"Across consumer markets, attention is becoming the scarcest - and so most strategically vital - resource in the value chain. Attention scarcity is fundamentally reshaping the economics of most industries it touches; beginning with the media industry"  - Umair Haque, Bubblegeneration

Online tools and resources that enable large-scale participation and media sharing such as Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia have been adopted into regular use by hundreds of millions of people in the last three years - perhaps because they enable people to collaborate, manage complexity and find information more efficiently than they would be able to without these tools. In South Africa and other emergent markets, mobile phones have been similarly used to not only enable one-to-one communications, but to enable learning, banking, networking, healthcare and access to news.

It is in this context of cheap, on-demand, real-time, and often social media access that newspapers are struggling to retain market share. Quite obviously, a new value proposition needs to be identified, given that the competitive landscape has changed along with consumer expectations.

In this post I will propose that the core value proposition of newspapers is intrinsically tied to what I see as the most pressing challenge of media consumers today: conserving time while maximizing reward.

We will look at three key themes that I believe will distinguish successful newspapers in the coming decade:

  1. Attention as an Asset

  2. Usability as a Differentiator

  3. Free and Fee

Attention as an Asset

The explosion in media types available, and of-course in the amount and variety of content, has created thousands or millions of niche media tastes. Media consumers today are faced with a mind-boggling array of content to choose from. Their challenge is not finding news and information, but finding news and information that fits their needs and lifestyles.

Most media consumers today are operating in a form of perpetual attention deficit: there is simply more content available to them than they could possibly attend to. So, people have books they’d love to read, but don’t; movies they’d love to watch, but don’t; newspapers they’d love to read, but don’t. The media that goes unattended to is not necessarily of an inferior quality, but somehow it doesn’t fit into the lifestyle of the person that misses it.

According to the polymath Nobel laureate, Herbert Simon:
in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it

The concept of an attention scarcity sits uncomfortably juxtaposed with the industrial model of news production. Information is intrinsically valuable in the industrial model because it is relatively scarce, exclusive and hierarchical. It makes sense then, to build empires around a particular access channel that is exclusive and popular - such as print. However, once information becomes freely available on the internet it may be easily accessed and shared by anyone who can operate a search engine and send an email. Thus, in sectors where information is abundant and available, the only ‘cost’ of information is the time and effort that it takes to engage with it.

The good news for the media in all of this is that businesses in virtually all consumer-facing sectors are facing a similar rise in competitors. They too operate in a marketplace driven by demand for thinly spread consumer attention. Media in general, being the purveyors of Attention, stand to benefit from this if they can effectively present advertising and other commercial content in a way that consumers appreciate and attend to.

In order to successfully adapt to this new economy, newspapers may need to start emphasising Attention, over Content. By this I mean that consumers will be drawn to news sources that are able to add value to the information in ways that enhance their experience of it - through having a more trustworthy brand, effective design, accessibility, community and engagement for example.

The quality of Attention is determined by the intensity of its focus. In other words, the more it excludes to concentrate on the matter at hand, the better its quality.  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi observes that our nervous systems are only capable of processing 110 bytes of information per second. We therefore have a limited physiological capacity to process information. Concentrating on someone giving an average presentation, for example, consumes around 60 bytes of that capacity and it is what makes it difficult for one to concentrate on more than two voices at a time (Shannon, 1948)1.

Thus it follows that moving towards cheaper news prices (free in many cases) and more advertising may be adversely affecting the quality of reader’s attention. A lower quality of attention may translate into a lower quality of experience for the reader, and hence less likelihood of a repeat encounter with the offending news outlet.

Usability as a Differentiator

For many people, the ‘instinctive’ response in the face of all the variety of content available to them is to go faster, multitask, and spend more time engaging with media. Even the most casual observer would notice, for example, the compulsive engagement of smartphone users with their devices.

Newspapers may need to start focusing more on the holistic experience of news consumption in the context of their readers’ lifestyles. On a simple level, this may mean changing the ways news is laid out and written, as well as ensuring a seamless brand experience across other channels such as internet, mobile phones and e-readers.

