The Battle For Customer Attention

Michael Brenner on Jan 24, 2012 in Content Marketing

It used to be so easy. With the right amount of budget and the right Madison Avenue “Mad Men,” any business could reach their target audience.

But now, the consumer marketplace is fragmented almost beyond recognition. We receive more marketing messages than we can handle and the battle for customer attention has moved from being mainly about the medium to technology to content.

If “content is king,” then customer attention is the “Holy Grail.”

That was how I kicked off my presentation to the International Advertisers Association in New York on January 20, 2012. Here is an overview of the presentation and the slides as well…

When I was young, the way to reach the typical American household was relatively simple: TV, radio, newspaper, magazine, mail and phone were the common tactics. 1974 was also the year when the first UPC was scanned at a U.S. supermarket ushering in a new era of marketing information. For the first time, marketers could track all 4 Ps systematically to understand the place where all their products were selling, at what price and on which promotion.

20 years later, the internet and the PC age ushered in the next step in this evolution, where software and technology allowed businesses to take even greater advantage of customer information in order to determine how best to reach consumers. At this point, the marketing playing field was leveled as any business could setup a website and market to their audience.

Today, we are all connected. Information flies around the world in real time. Consumers are participating on both ends of the spectrum as content producers and as content consumers. This process has in many ways “dis-intermediated” marketers, agencies and publishers and our ability to control the message. Now it’s the cost of content that has come down to close to zero.

And so, I think it makes sense to go back and consider the aim of marketing: “to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself. The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous” (~ Peter Drucker). But when businesses are not selling something as truly customer-focused as something like the iPad, they have to pay to acquire new customers with promotional messages and approaches.

This has caused the mess that many of us see today. Marketers have spent more and more time and effort chasing an audience that is increasingly rejecting marketing messages. This is causing a decrease in the ROI of outbound campaigns like direct mail, telemarketing, email and banner ads.

The answer to all this is Content! We have to stop pushing messages and start creating messages our audiences are interested in. We need to be more interesting and we need to distribute interesting content in multiple forms across all the channels where our customers are consuming it. To quote Ryan Seacrest from / Fortune Magazine:

We’re seeing platform, technology, and content all converging, and it’s happening quickly,“ It’s exciting to me. There’s an appetite for more original content than ever, and I have a company that creates content, whether it’s distributed in short form, reality form, live form, or game form.

The crux of the problem for marketers, agencies and publishers: marketers have budget but in many cases do not have the content our audiences are interested in. Publishers have great content, but cannot get consumers to pay for it. And agencies are at risk of being left out of the party as new models emerge combining paid, earned and owned media.

So how can marketers, agencies and publishers work better together? According to Susan Popper, SVP of Marketing Communication at my employer, SAP:

“We need strategic “big” ideas that blend paid/earned/owned. Our greatest challenge as marketers is staying fresh and a fragmented environment so the right people can see you at the right time!”

I concluded the talk by urging marketers, agencies and publishers to understand that there is a whole new, real-time, hyper-connected world in media and marketing.  To make it all about their customers.  And to balance customer needs to be informed, educated and entertained. Now, I’m interested in your thoughts…?

Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.
Showing 18 comments
  • kenny


    great stuff. 2 Million IT buyers tell me you can’t get their attention by asking them to constantly go out of their daily workflow. You have to engage them on their turf and their turf. Not on facebook, twitter, linkedin etc for example. They just do not spend a lot of time on thos platforms.

    • Michael Brenner

      Engage them on their turf? I love it. did all 2 million IT buyers tell you that 😉

      Seriously, Kenny thanks for the support!

  • Chris Sanchez

    Good morning Michael,

    Thanks for putting out awesome content. It was actually great timing, as I had just read this quote this morning. Make it a great day!

    “It’s easy to get people’s attention; what counts is getting their interest.”

    Civil Rights Activist, Philip Randolph

    • Michael Brenner


      Excellent point. It’s not just about attention, it’s what we do with it that counts. We have to deliver on the promise.

