Are your marketing dollars wasted on attention instead of intention?

Are your marketing dollars wasted on attention instead of intention?

Summary: Back when I was in business school, I can distinctly remember a professor saying that there's no proof that advertising works.  I was crushed.


Back when I was in business school, I can distinctly remember a professor saying that there's no proof that advertising works.  I was crushed. I felt completely vulnerable.  In an attempt to find a more interersting (to me) outlet for my creativity, I had just switched my major from architecture to marketing and here was this professor basically telling me I was getting ready to build my future on a house of cards.  It seemed almost blasphemous for a marketing professor to say such a thing.  What was he thinking? Did he want all his students to change majors?  I did.  To computer science (back in the early 80's, everyone said "computers is the place to be").  As I eventually came to learn (after being in the workforce for a couple decades), he was right.

When someone parts with their money, it's pretty much impossible to prove that an advertisment is solely responsible for making that happen. Did it play a role? Maybe.  Even that's hard to prove, although many people try.  For example, have you ever seen an 800 number on print ad for Dell Computers? Go find the same ad in another magazine or a Dell catalog and it will be a different 800 number. By tying 800 numbers to specific advertisements and then tracking how many times that 800 number gets called, Dell is trying to figure out which advertisements are more effective.  But, was it the ad that did it? I know of people who already knew they wanted to buy a Dell and who borrowed one of my computer magazines knowing there'd be a Dell ad with an 800 number on it. 

So, here at the Identity Mashup Conference at Harvard University, when Doc Searls started talking about how billions of ad & marketing dollars are being wasted chasing after the attention of potential buyers because advertising doesn't work, my marketing professor's words were echoing in my head.  And if you're a marketing professional or a business person that oversees a marketing budget and you believe what Doc has to say (which I do), then it may be time to reinvent yourself.  That's because a lot of that wasted money (and the people behind it) should be rerouted to harnessing the intention of purchasing dollars, rather than the attention of them.  Here at the conference and in my podcast interview of him at the event, Doc refers to this as the intention economy.   Said Doc in response to my first question about what the Intention Economy is:

It's everything that follows the intention of somebody to buy something. It's everything after marketing's work is done.  In other words, I intend to buy a Ford Focus four-door wagon and I want to let the market know that and see what comes to me. It's what begins with a finished intention on the part of the customer. And it's expressed that way in part to get attention out of the room because marketing is basically in the attention business.  I want to pay attention to what your doing.  I want to look at your attention stream. I want to find a way to capture your attention, skewer your eyeballs and be sticky and all that other stuff that marketing wants to do.  The intention economy is the economy that begins with the fact that customers have money to buy something.  How do you get that respected? What's the infrastructure we need for that, how do we build on that?

In fact, as evidenced by his use of the word "respected," Doc is practically offended by advertising and thinks that if more businesses could learn how to harness the intention of purchasing dollars (instead of the attention of them), that it's actually a much more respectful way to treat customers (in addition to being a more efficient use of marketing and advertising budgets).  What's the difference between intention and a request for proposal? "Nothing" according to Doc.  It's just that the infrastructure isn't there to take the friction out of expressing intention. Especially for consumers that typically don't issue RFPs or RFQs when then buy something. Doc covered a bunch of other ground too, including a discussion of how far along the intention infrastructure he speaks of is, and what if any role the Higgins Technology Framework that was introduced here at the conference can play in that.  You can download the interview manually or, if you're subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, they'll be downloaded to your system or MP3 player automatically (see ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in).

Topic: Dell

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Branding and choosing.

    Products often have to gain the stature to be selected. That's what branding does. If Microsoft made software available, wouldn't you consider it a contender in its market? Suppose the XYZ company issued the same product. Wouldn't you have a different reaction?

    Then, someone decides to buy "a car". Not a Focus station weagon, a car. About all that's likely beyond that is a price range and a size. Both are flexible choices. Haven't you usually paid more for an item with a wide price spread? Haven't you started out looking for one type of vehicle and ended with another?

    Many shoppers will make up their minds based on study of available alternatives. If those alternatives are well presented, that's marketing.
    Unless the customer also buys online, the preliminary shopping may be only some refinement of the intial vague choice. Walk into a dealership with a good idea what you want, but you still have a good chance to end with something else.