Herbert Simon’s research (1996, 143-144) points out that designers of under-utilised information systems incorrectly represented their design problem as information scarcity rather than attention scarcity, and as a result they built systems that excelled at providing more and more information to people, when what was really needed were systems that excelled at filtering out unimportant or irrelevant information.

Simple ways of helping people to filter irrelevant information can be applied to print newspapers. For example, The Daily Maverick, a new online publication based in South Africa makes navigating it’s email newsletter simpler by formatting informative article abstracts into three useful sub-categories:

  • While you were sleeping” (news from the world that happened overnight);

  • Coming up today” (important events for the day ahead); and

  • In case you missed it” (the previous day’s news that missed the last publication deadline).

These categories would be different for publications with different readerships, but in this case they fit perfectly into The Daily Maverick’s value proposition to make their reader “the smartest person in the room” by equipping them with tidbits of news to spark conversation.

In his book, The Paradox of Choice, Professor Barry Schwartz asserts that “too many choices can paralyze people into inaction, and cause them to be dissatisfied with even good decisions”. To build on that idea, I would suggest that strong brands help reduce the cognitive dissonance that media consumers may experience when faced with the overwhelming variety of content from various outlets. To illustrate this, I would cite Apple as a brand that has so effectively distinguished it’s brand that to many people their choice of which laptop to buy may amount simple to “do I want a Macbook or Macbook Pro” (as an Apple fan, that was certainly my experience).

Free and Fee

Few people would argue that newspapers shouldn’t operate online. The online news channel, along with online advertising and payments continue to grow even as print readership and advertising revenues decline.

However, in the online environment content is abundant. When faced with the choice of marginally better content for a fee, or good-enough content for free, they tend to choose the free content.

Much news content online is serendipitously encountered - consumers haven’t gone out looking for it specifically, but have been referred to it by a peer or encountered it via a Search Engine. It is difficult to get people to pull out their credit cards to read an article they have encountered by chance and with cursory interest.

In the case of serendipitous encounters with news, it would be a mistake to hide content behind a password protected “walled garden”. The main argument against this is perhaps that Google and other search engines will not index password protected content, so a significant channel of new readership will be foregone.

On the other hand, the challenge with completely free content is that it tends to rely on more advertising and advertorials. The problem with this is two-fold: firstly, it may lower the quality of the reader’s experience, and secondly, it may begin to infringe on editorial and journalistic independence.

There have been alternate calls for newspapers to go free or to continue charging fees, whether in print or online. I would argue for a blended approach, often called Freemium pricing.

Freemium pricing works with two basic pricing levels: free and premium. Free content is used to attract attention and showcase the product. Premium content is exclusive and may offer greater access, functionality, or a better quality of experience.

In the context of the Attention Economy, we would assert that all the newspaper’s content should be freely available online, since content is no longer a distinctive value proposition for newspapers. However, consumers should be charged for features that enhance their experience of the content - for example, to remove adverts, to receive the print edition,  the mobile application, or even the email newsletter.

Consumers of free news may have lower expectations of free content and may make advertising viable. However, serious news consumers would be willing to pay for a better quality reading experience. A blanket approach to either make content free or paid for is shortsighted and limiting.


I would assert that media consumption is not only driven by the quality of content, but also the quality of the experience in engaging with the content. Increasingly, considerations such as branding, integration with social-communities, personalisation and elegance need to be integrated into the core value proposition of newspapers.

News content should be free and easy to share, but a small percentage of users who are prepared to pay for a better quality experience of the content may ensure the continued viability and freedom of the press.

(This piece was originally written with Elaine Rumboll for the World Association of Newspapers' project "Charting the Course for Newspaper Companies,” a compilation of visions for the future of newspaper companies)
AuthorDave Duarte
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Marketing on Twitter is largely about influence, unless you simply want to use it as a customer service channel. You either want to co-opt people who are influential on the platform, or become influential yourself.

Some people think that influence on Twitter can be determined simply by looking at the number of followers a person has, but this is crude - you have no idea how that person grew their follower base, to what extent people actually pay attention to what they are tweeting about, or how many of their followers are active.  Another approach is to survey other Twitter users in your target segment about how you or others influence them, but this will be subjective and time-consuming. So the most viable approach I've found is to use analytics tools.

