Grabbing Attention and Holding Onto It

wedding butt grab

Grabbing attention is hard enough. Holding onto it is damn near impossible.

In the consumer world (although this applies to B2B software too), attention is the currency that matters. If you can get people’s attention you have a chance of winning. Without it, you can pack up and go home. When talking to entrepreneurs I often ask, “Do you envision this as a daily, weekly, or monthly use case?” If it’s a monthly use case it’s hard for me to get excited because the gaps between when you’ve (hopefully!) captured people’s attention are too big–it’s harder to get people coming back and the cycle times for testing things are too long. You won’t learn and iterate fast enough. A weekly use case is better, but daily is the best. Find a daily use case for something–and prove it–and you’ve got something very interesting.

A couple weeks ago I invested in a startup called Crayon. Crayon is a site for marketers to get inspired. It aggregates millions of web pages (home pages, pricing pages, jobs pages, etc.) and presents them to you in a simple and fun way. You can see what tech the pages are built with and get some indication of popularity. What’s interesting about Crayon? The product is addictive. You can see it in their return visits and time spent on site. Marketers are spending hours digging through landing pages for ideas, competitive research and more. Not only has Crayon captured people’s imaginations, but it’s captured their attention and it’s holding on.

Capturing someone’s imagination isn’t enough. The imagination is fleeting; we see something, get excited, muck around a bit and then leave for the next shiny bauble. People’s imaginations jump around and wander.

Meerkat has taken the tech world by storm; it’s capturing our collective imagination in an amazing way. It’s awesome to see–a super simple, fun and well executed product that gets everyone hot and bothered. But will it stick? I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. I’m sure the folks at Meerkat are asking the same thing and working very intensely on how to ensure long-term engagement. You can’t win on 15-minutes of fame alone–at least not in the tech world.

If you’re building a product that doesn’t have a daily or weekly use case be very, very afraid. Certainly there are products that don’t get used a lot and are very successful (tax software anyone?) but it’s not a direction I’d recommend. And if you’re building a product that you think has a daily or weekly use case you need to prove that quickly. A short burst of signups, some buzz and a few pundits won’t do the trick; you need to grab people’s attention and hold on to it. Think long and hard about how you’ll re-engage users. What can you do to train them quickly and get them addicted to the behaviors you want them to do? How can you continuously illustrate the value of your product?

Growth and engagement (or: “short-term attention grabbing” and “long-term attention grabbing”) have to go hand-in-hand to win. If you juice growth (or happen to launch something that gets insanely popular quickly), but can’t create enough value to hold onto people then you’ll eventually fail. It might take some time because the initial growth and usage numbers will be impressive, but collapse is likely on its way. Try focusing your product efforts on one and then the other, back and forth. As much as you want more attention, don’t go out of your way to grab it until you know you’ve got something that will keep it. And if the attention comes before you’re ready, pour all your efforts into keeping it, by any means necessary. Try even the simplest thing (like a daily email, or a timely push notification) to keep people coming back; to keep you top of mind. When you’ve got someone’s attention, squeeze as tightly (but as nicely!) as you can and don’t ever let go.

Photo by Mitja Mavsar.