Joshua Goodall, account director, MediaMonks
The old axiom of “if you want to go fast, travel alone. If you want to go far, travel together” continues to prove its merit beyond teamwork. Brands that tap into shared attention may stand to benefit greater than their peers who aggressively pursue isolated, one-to-one engagements as the primary means of contact.
Recent world events highlight the significance of building community and shared participation. By stripping away things that have often been taken for granted, like sharing space with other people, we can see further into how brands engage and really come into their own when part of a collective awareness.
Shared attention, also known as joint attention, is a social dynamic that occurs when two or more people focus on the same object or activity and are aware that they are both engaging in the same focal point. As social beings, we are inherently oriented to experience the world with others. Studies conducted by Garriy Shteynberg of the University of Tennessee suggest those who share their experiences display greater cognitive function including information processing, problem solving and memory retention compared to those who conducted the same activity in solitude.
For marketers in particular, the point on improved memory retention strikes a chord for brand uplift studies. Some of the industry’s most advanced practitioners are now validating the importance of measuring attention. In 2020, Mars moved to develop models focussed on attention as a determinant of short-term advertising strength. The findings are impressive, with the business looking to expand the model further across its portfolio as it evolves its practice to keep pace with shifting media consumption habits and buying patterns of consumers.
Relationships powerfully define our lived experience in daily life. American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou articulated it best: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Countless studies show that being part of a collective and participating in something as a group fosters higher levels of satisfaction, engagement and senses of fulfilment. The upside of enriching the experiences people have with brands, by bringing people together, is hard to argue against as we go back to the fundamentals of why brands exist: to humanise otherwise largely undifferentiated products.
Amid the pandemic, our world became increasingly virtual and individual. Yet at the same time, previously emerging trends of group participation online continued to accelerate at pace. Data from WARC demonstrates that in recent years one of the fastest rising media consumption patterns is e-sports viewership. Platforms such as Twitch attract enormous followings of viewers, over 584 million viewers annually, watching other people play games online. Why watch a game rather than play it themselves? Because the act of surrendering our attention to external events is both satisfying and unifying all at once. Think of Friday night football or the Super Bowl. Shteynberg aptly frames it as “we attend to the world together,” and here we see the fundamentals of traditional media and experiential marketing finding their way as guiding principles into the virtualized world. This dynamic has not been lost on marketers.
In the era of mass personalisation, and an internet consisting of infinite individual realities, some brands are harnessing the potential of digital to create moments that bring people together. “People still want to be awed, inspired and to have moments of surprise and delight with the brands they like,” comments Marie-Céline Merret Wirström, Executive Producer at MediaMonks Australia. “When we look at the stats around activities happening organically online, such as e-sports viewership or unboxings among card collecting enthusiasts, we see the enormous potential of leveraging moments of shared attention.”
At MediaMonks, we’ve even noticed virtual events have become a staple activity in the annual marketing plans of the global brands we work with, including Facebook, Mondelez, the NBA and Nike. Whether through long-term brand initiatives or short-term activations that drive sales or behavioural change, they offer an opportunity for brands to connect with people in a collaborative way.
Virtual events needn’t be considered activations in the sense of creating a sales drive. Their delivery is more akin to TV programming where audiences know the time, location and attributes of the main event—only made more interactive. Importantly, attendees also know they are not alone, allowing them to go into the experience with the same sense of anticipation as attending a concert or live event. These events, however, are not only for high-involvement product categories or enthusiast segments. “We’re seeing everyday people attending virtual events as part of a wider repertoire of activity,” notes Vinne Schifferstein, Managing Director of MediaMonks Australia and New Zealand. “There is a desire to participate and to feel a sense of belonging that is really driving the appeal of virtual events, for both marketers and participants alike.”
In an era where the understanding of consent and first party data are critically important to brand governance and safety, virtual events bring the best of both worlds together. Audiences engage in experiences curated specifically for them, while marketers gain proximity through owned platforms with their most valuable prospects and customers.
These platforms also provide us, as custodians of brands and customer experience, the ability to unite and benefit from the power of shared attention. Orchestrating virtual events into customer journey mapping is only just beginning to reveal the true potential available to marketers to connect with audiences through participation. Taking people on a journey and charting the course together alleviates the risk of becoming too transaction focussed in consumer engagement, and the opportunities to learn from audiences in real time means both brands and consumers travel further together. For marketers, virtual events are the one time it pays to be in two minds.