Some years back, Paul Dunay wrote a post that has always stuck with me. Be what interests people. To me, that is everything a brand strategy should aspire to, captured in four words. And yes, on the one hand, it seems obvious. But don’t let the simplicity of the statement fool you – because whilst “interest” itself is a deeply familiar concept, it is also an elusive one.
Keeping people’s interest is something marketers talk about a lot – attention, awareness, engagement, inclusion. But these ideas tend to be treated in the moment. Social media has very much encouraged that – analytics have pushed many to judge customer interest in views, comments, buys, likes …
Sustaining interest across longer timeframes is not something that many marketers seem to have thought through. They’ve chosen instead to deal with the Attention Economy largely in the moment. But, according to Trend One, that much-vaunted Attention Economy is itself evolving. Consumers are reacting to the sheer range of choices available to them. “In order to avoid being completely overwhelmed, we prioritise our impressions in real time and learn to filter what is relevant to us.” So interest now has a pecking order. And that has implications for how brands interact with consumers. “This is where the challenge begins for those who wish to be heard … The battle for attention is won by whoever adapts their message to the respective locations, devices, situations and moods.” Meaning interest needs to be generated in specific and yet diverse ways.
These are important, but in my view largely tactical responses, to the quickening evaporation of interest. They leave unanswered the underlying problem. What is it about interest that causes it to fade? Can any brand in this day and age hope to always be interesting?
Let’s start with the characteristics of interest:
Interest is volatile – our interest in anything waxes and wanes, depending on what’s going on around us, what else is happening in our lives, who else is in (or not in) our lives. Things that attract our attention at one moment or point in our lives may dip later only to re-emerge as priorities decades on. Very little that isn’t strictly necessary (or that we deem necessary) will hold our interest for all that time.
Interest is collective – naturally, we’re interested in what interests others. Things trend and fade, for all sorts of reasons: gossip; news; fascination; curiosity; weirdness … Celebrity is the packaging of an expression of interest shared by millions. But, these days, fame only lasts as long as there are talking points. We lose interest collectively as quickly as we create it. Here’s a great article on how things hit the trending radar … and then disappear.
Interest is personal – concurrently, we each have things that interest us individually because they are relevant to who we are, what we love, what fascinates us, what matters to us. These interests may or may not align with the interests we share or choose to express, with others. People are deeply interested in what seems relevant, pleasurable or necessary to them.
Interest is curious – by its very nature, interest rests on being noticed. But it doesn’t stop there. Interest bridges the gap between attention and engagement. It entices people to find out more. But if it is to be more than momentary, that interest must lead to a deeper, more immersive experience or storyline.
Interest is competitive – so many things vie for our attention and interest now. Across every sector of every economy, we are beseiged by ideas, content, movements, projects and actions all looking to get us involved.
Interest naturally diminishes – we can all have too much of a good thing. It’s never been easier to find things to be interested in, and therefore, we are prone to being more and more fussy about what we’ll consume. If the amount we receive/experience/see of something is not constrained, its ability to gain and hold our attention fades. We move on.
So, given these factors, if you’re a brand how do you stay interesting? There is no magic bullet, but rather a combination of ideas, specifically tuned to your brand and audiences, that will decide whether you retain relevance. I suggest 6 working ingredients:
1. Build a long idea – base your brand on an idea that will last across time; an idea that people will continue to be fascinated by, rather than a fashion fad. In the words of Bite Global Marketing’s Tim Dyson, “find an insight that will spark conversations over time, not just once”.
2. Add news – use breaking events to layer currency and more momentary interest over your long idea. David Meerman Scott calls this ““newsjacking” and describes it as “the art and science of injecting your ideas into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage and social attention for yourself or your business.”
3. Introduce controversy – say provocative things, take provocative actions in order to grab headlines and turn heads. Be a brand that does indeed trend, but tie what you trend for to your long idea in order to generate interest spikes. In other words, make hashtags a part of a wider fascination that people have with your brand, not the total sum of their interest.
4. Court segments – understanding that you can’t keep one group interested in you all the time, generate interest across a range of groups for a range of reasons and manage them as an interest portfolio, allowing the interest in different groups to ebb and flow over time.
5. Stay ahead – the brands that are most compelling and likeable are the ones that are ahead of what interests their customers right now. Be a brand that people can “discover” and fashion that discovery to be both collective and individual as appropriate.
6. Know when to shut up. – you don’t have to be always-on to stay interesting. In fact, sometimes, quite the opposite. With that in mind, a great quote from best selling author H. Jackson Brown Jr. to close: “When you have nothing important or interesting to say, don’t let anyone persuade you to say it.”
Photo of “Stilt Fisherman, Sri Lanka” taken by shyam, sourced from Flickr