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How Human Ventures is Saving the Attention Economy from Addiction, Fraud, and Hate

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During #SMWNYC, representatives from Axios and Human Ventures came together to share insights on what brands should know about the Attention Economy.

Welcome to the Attention Economy, where supply is limited and demand is endless.

In today’s overcrowded digital landscape, attention is a brand’s best friend. At #SMWNYC 2019, Sara Fischer, Media Reporter at Axios joined Managing Directors Ashlyn Gentry and Nick Bell from Human Ventures to share insights on what brands should know about the Attention Economy. 

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So, how does the Attention Economy affect brands and their audiences? Here are their top three takeaways. 

There is a difference between “real” attention and mindless scrolling

Most brands don’t have a good idea of what “real” attention is. If some is looking at your website for 10 minutes, how can you tell the difference between active engagement as opposed to purposeless loitering?

Brands must learn how to measure and identify where real attention is spent. “If you look over the last 10 years, measurement for digital products have progressed slowly, and we still don’t have a great idea of what attention is. Although we can track time spent, someone can mindlessly scroll through your page without any recall of what they’ve actually seen.” said Bell.

Since there is a clear error in the “time spent” proxy, brands face pressure to monetize where real attention lies in the Attention Economy.  “A lot of assets that have true attention are undervalued. I religiously open newsletters every morning and spend 5 to 10 minutes really consuming what I’m reading. Those minutes are completely different from the 5 to 10 minutes I spend scrolling mindlessly through Instagram every morning,” adds Bell.   

Stick to your core audience

Flourishing companies have the ability to create branded communities with engaged, high-value audiences. Because most attention measurement proxies are inaccurate, brands need to turn away from focusing on reach and scale.

“We might want to create content to engage high-reach audiences, but it could actually be less relevant to our brand.” Bell advised brands to avoid erosion by creating targeted campaigns for small and engaged groups. “At some point, brands suddenly fall off. They’ve played into attention economy so much that they no longer have a core audience.”

Just like real economies, the Attention Economy has the potential to crash

Forty percent of web traffic for most brands are from bots. Some impressions will help create money, while others are from mindless scrolling or accidental clicks. As a result, we now have an industry where half the value created is completely made up.

Gentry compared the potential negative implications of this to the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. “You had banks selling bundles of mortgages. Some were good and some were bad, but they marked it all as good. All of a sudden, these mortgages failed and the housing economy crashed. The same thing is happening in advertising,” he explained.

“If we start creating conversations around this comparison, Wall Street and regulators will start to realize that this is serious.”

To conclude, Gentry said, “Having a conversation about the Attention Economy on a regular basis is important.” So how can you get involved? Bring something new to the table. Innovate in a way that makes the attention economy healthy.

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