; a read is not an experience. The digital reaction doesn’t always result into personal absorption.
As opposed to perception, which is the acknowledging of a sensation, apperception is the perceiving that sensation in terms of our past experiences. Apperception is when something enters our world, says hi by name and then takes a seat on the couch.
Apperception brings us cognitively into the moment. Is creates more than contact, it creates experience.
Scott defines is as:
“…bringing to bear what has been retained of past experiences in such a way as to interpret, to give weight to the new experience.”
Aiming for apperception is harder, but it brings our audience back into the equation. For this all to work they have to be part of it, and we have to be part of it. Digital is not some disconnected dumping ground. It’s a place where people are.
Going back to our story of the penny papers, we see the equation as this:
Content + Attention = Ad $$
Today, the equation should instead look something more like this:
Content + Experience = Brand Equity
That all starts with a shift in focus from a physical action, to a mental one – from the click, to the experience. Aim for the mind, not the mouse.