    Buying choices are very imprecise without RFP's, no?!
    Anton Philidor
    • not the same

      Branding is one thing. Choosing is something different. Branding in the current fashion of million's of dollars for naming rights to a ball field (a farcical e.g. "No Man-smell Field") is ludicrous.

      Buying choices are made using implicit and virtual RFPs. Brands must make themselves searchable and available with explicit details for the hunter/buyer. The shopper is executing a mental, real-time, virtual RFI/RFP combination. The concepts may be inseparable.

      Ads, even funny, memorable ones, don't make me buy. Coupons and sales may influence my decision, but ads alone don't do it. I may remember a particularly creative ad and sometimes (though not always) remember the brand association. But I am not swayed to purchase by that ad.

      More often than not, if I see a company spending billions to catch my attention I will question the quality of the product that suffered loss of that funding from the development or manufacturing budget...
      • Agree..kind of

        Good points znewt... My take is that Ads NO LONGER affect my buying decision, though as a younger person they most certainly did. I think as we age, we become some combination of more skeptical, less impulsive, less swayed by what is 'cool', more discriminating etc.
        So I would think that we'd have to look at the target market in order to judge an adverts effects, right?
  • Google's tailored advertising is different

    By monitoring your behaviour* and a lot of headscratching at Google, they hope to tailor adverts to people.
    (* your behavior could be monitored across gmail, google search, writely/spreadsheet, homepages, google video, google earth etc)

    Imagine if adverts were for things you wanted instead of totally irrelevant stuff.
    Could actually be beneficial.
    The *right* sort of mobile phone at the right price after I've had the last one for a few years. Yeah I'd be up for that.
    Maybe I could put in a wishlist...
    • Google doesnt do a thing for me

      Google ads. I don't even remember the last site I visited that had google ads on them, and resulted in my reading them, let alone clicking on one.

      Regular net users learn to ignore the google ads simply because they are all the same. Image ads are different, but I wouldn't waste a penny in an adwords campaign for just text ads.
      Cosmo Kramer
    • Not really

      Google's ads are (to coin a phrase) technochic, but not really different. They still target your attention alone. Google attempts to guess at what will grab that attention. As a prior respondant noted, he doesn't even notice google ads. Neither do I unless my intention is already set and I'm on the hunt.

      Doc is on to something, but attention grabbing isn't going to die'll probably just draw more attention to its fight to stay alive.

      Back to google. Readers should peek at, too. It tracks useage habits of web visitors-at-large. If my firewall blocks private header data and obscures my IP address...which it usually does...and I regularly delete my cookies...which I do...then google and others internet guessers don't get the full picture and they target incompletely or incorrectly. Vendors must sit and wait until I come looking for them.
  • Don't Look!

    Do you know what add is flashing at the top of this page? Did you bother to scroll down to the bottom to see the Vonage ad? I wonder how much they paid for that?
  • Advertising doesn't work

    ZDNet will shortly announce that all ads on all its and affiliated
    web sites will cease. They'll be replaced by articles on how to
    find an alternate business model.

    Clairvoyants will replace ad sales staff and will predict
    purchasing intentions, therefore channeling otherwise wasted
    dollars and reaping enormous benefits and heretofore unheard-
    of revenue.

    Seize the paradigm change before it's too late!
  • Marketing professor discovers sales.

  • ads don't work?

    How does someone who is shopping for a computer, choose a Del over any other brand, if advertising does not work. How does anyone know that Del exist, if it has not been advertise?
    • ads don't work?

      How does someone even know WHAT a computer is or what it can do for them? How do we create the intention to begin with? Sounds like academia gone wild..gotta spend that research grant $$ on something..might as well be something nutty!
  • Are we sure?

    I own two casual dining restaurants. One is a well-known national brand. Whenever we do national advertising on TV, sales jump 20-30%.

    The other is a regional brand, not as well known. The system is finally big enough to start advertising on local TV, with a focus on "Top-Of-Mind" marketing. Since we've started, guess what, sales are up 30%.

    Are we sure that marketing doesn't work? Are we sure there is no proof? I'm all for being more effecient with advertising dollars, but I know that if I don't advertise, sales fall, and when I do, sales rise.

