Food Marketing in the Attention Economy

When it comes down to it, food marketers are dealing with the issue of consumer’s lack of time and attention. As more marketing spend shifts to digital, it’s important we learn to navigate today’s attention economy.

Our digital platforms, perhaps most importantly our social networks, are built using a business model dependent upon increasing the customer’s use of the product, in this case, paying attention to it. If they deliver content or information that stimulates further customer engagement, they capture attention thus increasing their revenue. Add to this the power of machine learning, or another intelligence that makes certain the content seen further increases usage of the platform, and consumers become “stuck” in a closed loop of content delivery. This, of course, is great if your food brand’s content is the one capturing their attention but what if it’s not?

In this closed loop system, who’s responsible? Are these networks really just delivery platforms, or do they have bigger responsibility as content providers? What impact does this, if any, have on food marketing?

Shifting Responsibility: Delivery Platform or Content Provider?

Early in my career working in telecommunications, 976 hotline numbers might have been the first sign of what was to come. Reserved for everything from horoscopes to personal advice counselors, 976 hotline numbers were also controversially applied to adult service businesses.

When hit by customer disapproval, the telecommunication company’s stance was they only provided delivery of the service, and they did not control the content itself. But today’s customers (as well as governments) aren’t letting digital network providers off this easy. With access to user data and personal privacy at stake, providers are being forced to examine how their services are used. The public is pushing providers to expand their role and take on the responsibility of a content publisher. Social media alone has turned our notion of privacy upside down. As providers shift to become content publishers, they are battling the fine line between ethics and profit.

Digital Media Challenges Are on the Rise

New challenges to these attention economy platforms are emerging. Europe is the most aggressive in acting legislatively to change the role of content versus carrier. From GDPR for privacy, to last month’s European Parliament approval to overhaul copyright rules, this trend will eventually arrive on US shores. One recent example is how Germany is now tackling the issue of privacy specific to Facebook. Facebook cannot gather and combine personal data across platforms and websites unless users give permission, a decision that could have wide-ranging implications on the company’s ability to target advertising.

Platforms like Facebook and others will have to address this challenge directly, either by building content filters, or by using other technologies to manage content.

So, What Does This Mean for Food Marketers?

The controversy surrounding the attention economy is not going to subside. In fact, the issue is going to increase, especially among consumers as they become educated about how social media, and other platforms, collect and use their data.

Already, new apps and tools are emerging, such as Facebook Container, to help consumers self-manage their privacy and avert personal intrusion. As food marketers, we know creating customized/relevant content increases purchase intent by nearly 80%. Transparency is a crucial part of the equation, but in the attention economy relevancy may ultimately lie in the hands of the publishers, not the consumer. With consumers still uneasy about companies having their personal information, as food marketers it is important to select appropriate platforms and social media channels not just for communicating your product offering, but also your brand’s values. Both are and will continue to be increasingly important factors influencing consumer’s choices.

Where Do We Go from Here?

The controversy and challenges of using social media platform while maintaining consumer confidence is not going away. As food marketers, we must re-examine the metrics we use. Impressions as a key metric of content delivery are nearly meaningless. Does a brand really benefit from a large number of impressions? And does having a consumer watch 60% or 100% of a video ad really merit attribution of interest? Maybe.

What it ultimately comes down to is the click. Did the consumer actually take time to take a step closer to true conversion, and not merely a reflection of their attention. Thus, clicks and conversion must return as the critical metrics.

Keeping a watchful eye as this attention economy model develops and expands will be critical for food marketers. Knowing how the debate over the attention economy evolves will be fundamental to how you develop your marketing plans and how you measure success. The issue is both a legal and marketing one. With all the recent controversy over social media as a platform that is easily maneuverable, knowing the issues and having a plan to address your own marketing tactics will be needed.

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Keith Butler VP/Digital Strategist EvansHardy+Young
Keith Butler, VP/Digital Strategist

Keith is one of the early leaders of the tech revolution, with a career reaching back to a senior role at AOL, and spanning startups to Fortune 100 companies. But we recruited Keith (twice, actually) not for his past achievements, but for his current leadership capabilities in the digital world. His team’s recent redesign of the California Walnuts website earned a perfect score of 100 from Google Analytics.