The New Marketing Mandate: Don’t Just Grab Attention–Hold It
When I was a kid, I hated sand. In fact, before I could walk, I hated sand so much that my parents could simply plop me down on a blanket at the beach, and I’d stay put. I’d sit there, gumming on a toy, staring at other kids playing just a few feet away, like a puppy inside an invisible fence. And why?
Because I hated sand.
Now that I’m a full-grown content marketer, I find my hatred of the stuff returning. Everywhere I look, I see marketers digging holes in dry sand.
As marketers today, we often obsess over reach and acquisition — so much so, that we forget the truth: Successful marketing isn’t measured by how many people arrive, but by how many people stay.
Unfortunately, we often find ourselves stuck in this constant and frenzied race to get more, faster, with less. All too often, our jobs feel defined by motion (activities) rather than progress (results). That’s about as effective as digging a hole in dry sand. We can’t stop frantically shoveling, or the walls will collapse in around us, and all that effort will be for nothing.
Ugh. Don’t you hate sand?
So why does this happen? Why do we rush in a near-panic to acquire, acquire, acquire? I blame the effects of a bygone era that still persist today. It was an era built on mass marketing, when the marketing mandate was simple: acquire people’s attention.
In a world with far fewer channels and far less consumer choice than today, marketers could run campaigns and focus on grabbing attention with impressions spread across disparate “touchpoints.” But of course, thanks to the internet, consumers now have more choice and therefore more power over where they spend their time. If they don’t want it or don’t like it, they can swipe, tap, and browse their way to an infinite amount of infinitely more interesting content — to say nothing of technologies that exist solely to block advertising. It is no longer enough to merely grab consumer attention, because as soon as we do, something else grabs them away.
Look, we don’t “own” our audience, nor will we ever be the lone thing they pay attention to. However, we can increase our chances of earning trust and influence over time, thus triggering actions that benefit our business, if we can escape this frenetic cycle of grabbing attention. When our settings are stuck on Constant Acquisition Mode, the work becomes inefficient. We emphasize the starting point (traffic) instead of the relationship (audience). It all feels like digging a hole in dry sand.
Man, sand is the worst.
We need a new mandate. The world has changed. But have we? Not enough. We assume we have: We’re publishing content, we’re working with influencers to do … stuff? … we’re thinking about experiences and engagement. But we’re still approaching those things with that same-old mentality. We fall to the extremes: It has to be a huge win, blanketing the world in our logo, or it must convert customers right now in direct-response fashion. So there we go, digging and sweating and panicking, because if we stop, the results stop too. Our mentality hasn’t changed.
It’s time it did. We need that new North Star. So I’d like to propose a new marketing mandate for us all, right here, right now. Repeat after me:
My job is not to grab attention. My job is to HOLD IT.
Holding attention is the new marketing mandate.
How Holding Attention Benefits a Business
Holding our audience’s attention over time changes a lot for the better. We earn trust in an era void of it, we turn fleeting “traffic” into engaged audience, and we turn audience into community, superfans who know, love, and share what we do. But if you really distill this notion of holding attention down to two main business benefits, you land here:
1. Increase the lifetime value (LTV) of each member of your audience.
2. Decrease your customer acquisition costs (CAC).
Software companies figured this out awhile ago. Because software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies charge on a monthly basis (that’s the “subscription” part), they know the bulk of their revenue — and their only hope for profitability — is created over time. They understand their “payback” period.
- It costs X to acquire a customer.
- They pay us Y per month.
- We’re profitable on that customer after Z months.
Thus, software companies care deeply about customer retention and dread customer churn. They don’t thrive based on how many sign up for the product. They only grow a healthy business by caring about how many STAY. In fact, they look for the holy grail of “negative churn,” the idea that you can upsell existing customers to new feature sets or new services so that existing users pay more per month than when they signed up. This growth in monthly revenue then cancels out or adds up to more revenue than was lost by customers who churned.
This logic seems so simple: keeping and deepening your relationship with users over time increase each user’s LTV.
But what about growth? Surely, we need to add new people to our funnel?
Of course. Just as software companies must care about customer acquisition, we as marketers will always care about grabbing attention. It’s how we do so that matters, and we can do so far more efficiently if we create word-of-mouth. Happy, retained, loyal customers for software products, just like happy, retained, loyal audience members for our content, help bring us MORE customers. Just as a focus on retention can increase the LTV of our existing audience, it can decrease the CAC for new audience.
(That sound you hear is a bunch of CMOs drooling over this idea.)
What if, rather than focusing all our time on acquisition, we focused the lion’s share on retention? Rather than merely grabbing attention, what if we knew how to hold it?
Our work would stick. We’d experience compounding returns over time, where yesterday’s efforts benefit today, and today’s benefit tomorrow … forever. We’d finally escape this frenetic race to dig holes in dry sand.
Because f**k sand, I say!