    Help me market better, I have no problem with that, but don't tell me marketing doesn't work.
    • I agree

      The professor is evidently not a fisherman. Putting a worm on a hook is advertising. True, a fish has to have the intention to eat, but we really dont care which fish is hungry. Maybe the efficiency your looking for is knowing when the fish are biting.
    • Are you sure?

      I know of a restaurant in between Hampton and Mountain City, TN that the owners have spent $0.00 on advertising. They give their customers 2 prices, tax and all. One for 1 meats, 2 veg, 1 dessert, 1 drink, the other for 2 meats, 3 veg, 1 dessert, 1 drink. They give their customers the choice of several meats, veg, desserts, and drinks. People love it. Customers don't have to figure out how much it will cost to take their family of four out to eat. They know what the total will be before hand. After you go there once you know what the choices will be. It is country style selections. All meals are served with biscuits. They tell their customers to tell their friends. The restaurant is only open from 11:00a ? 6:00p every day during the late Spring ? early Fall. It is not open in the Winter. They stay packed all the time with people lined up in the chairs outside on the big porch that stretches the whole front of the building. You come in the door and give your name. When you get called you pay for your meal, they seat you, you make your choices, and out comes your food in about 5 minutes. It has already been prepared in big vats for the day. You eat and your done. You go on your merry little way. Everything is word of mouth or by emailing friends and family. The food is very good. The tables and chairs are not fancy and have the red checkered plastic table cloths. Their profit goes into overhead and their pockets. They don't work themselves to death or worry about if business will be slow. If more restaurants would grab that concept they could save on advertising dollars too.
      • hmmm.

        I missed the restaurant you mention between Hampton and Mountain City but I've been to the Home of the Throwed Rolls in Sikeston because I saw the billboard. I ignore the ads on these pages but I did go to mentioned in a previous message. Your right, Mary, word of mouth is the best and determines the success of many service businesses. Your message will cause me to look for the restaurant on my next trip to Mountain City. I intend to eat several times every day, so thinks for bringing this place to my attention.
  • Regarding this article and the various replies...

    Where to start?

    - As far as the magazine that the friend borrowed to get the Dell Computer number - well - what if the ads had not been common enough for him to know where to retrieve the number? No, the ad did not sell the item. But, yes - the ad may have contributed to the sale. You can split hairs about which modality was the linchpin of the sale, but that is just splitting hairs.

    - Anyone who believes they are not influenced by ads is deluding themself. Yes, we are not as prone when mature to believe what we are told. But social psychology studies prove time and again that we are influenced and motivated subconsciously despite our belief to the contrary. And we are also highly influenced by our culture, which is influenced by advertising. Show me someone who is not influenced by advertising, and I'll show you someone who stands out like a sore thumb in a crowd.

    - We may tune most ads out, but it is not true that advertising is tuned out enough to be useless. Google Adwords is making billion$ from click-throughs. The fellow with the 2 restaurants gave another example of measurable return. And as I was going through these messages, one banner ad did catch my attention. Yes, it was only one of maybe 20, but that is all it takes.

    - I agree that measuring the ROI of advertising is extremely hard. To that extent, the pundit was almost undoubtedly correct. But comparative statistical studies of startup companies that do and do not advertise should be able to at least establish if there is a major difference in revenue trajectory between the two.

    - Yes, there are businesses that survive with no advertising. But that is not prima facie proof that advertising does not work. It merely proves that some businesses survive without advertising.

    - Branding provides credibility that is necessary for some sales. Once again, I think splitting hairs is the major problem in analyzing return: the economics of advertising will probably have to be studied on a higher wholistic plane until such time as mind-reading transmitters are implanted into each new baby born.

    - But such studies should never become too wholistic, either. One of the main motivations behind advertising is to get the sale that might go to your competitor. If we just look at the benefit of advertising to society in terms of getting the goods into the hands of the consumer, we miss the importance that advertising has as a competitive element in our economic system. That competitive element improves the goods that are available. (I will end my capitalist diatribe forthwith. May the flame war begin... ;-)

    - Targeted advertising may improve sales. But if advertising were ever completely targeted, a lot of sales would be missed. We don't always, ourselves, know what we want or need or covet. There is nothing wrong with targeted advertising, but it should never entirely surplant shotgun advertising.