  • Laura-Lee Walker

    Looks like the creative set will have more clout than ever in the content-marketing landscape. This is good news for media professionals who have seen job prospects in traditional media erode over the past decade.

    • Michael Brenner

      Laura-Lee, It’s an interesting observation. Some people think agencies are in real danger since they are really the ones first to be “disintermediated” but I agree with you.

      The creatives will win the day, even if it means marketers start to hire them. We’re already starting to see more journalists get hired by brands. And now graphic designers, mobile app developers and copywriters are getting a whole lot more attention as well.

  • Fiona F

    I love the slide depicting content over time, and most of it going down the tubes while people try to so desperately to be interesting. What if you’re most marketable qualities are simply not that interesting? It paints a dim picture.

    • Michael Brenner

      Hi Fiona, I can’t take credit for that slide. It’s from Timo Elliot who I covered in this article

  • Thomas G

    Clear, informative, simple. Like your post! Don’t stop writing, you’ve given me lots of good info!

  • kenny

    not everyone of them but enough of them to be stat correct. 🙂

    keep up the great work.

  • Salvador Stabler

    Great article and yes perfect timing for this post. Thanks Michael! You hit the sweet spot, as marketers, our greatest challenge is to consistently create fresh and relevant content. Especially in a fragmented world where information and engagement are taking place in real time.

    Like you also said, marketers have spent more and more time and effort chasing an audience that is rejecting traditional marketing messages. Yes we need to start creating messages that our audience are interested in. Not just creating highly targeted messages to an interested audience, but also having the right mix of technology, platform, and content as Ryan Seacrest said. Once you have the right mix of technologies now you can deliver any message to anyone, on any page or marketing channel, at the right time. That’s the Holy Grail of customer attention!

  • Carlo Formicola

    Michael, really interesting stuff and impossible to disagree. I don’t think it’s just about creativity, though. Brands that will do this best will be those that manage to achieve a high level of consistency between their social media presence and their more ‘formal’ branding presence. What I often notice is the sense of disconnect between the two activities – social media content tends to be delivered in much more informal language, because if it’s not it sounds a little stiff. All of which begs the question, will top-level corporate brand values then need to readjust to this rise in more informal communications? One for future discussion, I suspect

  • Bhaskar Sarma

    Michael, that point in the slide about being entertaining is very important, IMO. While it’s pretty easy to be funny and humorous in a B2C environment, getting your audience to chuckle while they are reading something about server farms is far more difficult.

    Most B2B marketing reminds me of solemn judges and funerals and the content that can break this mold will have a much greater chance of emotionally connecting with the target market.

    Done right, humor can be your best friend

    • Michael Brenner


      I agree with you but I think funny is hard to pull off. I have seen too many disasters when non-funny marketers who typical market traditional B2B stuff, try to be consumer-friendly funny. Leave that to the pros, I think!

  • Sales Chat Sean

    Hi Michael,

    I agree with you that in the past it was easy to reach to the targeted audience but don’t you think it is easier now…….previously marketers were using 90% money and 10% knowledge but now the equation is reversed… an a simple idea with fewer dollar can make 100 times the impact which an Ad worth $$$$$$ cannot do. Its the perfect time we are living in. The time with golden opportunities. We have everything available at our disposal, all we need is, the original thought and a simple strategy to spread that original thought on all available media.

    Thanks and regards,


  • Amir Elaguizy


    Fantastic article.

    The one observation I would add is that for the first time it is now very possible to have a conversation with a customer as opposed to simply a broadcast style of engagement. Most marketers I meet are still thinking of the social channels as a “really accessible TV” – a broadcast only device.

    I think the people who win online in the coming years are going to be those that are embracing the social ecosystem in a way that the consumers themselves are. Namely as a tool for conversation, interaction – not simply a loudspeaker.

    Great read!

    • Michael Brenner

      Great point Amir. It is not just about the new tools and channels but how they are being used to meet the new expectations of today’s social consumer.