By Graham Brown

Overview: We wake up thinking about our brand and our company’s problems. Youth don’t. They wake up thinking about themselves. Youth are very effective at filtering out your marketing message such that only 5% ever “engage” them. Engaging youth today requires a different approach – one that moves away from trying to interrupt the conversation and grab their attention in increasingly clever, sophisticated, humorous and expensive ways to one built on dialogue.
Story: The growing importance of “Attention” and “Relevance“. Let’s get it into our heads that youth simply don’t wake up thinking about our brands. They wake up thinking about themselves and if at all, how we fit into that Universe.

Attention featured as Trend #21 in our latest Youth Trends Report 2010. Here’s the slide below and link to the report online.

We live in a world where, according to a TubeMogul study, the average video watcher spends less than a minute watching any given clip. It’s a world where youth actively filter out 95% of the information they receive at any one time. The problem? Information overload and you’re simply adding to the noise. Here’s a quote from our earlier post on the wall of noise.

Screens are everywhere. The accessibility provided by technology drive youth to turn your channel off. You are part of the noise. Your advertising is reaching but it’s not relevant – their attention is either elsewhere or not going to give you the benefit of the doubt.Youth are highly proficient at gating out marketing messages that have no prior dialogue.

Given these inherent challenges, many marketers start with the question “how do I get their attention?” – a challenge that precedes conversations about “mobilizing our message” or “befriending them on Facebook”. All lead to failure – it’s New Media but Business As Usual or as Seth likes to put it – the dreaded Meatball Sundae. This the difference between approaches based on Paid vs Earned media; we can’t buy our way into youth attention and trust – it must be earned.

The question we should be asking is “how can I be more relevant?” – i.e. “how do I get into that 5%?” If we address question 1 we end up with answers that lead to solutions such as Annoyvertising that drive short term wins but inevitably through the drag net approach end up as a zero sum gain. Why, for example, do we insist on using expanding adverts on websites when 80% of customers (Linkedin/Harris research) said they were “very frustrating”. The reason? “What’s measured gets done“. As long as we persist in using “awareness” and “market share” as our basic DNA for activity, we’ll keep replicating activity that takes us there regardless of marketing externalities. You’re probably “aware” of the Cadillac brand – but do you want one? All such talk of “attention economy” in the absence of a change at the metric/DNA level is merely stale platitude.Benchmarking your brand against your competitor will simply compound the problem. If you are going to make a difference, you gotta break a few eggshells. I blogged about metrics some time back – the skinny being that “if you want to change your results, you’ve got to change your metrics“.

Paying Attention?
Nielsen recently enlisted the Ball State University Center for Media Design to spend a whopping $3.5 million and observe 476 U.S. subjects directly for a combined total of 952 days to see how they really acted in front of TV sets, computer screens, mobile phones and other media devices. They found what we knew all along – customers weren’t paying attention.

Most organizations are poorly set up to deal with it; their DNA is so out of whack that their relegated to lazy marketing that simply churns out more of the same because it’s easy and “I’ll never get fired for TV advertising“.
And here’s the interesting thing: we say “pay attention”. We expect customers to pay attention to listen to us. We expect them to Pay. No wonder it doesn’t work.
2 Key Questions we need to ask our of youth marketing
Being more relevant, however, challenges us to understand to factors we often overlook – 1) what is her problem? and 2) in terms of social-bang-for-buck, how do I compare to available “solutions” to question 1 out there?
The challenge is that it’s often too much to expect marketers to answer these questions off the bat. In days gone by (and still in most ad agency days), the answer has been traditionally answered by a clever ad campaign or, to use the vernacular of the 21st Century, the integrated social media marketing campaign. Yet, answering these key questions doesn’t come from some agency mystique that costs plenty of bucks but from first admitting, we don’t know.
So, who does? The customers. They know what their problems are, they know how you can better position yourself in the wall of noise and our role in all of this is to give them a platform to help answer these questions and lead them into the process.
4 Levels of Dialogue

Dialogue is key to the Attention Economy and engaging youth. From my experience of working with brands across 50+ countries here’s a take on the 4 levels of company – customer dialogue:
Level 1) Customers are a destination for marketing messages: Rely on traditional advertising, lazy. E.g: Vodafone
Level 2) Customers are key in helping our marketing messages reach the destination: Employ social media, mobile and other new media as an adjunct to existing marketing strategies: E.g: Pepsi, Nokia
Level 3) Customers are experimental stakeholders in shaping the marketing: Crowdsourcing, co-creation and “user generated advertising” as add-ons to the business model. E.g: P&G Being Girl, Unilever Axe, Jet Blue
Level 4) Customers are the brand: Customers initiate, create and shape marketing led by the company. Co-creation is the business model. E.g. Threadless, Jones Soda, Monster Army

Attention and the Future of Storytelling
It’s like Facebook photos – you’re only really interested in the ones that contain YOU. It’s not an ugly narcissistic trend unearthed by Facebook but the reality of us as psychological beings. When faced with Facebook photos or marketing messages – we’re constantly asking the question – “Where am I in this story?” Forget brand management, Customers Are The Brand. We are no longer brand managers, we’re brand custodians – because it’s theirs.

Jones Soda was an excellent exemplary of dialogue marketing back in the day when Peter Van Stolk was at the helm (before the Pepsi execs started diluting the formula). Every Jones bottle carried a picture on the label – a label that had been submitted by the customers. Ask yourself, whose face is more relevant on that soda bottle – Britney’s (as in Pepsi’s Britney model of marketing) or your friends?
Attention means changing the narrative from telling the story about your “brand” as we have done for the last 50 years to helping the customers tell theirs. This is content vs context; the change from pipelining advertising content to them and creating a context in which they can control the narrative. Lauren, aged 17, told it so beautifully on the Jones Soda website when we received her congratulations letter signalling her photo submission was accepted to feature on a new batch of Soda bottles:
“This is way cool”, said Lauren, “now I can drink me”
Next Steps:
1) View the full Youth Trends Report Part Two here featuring “Attention Economy”  (download it).
2) Download the Attention Economy presentation deck from mobileYouthnet
2) View the Attention Economy presentation below to review the key points