    - The fisherman analogy was interesting. Another function of advertising is just being visible. Dropping the hook into the water with no bait is a good analogy for having a great product that no one knows about.

    - Word of mouth is influenced by advertising, even if you believe that you yourself are immune to it. The person who pointed you at the restaurant may have come to it because of the billboard on the road to Las Vegas. (By the way, we stopped there, and would advise that you keep on driving until you come to a more recognizable brand name. The food was lousy, the service was marginal, and the bathrooms were out of service in favor of porta-potties. ;-)

    I think a more useful discussion is: what is the return on various types of advertising for various industries? We may still conclude that there is no ROI at all in particular cases - but reducing the question to a boolean indicator would be akin to all weather being reported as Sunny, or Not Sunny. Nothing in life is ever that simple.
    • I don't agree

      If a banner AD is so flashy and aggressive that it distract me from what I really want to do, chances are this particular AD (most likely its representation in the HTML doc [i]and[/i] the company that serves the AD) will be permantly eliminated from any future display on my computer.

      I have a short fuse for ADs that interfere with what I'm doing, and I bet most people feel the same as I do.

      Have you seen that Blu-ray flash ADs on ZDNet yet? I've seen it twice, and I can assure you that the same diliver method won't appear on my computer screen for a third time.

      Yes ... I remember the name ... Blu-ray ... but that would be the name I will want to AVOID buying in the future.

      ADs work ... only when they match the intent of the readers. Part of Google's success in advertising is that [i]most[/i] of their ads stay out of the way unless you look for them on the page ([i]most[/i] because some idiots actually put Google's text ads in 300x250 boxes to break the flow of a webpage just to get attention), plus their ads at least attempt to match what the targeted individual is reading on the screen.

      How funny was it when the biggest, most annoying Sony Blu-ray flash AD appears just as I want to read the article titled "Are your marketing dollars wasted on attention instead of intention"?
      too_much green_tea
  • Advertising and the virtual RFP

    I don't think there can be any argument about whether people use a virtual RFP process once they establish the intention to buy.

    Marketing seems to be focused on two things: 1) generate an intention to buy when none existed before, and 2) influencing the virtual RFP process. I think the focus of the article is the second use. If we demystify the virtual RFP and make all that available on demand, then there would be no purpose in spending marketing dollars on that part of the function.

    However it is typically the first function that gets people upset. It is a manipulation of the general public - nothing less. The general reason for it upsetting people is that the psychological tricks employed are targetted at the average purchaser and have to be able to influence people of low IQ as well as high IQ. If you have enough exposure to, and awareness of, the tricks employed, they tend to get offensive. Especially when you know they are targetted at a low IQ base. The "how dare they think I'm that stupid" reaction ensures offense.

    If one accepts the assumption that academics are of higher IQ than the general populus, then the likelihood that they will be offended by this is greater than the norm.

    That said, if you are directly addressing the virtual RFP process, then you need genuine points of difference to be effective, something that is not the case with the current marketing approaches. My cynical side keeps asking whether that is a coincidence.

    My $0.02 worth
  • surprising US ad people still got jobs

    It must be the sheer number of people trying to give away their money.

    If "advertising doesn't work" then how does this guys friends _know_ there will be an 0800 number for a Dell ad in the magazine.

    If "advertising didn't work" then what happened to the company that failed that you never heard of. You know the one whose product you didn't buy the last total number of transactions you made in your life. Don't over look placement as a promotional, an advertising tool.

    Advertising (especially primary advertising) creates demand. You can't sell unless you get demand (simple high school economics.)

    Baby steps in sales technique - create a demand for the product you have.

    The reason you seem to be having difficulty "with no proof" and finding "intention." Is that you don't even know what developing a market is or what advertising (product awareness and promotion) encompasses. You don't even know your own product!!

    Why is this not written then for you to believe, as a sell for you to argree with and follow??
    Because I don't want you to buy it. I'm laughing at the silly lost ad-men of America. And the long it takes them to get the heads around their product, the longer and harder I can laugh at them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • precisely

    and how does the average consumer, who represents most of the market, decide on a computer? they know practicaly nothing about computers. most decidde either on the advice of a friend, or more often on the basis of who sells themselves better through advertising. this guy's semantics game are no better than hte push a few months ago towards advertising through 'love', it's just a way to sell conference tickets.