Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jan-Feb 2016

Seven ways to capture your audience's attention

If you can’t capture attention, how do you expect to capture anything else in terms of your goals or bottom line?

Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

Right beside Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology and Sally Hogshead’s Fascinate, Ben Parr’s Captivology, is another ground breaking read on the science of capturing attention. Like Hogshead, Parr brings our attention to seven triggers that call people to attention. Perhaps the magic number has to do with Parr’s years of research sifting through thousands of studies (from neurology to sociology) and conducting interviews (from Steven Soderbergh to David Copperfield) to arrive at his premise. That is, if you can’t capture attention, how do you expect to capture anything else in terms of your goals, ambitions or bottom line?

His seven triggers explain further:

1. Automaticity: Because we are hardwired to respond viscerally, using sensory cues helps direct attention automatically. After all, instinct outsmarts reason when it comes to our survival and safety. This doesn’t mean firing a gun (to be heard) or wearing red (to be noticed), but using subtle cues to play on people’s gut. For instance, giving a hot cup of tea to a star prospect or client makes them more giving and friendly in return. Studies prove it has something to do with exposure to warmth.

2. Framing: Our perceptions are shaped by biological, social and personal experiences. These frames of reference lead us to either embrace certain ideas or avoid them entirely. So to leverage this trigger, you must either adapt or change the frame. One technique is repetition. If a statement is repeated long enough (for instance, Jesus was born on September 11, 3BC), people will start to believe it is true. Proving that if you want something to sink in, don’t be afraid to repeat it. Jesus? 9-11? It’s true.

3. Disruption: When an incident violates our expectations, we love it – because we are hell-bent to figure out a threat from a positive development. In fact, the more disruptive it is, the more interesting it becomes. It’s called the Expectancy Violations Theory. It doesn’t mean blowing something up to make your point. Rather, it asks you to heed surprise and novelty in a positive way to make your point. Like asking a good question, beating a tough deadline, or inviting your boss for a walk instead of an office meeting. It’s the twist in the plot. The irony in a joke. Or a detour from expectations.

4. Reward: Dopamine is traditionally seen as a pleasure-seeker. Yet, it is also a neurotransmitter for anticipation and motivation – fuelling desires for basic wants right up to a lofty sense of self-worth and purpose. Which means, your goal as a manager is not only to identify incentives for reward, but to bring them to life viscerally. So if you want to take your team to an off-site after a big project, don’t just tell them about it. Send them pictures. Make them touch, experience, or even visualise the reward for greater impact.

5. Reputation: ‘Directed Deference’ is a phenomenon that neuro-economists cite to explain why the decision-making centres of our brains slow or shutdown when we receive advice from an expert. Apparently, consumers consistently rate experts as more trusted than CEOs or celebrity spokespersons. So if you would like to make headway with people who don’t know you, start with your credentials and expertise and cite or surround yourself with other experts who are most knowledgeable on your topic.

6. Mystery: There’s even a name for it. Named after the Soviet psychologist who discovered it, The Zeigarnik Effect explains how our memory is fine tuned to remember incomplete stories and tasks and why, because we dislike uncertainty, we will use any means possible to reduce the dissonance. This is your weapons-grade cliff hanger. But in business, it just means completing an action on a second round of meetings so that interest and attention can be held long enough to close a sale or reach an agreement.

7. Acknowledgement: All mammals want attention. Only human beings need acknowledgement. Our need for validation from others is a driving force. It’s our sense of belonging to a community, participating in a group, being situated in a context, living for a purpose. If you successfully create this feeling for anyone whose attention you would like to capture, chances are you will be repaid generously.

Parr describes effective employees, managers and executives as the ones who use these seven triggers to highlight their ideas, teams, or projects. By understanding the science of attention, we understand what it takes to succeed in the attention economy.

Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE and Creative Director, The D’Hamidi Partnership.