Five tactics to stand out in the age of attention economy

5 min reading
User Experience / 30 August 2020
Five tactics to stand out in the age of attention economy
Five tactics to stand out in the age of attention economy


You have an email. Four WhatsApps. A match. Direct message on Twitter. The latest from your favorite news outlet. A weather alert. The minutes on the dial, however, tick by the same now as they did before dozens – if not hundreds – of digital services demanded the user’s attention each second.

The “attention economy” concept has been in vogue for a few years, when digital product and service managers began to realize that advertising, until then the fundamental and almost sole distributor of unassigned digital traffic, was not enough. Or relevant. The money to buy advertising can build up, but not the time needed to consume it and get carried away by it. And, as economist Josef Falkinger said more than a decade ago, attention “is the prerequisite of any economic transaction.” Without the user’s eyes and brain, no business is possible.

In fact, a few years earlier, Michael Goldhaber published an article in First Monday titled “The attention economy and the Net,” considered the founding text of the concept that this article deals with, and which included a devastating observation: “Money can’t buy attention.” Long ago, before we even dreamed of a ubiquitous connection with an endless influx of data, another economist, Herbert Simon, a Nobel Laureate in this field, concluded in 1971 that “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” If we agree that we live in the age of maximum information, according to Simon, it is also the age with the shortest attention span in history.

In this scenario, the fight for a few seconds of the user’s attention to sell to advertisers or to try to stretch out those seconds into a conversion (whether a purchase or to plant the seed for a future transaction) is truly fierce. One of the most common battlefields for these events is the user interfaces themselves. The front end of our product and service. That layer between the cables and circuits of our servers and our programs and the brain of our potential customers. Whether we succeed or fail in this battle depends on the success and satisfaction of our customers on the voyage we propose.

This being the case, all successful companies invest large amounts of resources to improve the terrain where this battle is taking place, creating UX teams or hiring consultants and the best designers to make their proposal to their customers the winning one. If we ask them what the main weapons are for this battle, their answers will no doubt include some of the following:

Capture the attention

To retain it, you must first attract it. Which doesn’t guarantee much, since it is extremely easy to lose it before getting anything out of it. Any proposal – whether it is a website landing page or an app home screen – with too much information will swamp the user’s attention, which will be completely gone by the time we get to the point where we want to turn it into a sale or a lead.

The content we show up front will decide whether we keep their attention or lose it entirely. Good (and condensed) copy, dynamic videos or “Hero images” are elements that can be useful in such a situation. Too many calls to action, complicated browsing and distracting elements will only confuse users, or worse, tire them out, making them forget the reason for your proposal or call to action.

A strategy for scrolling

At a time when more than half of all the world’s web traffic is designed to be displayed on a mobile device, a good UX strategy for scrolling in our proposal can be decisive. “Unlike many other forms of entertainment—movies, for example—smartphones don’t have a finite end point. The credits roll after approximately two hours, but you can swipe, tweet, or play until you die,” says journalist Eleanor Cummins in an article in the specialized magazine Popular Science.

However, the infinite scroll doesn’t have to be the answer, even if it is the most obvious. Or precisely for this reason: Do we want to offer our users a wheel, as if they were hamsters? The “inventor” of the endless scroll, Aza Raskin, says in the aforementioned article that his intention was to make the user’s experience easier. However, he now regrets his invention. We can use scrolling creatively in other ways and achieve, for example, original user onboardings that keep them on the path through creativity and not just addiction.

Forms: better if we already have the details

Attention economy

One of the most critical friction points in any specific conversion or user onboarding process is when we ask the user to abandon his comfortable passivity and enter specific and direct information into our system. Used to simply scrolling for several minutes or even hours, or to watching or listening, a user who suddenly comes across a form that asks for their personal or banking details goes into “mini shock.” These are essential data for the definitive milestone that is a sale or a subscription, and the prospect of leaving that fluffy state to deal with a tedious form full of fields paves the way to the terrible possibility of a lost sale, and with it the loss of the effort invested (in terms of advertising, content, freemium services) to bring them to that point.

One of the ways to avoid this moment is by using APIs that provide this information about the user, who is spared the trouble of filling out dozens of fields and searching for their card number in their wallet and can simply click on the button: “Place order.” At BBVA API_Market , you can find APIs that can help you achieve that scenario. Customers, for example, retrieves data from the profile of authenticated users to improve the engagement of your proposal. With Customers, you can get the user’s full name, date of birth, gender, e-mail address, tax address, identity document and phone number.

Notifications at the right time

Notifications draw mixed reactions from users: sometimes they find them useful, while others may be bothersome and even irritating. Unwanted notifications are one of the main reasons for deleting apps soon after they are installed. But they have a purpose and provide a powerful tool for giving valuable information to the user, if the time, and even place, are right.

However, the paradox is that notifications are “anti-UX”, since they are a distraction, as UX Planet reminds us.

In the linked article, these experts recommend relying on the users’ own content to generate notifications. For example, “one that informs us that another user has commented on something related to us.” They also stress the need to design notifications that don’t interfere to the point of distracting the user; they have to be small, clear and direct; they have to give control to the user (for example, by letting them ignore or easily delete the notification) and, of course, as in almost any UX exercise, we have to conduct A/B tests to see which ones have the highest conversion rates.


At the end of the day, the key will lie in finding a balance between all those options that keep our users engaged. According to the Nielsen Norman consulting firm, the world’s leader in designing interactions, users “feel helpless when it comes to controlling the amount of time that they spend on their devices.”

Digital products “are designed to be more and more engaging, often keeping users hooked.” According to this consulting firm, certain facts about the digital economy “will not change” and “advertising will fund some free content for the foreseeable future, apps will compete for new users’ attention, and people will still only have so much attention to dedicate.” Very little. According to Nielsen, designers have a choice in the attention economy: “They can balance business needs with respect for the best interests of their users.” Victory lies at that point of equilibrium.

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