One of the best Twitter analytics tools I've yet used is called Klout. It measures your influence, or "Klout" on Twitter. I found the output, the KloutScore fascinating and insightful, so I wanted to know what variables they use to get their results.

Influence on Twitter, according to Klout, can be derived from the following variables:

o How diverse is the group that @ messages you?
o Are you broadcasting or participating in conversation?

o Are your tweets interesting and informative enough to build an audience?
o How far has your content been spread across Twitter?

o How likely are you to be retweeted?
o Do a lot of people retweet you or is it always the same few followers?

o How many people did you have to follow to build your count of followers?
o Are your follows often reciprocated?

Network Strength
o How influential are the people who @ message you?
o How influential are the people that retweet you?

o Are you tweeting too little or too much for your audience?
o Are your tweets effective in generating new followers, retweets and @ replies?

So, you may be wondering how you can raise your level of influence. Well, according to Klout, it's simple:

Just use Twitter on a regular basis, say interesting things and engage with people and your score will inevitably start to go up.

To that I'd also add: use Twitter analysis tools to help you understand where you could perform better!

AuthorDave Duarte
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Fast Company recently published an article called The 10 Commandments of Social Media, which basically amounted to "Blog, Tweet, Podcast, Monitor, Social-Network, and Comment all day every day". While I appreciate that this may be the ideal, it is simply not feasible for many people.

Among the most common objections to social media that I've heard from busy executives are: "We're just too busy to blog" and "We've tried Twitter but the inane banter is a waste of time".  Even though they may appreciate the benefits of using social media, their days are simply not structured to support it.

So,  given that I face a similar dilemma,  I've thought of three simple tips to help busy people get into and use social media efficiently and effectively.

1. Know what you want to achieve. In business, this might, for example, be to rank highly for a particular keyword in Google; to build your professional reputation; to share your insights and get feedback on them, or to raise awareness about your work. Whatever you seek to achieve with your blog, keep that top of mind and you will be more motivated to blog and more efficient in selecting topics to write about.

2. Share practical tips. The ideal of social media - what the best blogs have going on for them - is an ongoing conversation with a community of readers. This requires regular posting, so is not practically achievable for most. So the shortcut way is to create content of more enduring value, such as tips that your market would find interesting; lists of useful resources or websites; pieces of research; and anything else that would reward people for subscribing to your content or visiting your blog (albeit irregularly). This will help you become a search-engine favourite, or a useful reference aid for people looking for advice related to your topic.

3. Comment when you read. If you've taken the time out to read an article, blog post, or tweet, then it's worthwhile to spend a moment extra to leave a comment on what you've read. For one thing, you will link your comment back to your own website, and secondly it is likely to create a bit of goodwill with the author or other readers. Comments are a great way to enhance your online profile easily.

Lastly, remember that what you put online stays online and can add enduring value. Each contribution you make to the web under your own name can be thought of as a stepping stone in the path you're building to your goal. 10 minutes a day really is better than nothing, and it can really help you on your way.
AuthorDave Duarte
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Recently I've been getting almost daily calls from telemarketers offering me mainly insurance or cellphone contract upgrades. Despite asking to be removed from their lists, the calls have persisted.

There are four types of prospects for telemarketers:

1. Impressionables : People who will buy the product because they were called (and wouldn't have otherwise);

2. Customers: People who would have bought the product whether they were called or not;

3. Indifferents: People who won't buy the product whether they were called or not; and

4.  Boycotters: People who will decide NOT to buy the product BECAUSE they were called.

Out of the four types, telemarketers only gain from calling Impressionables - they waste time and money on the rest.

Unless I've specifically asked a company to call me, I'm a number 4 - a Boycotter. Unsolicited telemarketing, like all spam,  is abhorrent to me.  So not only is it a waste of time calling me, but it's actually counter-productive for the companies concerned.

However, in SA the responsibility is currently on the consumer to somehow get removed from these call lists. You're supposed to go here (DMASA website - nothing there) or here to opt out.  Unfortunately, as Andrew Rens has pointed out: Opting out of Direct Marketing in South Africa Doesn't Work.

Telemarketing is a numbers game though, so it hardly matters to the call-centre agent whether one customer is peeved about them doing their job - if they contact enough people in a day, they're sure to make a couple of sales. This is why they don't seem to respond to requests to be removed from their lists - there's no incentive for them to do so.

