Steve’s comments about return on attention are bang on the mark. The question is: how to deliver and recieve better return on attention. What are the mechanisms, tools and processes we need to do this.
The typical media-oriented answer to the challenge of return on attention is ‘better content’. This is a valid answer, but it is not 100% valid and its validity is declining. In a media-saturated world, the more media content there is, the more it consumes our attention, just as other pollutants consume other precious resources. For individuals, the challenge nowadays is to find ‘the content that I want’; that delivers return on attention for me.
That takes us to search. Search mechanisms enable us to edit out unwanted information and to choose what information we want to pay attention to. Search opens up a new evolutionary trajectory because the process starts with the input of information from the individual (what it is I am searching for) rather than information sent by a provider. This is a complete break from 100 years of media history. It is the beginning of ‘bottom up’ rather than ‘top down’ flows of information. Google is the poster child of the early stages of return on attention.
But the search mechanisms we currently have are still pretty crude. As individuals, what we really want to do is to be able to specify exactly what we are interested in. For specification to work, we need to input much more, richer information about what we want (which means we need to be clear about exactly what we want, and to know how to articulate these preferences).
Specification therefore takes us further down the ‘bottom up’ evolutionary trajectory opened up by search. It creates a need for a whole range of new tools, mechanisms and processes revolving around things like needs identification and articulation; how to match the language and categories users naturally use to describe what they want with how providers describe and categorise what they have to offer; and (of course) how to match the two so that the provider can actually deliver what the specifier has asked for, in a way that adds value for both sides.
This is a truly massive agenda. It requires new and different tools and technologies, skills and processes, operational infrastructures, habits and so on. So huge, in fact, that many people dismiss it as sheer fantasy.
The opposite is true. This particular evolutionary trajectory has enough potential for ongoing innovation and improvement for decades to come. For a parallel, consider Henry Ford’s first motor car. No starter motor. No suspension. No reverse. Hard wooden seats. No pneumatic tyres. No hood, windscreen or windscreen wiper – just open to the elements. Pretty awful in fact. But we are still innovating and improving on the basis of the model one hundred years later.
Some of the tools that will make better return on attention possible are already being developed. They include search mechanisms, personal knowledge banks (see buyercentric.com), scenario planning, and expert system-based needs clarification services (drawing on a combination of category experts and peer-user experiences), and so on.
These ‘bottom up’ tools and mechanisms are one of the fundamental building blocks buyer- or person-centric commerce. It would be interesting to build a comprehensive list of such fundamental building blocks, and to start exploring their potential.