Sticky Experiences Win in the Attention Economy


One of the biggest stories in media and business right now is AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner. Little by little, details of how the telecom giant plans to capitalize on its $85 billion investment have been leaking out.

One tidbit in particular speaks volumes about not just changes taking place at the world’s third-largest entertainment company by revenue, but perhaps every industry that is trying to win mind and market share.

“Everyone is looking for new ways to keep their audience focused and engaged on them—and not the competition.”

Longtime AT&T executive John Stankey has been charged with overseeing one of Time Warner’s crown jewels, HBO. In an extensive interview with the New York Times he spoke candidly about his intentions for the premium cable channel:

“I want more hours of engagement. Why are more hours of engagement important? Because you get more data and information about a customer that then allows you to do things like monetize through alternate models of advertising as well as subscriptions, which I think is very important to play in tomorrow’s world.”

All Eyes On Me

Stankey clearly understands the challenges facing him. If he wants to drive growth at HBO he needs content that keeps people glued to their screens and always hungry for more. Devoted watchers would give him access to an endless stream of audience insights.

Furthermore, it is the only way a legacy format like cable TV has any hope of competing against a growing ecosystem of 24/7, on demand, digital content. Stankey added: “It’s not hours a week, and it’s not hours a month. We need hours a day. You are competing with devices that sit in people’s hands that capture their attention every 15 minutes.”

AT&T is positioning itself as not just a simple utility that manages the fiber and copper that transmits data. Rather, it wants to be a major player in the modern attention economy with its own exclusive content.

The concept of an attention economy is based on the idea that our ability to take in and focus on information is a scarce resource (and one that drives markets). The idea dates back decades, but lately it’s gone from a niche concept to a driving force in just about every industry.

Thanks to social media, every widget maker and service provider suddenly has a powerful yet incredibly accessible platform to share their story. Everyone is looking for new ways to keep their audience focused and engaged on them—and not the competition. In short, attention has never been more valued.

How to Make Them Stay

Awareness has always been a significant goal for marketers. Just getting people to know and remember that you exist is challenging enough, but attention is an even tougher problem. Attention is the end result of a constant mental process that is taking in all the stimuli around us, determining what is most important, and filtering out the rest.

Winners in the attention economy have figured out what is most important to their target market and shaped their brand and content to fill that niche.

“As the market shifts towards the realm of attention grabbing advertisements, especially online, the importance of branding and effective graphics has been magnified.”

When you have your audiences’ complete attention, you can engage with them in meaningful ways that create bonds that will outlast any one interaction. Unfortunately, attention is a fickle thing. If you aren’t providing an experience that is worth their time, the next website or app is always just a few clicks away. That’s where stickiness comes in.

Digital culture expert Kevin Kelly has spent his career studying the factors that make experiences worth our time and attention. He describes eight intangible values that appeal to our emotional, intellectual, and practical needs:

  1. Immediacy: Available right when you want it, without delay
  2. Personalization: Customized to fit your exact needs
  3. Interpretation: Intuitive to understand and backed by robust support
  4. Authenticity: The genuine article (not a knockoff) and always true to its core values
  5. Accessibility: Available wherever you want it, in the format of your choosing
  6. Embodiment: In a medium that connects to you at a physical level
  7. Patronage: When staying loyal and engaged isn’t just enjoyable, but also feels like a worthy decision
  8. Findability: Easy to locate and distinguish from the mass of alternatives

On the internet, stickiness is a measure of how good a website is at encouraging users to stay for long periods of time and to come back repeatedly. The stickiest sites are time sinks, where people can’t seem to leave, and when they do, it’s never for very long.

There aren’t very many sites that match that description though. Web users are notoriously fickle, surfing from site to site.

An analysis of 1.3 billion unique users performed by analytics firm Mixpanel in 2017 found that products and website with a stickiness rating of 25% were in the 90th percentile. In other words, if people are using a quarter of their time in a given month to access your product, you’re among the stickiest offerings out there.


Every channel today, new or old, wants our attention and is trying to hold it for as long as possible to drive engagement, collect valuable user data, and prevent competitors from stealing the limelight. They are doing it by creating content that generates excitement, solves problems, and instills loyalty. In short, they are are creating sticky experiences.

Time will tell if AT&T can imbue all those new media ideals into their old media properties, but if they can, they have a chance of surviving the transition into this new era and thriving in a growing attention economy.

As the market shifts towards the realm of attention grabbing advertisements, especially online, the importance of branding and effective graphics has been magnified. Now more than ever, advertisements have to be fine tuned to fulfill the intangible values listed above, while also maintaining the message of a company and sticking in the mind of the consumer.