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Attention Basics: Getting Your Website To Stand Out

by Debbie MacInnis  |  
January 1, 2001

It seems like marketers are going to extremes these days to attract attention. Consider, for example, the yellow snow campaign that had company logos drawn in yellow colored snow. scattered 10,000 wallets over New York City and San Francisco with messages inside that read, "If you were looking to get some free cash, shame on you. Redeem yourself by visiting".

We are exposed to several thousand ads and, increasingly, many web sites each day. But with this increasing exposure comes greater likelihood that we won't pay much attention to any of them. Consider a recent statistic that says that only 1% of people can recall 12 ads associated with a company. That abysmal statistic is particularly shocking in light of the billions of dollars spent each year on advertising.

So what can be done about it? One (though perhaps not the only) fundamental issue has to do with doing a better job attracting consumers' attention. With so much to for consumers to focus on these days there is a great need for marketing people to be diligent in making sure that their ads and web sites attract attention. We can't make any progress in getting people to develop an image of our brand or company or consider buying our product or service (even once) unless we can first attract their attention.

Before we go further, let's go over some basic principles about attention.

First, attention is selective. This means that consumers what (out of possibly hundreds of things) they wish to focus on at any one time. Selectivity is extremely important because the number of stimuli to which we are exposed at any given time is potentially overwhelming. Of course, the fact that attention is selective means that consumers can also become distracted—focusing on something new that grabs their attention.

Second attention is capable of being divided. Consumers can, to a certain extent, pay attention to two things at once—like drive a car and talk; watch TV and talk on the phone; search the web and listen to the radio. Interestingly, we can only divide our attention to things that are really familiar and easy to process. Use the following as an example. If you are in a familiar store, you can easily chat with a companion about an unrelated topic. But in an unfamiliar store, we need to stop talking and take in the environment. If you are on a web-site that has lots of stuff going on, you can either focus on a lot stuff but not think about them much, or decide to focus on one thing and think about it a lot.

Third, attention is limited. We only have so much of it. The fact that attention is capable of being divided and yet is limited means that we can either (1) attend to one thing and think about it a lot or (2) attend to lots of things and think about them a little.

OK. Now that we've talked about the consumer, let's talk about what you, as a marketer, need to do.

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Debbie MacInnis is the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration and a professor of marketing at USC's Marshall School of Business. She is co-author of a recent book on brand admiration, which blends years of best-practice thinking from academia with the real-world practice of marketing.

LinkedIn: Debbie MacInnis


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