The Best Way to Hold Attention and Reap the Rewards
So how can we better HOLD attention? As with anything as foundational as this new marketing mandate, there is no ONE right way. But I do believe there is a powerful way that’s been gaining steam of late that we can all stand to discuss and learn more deeply. Because within this broad and often chaotic job that is modern marketing, we do have one type of content at our disposal that exists with the express intent of HOLDING attention:
This is already happening around the marketing world. It started with one-off programs, like the podcasts created by Slack, GE, Dell Technologies, HubSpot, Tinder, Charles Schwab, and Facebook, or the video series by Scotch brand the Balvenie (hosted by the late, great Anthony Bourdain), the education tech company CreativeLive, and everyone’s favorite, long-running series by Rand Fishkin, Whiteboard Fridays. The list of standalone series goes on for miles, and it spans every sector and stage of company growth.
Lately, however, we’ve seen those one-off shows spawn integrated, ongoing strategies. Some of my favorite examples thus far:
- Mailchimp launched an entire microsite and creative arm for this called Mailchimp Presents.
- The mid-stage, self-funded (i.e. non-VC funded) startup ProfitWell has launched multiple original series as well, including the daily news video show Subscription60, the interview series Protect the Hustle, and their flagship original, Pricing Page Teardown. CEO and frequent on-air star Patrick Campbell tells me they looked at the data, saw the importance of time spent and multiple touch-points, as well as email subscription, and the rolled that together to form their strategy of multiple shows, with rigorous measurement from first touch down to sale.
- Bestselling authors and professional speakers have long made shows. Two more recent additions that speak to the idea of a true SHOW, with a series concept and overt episode format, come from Andrew Davis and Jay Baer. Andrew hosts the Loyalty Loop while Jay publishes the Talk Triggers show. (By the way, you should check out Andrew’s behind-the-scenes video about how he makes his show. It’s awesome.)
- The growth-stage company Drift is building a podcast network called Seeking Wisdom Originals. They now have a few podcasts (Seeking Wisdom, Build, and Operations, initially run inside their first show but progressively spun out into their own feeds. (Full disclosure: I was hired to create two seasons of one of those podcasts, Exceptions.) Drift has also experimented with video series.
- Video software company Wistia recently produced a full-on documentary series called One, Ten, One Hundred, while announcing the launch of a product to help marketers build their very own Netflix-style channels on their own websites. They’ve started lauding the benefits of episodic content on their blog, too.
Shows are built to hold attention over time. Done well, they offer irresistible show-level concepts, smartly constructed episode-level formats, and on-camera or on-mic talent that you get to know and love. Roll this together, and shows create intimacy that scales. Ask any host whose attended an event and received literal hugs and conversations more similar to catching up with old friends. As a longtime podcast host myself, I always wonder, “Do I know this person?” But, no, they’ve heard my show … for 30, 60, 90, or several DOZEN hours of their life!
Just think: Would your marketing get easier and your business benefit if your customers and prospects spent literally hours of their life with your brand each week or month? Wouldn’t it be far more effective to market to people we actually know in real life? Shows turn URL connections into what feels like IRL relationships.
Shows also provide efficiencies across all our marketing channels. Their concepts force us to think strategically about our brand. (I can’t tell you how often consulting clients of Marketing Showrunners tell us how their podcast’s big idea has refined and reshaped their entire brand message.) Additionally, a show’s content can cascade across all other channels in various mediums, with articles and graphics and videos ripped from or inspired by the original episodes. Lastly, shows provide a very clear subscription opportunity. Because what’s more compelling? “Subscribe for more content similar to this piece,” or, “Subscribe to get the next episode”? Shows are journeys. While a “piece” is one container built to end, a show is built to continue and deepen the relationship.
No more dry sand. Because sand. freaking. sucks.
So now what? How do we master this stuff?
This is becoming a movement, and Marketing Showrunners exists to help coalesce al these threads around inspiration, education, community. In addition to all those marketers creating shows, we can learn learn from and connect with various tech platforms being built specifically for marketers (e.g. Transistor.fm, a podcast platform built for brands to grow their audiences), service providers (ranging from Pacific Content, which produces branded shows with top-tier brands, or various smaller firms that act like “chop shops” for last-mile execution, to this very organization, Marketing Showrunners, where we provide the creative strategy and marketing advisory for B2B shows in particular).
As this movement grows, we all stand to gain … if we can come together as a community. This work goes so far beyond helping each other grab audience attention. We’re now in the business of HOLDING it. I don’t know about you, but I adore that notion. There’s no way to game this system, no room for marketing hacks or cheats or hucksters. When our focus as marketers shifts away from how many arrive and towards how many STAY, there’s only one thing to do to succeed: deliver something genuinely worthy of their time.
Our mandate has changed. It’s time we embraced it, and acted accordingly.
Don’t just acquire attention. Hold it.
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Marketing Showrunners exists to advance the craft and creativity of marketers making shows to grow loyal, passionate audiences. Subscribe below, continue reading, or reach out to me personally anytime on Twitter (@jayacunzo) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Founder of Marketing Showrunners, author of Break the Wheel, and host/producer of docuseries about creative work. I’m trying to create a world where people feel intrinsically motivated by their work. Previously in content marketing and digital strategy at Google and HubSpot and VP of brand and community at the VC firm NextView. I write, tinker, and speak on stages and into microphones for a living. It’s weird but wonderful.
Get in touch anytime: email@example.com // Speaking inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org