If telesales is not to be banned, then companies who practice it need to start responding to complaints themselves, and adapt their databases, offers, incentives and calls accordingly.

From what I've seen, the main objectives of online social networks in companies are: to facilitate idea-sharing around a theme or topic (e.g. “Our Brand”); help users find out more about their peers; form useful insights to solve particular challenges; and for the network itself to become a useful repository of resources (ideas, inspiration, files, people) for participants.

However, the technology itself won't guarantee these results - it needs to be managed or curated effectively. Here are 20 subjective criteria I've used to help evaluate contributions to these networks:

1. Relevance to the stated objectives of the network
2. Poses questions to the group
3. Sparks discussion and comments
4. Enhances a lecture, discussion, debate or theme related to the purpose of the network
5. Makes a relevant statement
6. Responds to criticisms as well as compliments.
7. Builds on the ideas and contributions of others on the network.
8. Acknowledges the contributions of others.
9. Shares unexpected insights
10. Stories - especially from personal experience.
11. Recommendations to peers
12. Empathy - readability; humour; use of formatting; respect for other perspectives
13. Lists e.g. “Top 10…”, “Best ways to…”, “Our favourite”
14. Thought is given to topic before posting
15. Creativity or originality of ideas or the way they’re expressed
16. Clarity of expression.
17. Well structured arguments.
18. Mixes opinion and data.
19. Uses graphics to illustrate ideas
20. Contributes to the learning experience of others on the network

What you want to ultimately see is that the group is co-creating a knowledge ecosystem - so that if you want to explore any idea that catches your fancy further, you could find out who the contributors to it are.

In his book, “The Wisdom of Crowds”, James Surowieki reveals that the smartest groups are those that allow space for people to individually form and express ideas, independent of the group, which can then be “aggregated” into more cohesive solutions. This is one of  the key advantages of using the online network as opposed to discussing everything in person: it allows space for more ideas around a particular topic to be expressed simultaneously.

While there are many rational reasons for people to choose to buy a particular product or service, it's often our emotions and personal biases that drive us.

Below is a list of some of the more commonly debated cognitive biases that can affect people's decisions (From "Decision-Making" on Wikipedia):

  • Selective search for evidence (a.k.a. Confirmation bias in psychology) (Scott Plous, 1993) - We tend to be willing to gather facts that support certain conclusions but disregard other facts that support different conclusions
  • Premature termination of search for evidence - We tend to accept the first alternative that looks like it might work.

  • Inertia - Unwillingness to change thought patterns that we have used in the past in the face of new circumstances.

  • Selective perception - We actively screen-out information that we do not think is important.

  •  Wishful thinking or optimism bias - We tend to want to see things in a positive light and this can distort our perception and thinking.

  • Choice-supportive bias - occurs when we distort our memories of chosen and rejected options to make the chosen options seem relatively more attractive.

  • Recency - We tend to place more attention on more recent information and either ignore or forget more distant information. (See semantic priming.) The opposite effect in the first set of data or other information is termed Primacy effect (Plous, 1993).

  • Repetition bias - A willingness to believe what we have been told most often and by the greatest number of different of sources.

  • Anchoring and adjustment - Decisions are unduly influenced by initial information that shapes our view of subsequent information.

  • Group think - Peer pressure to conform to the opinions held by the group.

  • Source credibility bias - We reject something if we have a bias against the person, organization, or group to which the person belongs: We are inclined to accept a statement by someone we like. (See prejudice.)

  •  Incremental decision making and escalating commitment - We look at a decision as a small step in a process and this tends to perpetuate a series of similar decisions. This can be contrasted with zero-based decision making. (See slippery slope.)

  • Role fulfillment (Self Fulfilling Prophecy) - We conform to the decision making expectations that others have of someone in our position.

  • Underestimating uncertainty and the illusion of control - We tend to underestimate future uncertainty because we tend to believe we have more control over events than we really do. We believe we have control to minimize potential problems in our decisions.

Reading these, I realise the truth in what Bertrand Russel said: “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd”. Decisions and beliefs are hackable.

AuthorDave Duarte
10 CommentsPost a comment