Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Art of Attention-Seeking and How to Keep the Crowds Interested

What does a nuclear weapons test in North Korea and the an iPhone release have in common?  At first sight, probably not much.  The political fanaticism of a dirt-poor autarky and a global business giant's latest attempt to wow the market have neither correspondent target results nor similar methodologies.  One is bound to end with worldwide criticisms, and one, even in the most pessimistic of outcomes, will get enthusiastic response from long-time fans as well as scores of reviews and analyses by tech geeks and market specialists.

But despite the apparent differences, the two events have one inherent commonality that should not escape the casual eye.  That is, the very definition of success for the two events is the same: both will initially gauge the potential of further success (in terms of revenues to be gained from sales for the case of iPhone, and favorable conditions for the case of the North Korean nuclear test) via pure exposure (how many headline news, how intense are the reactions from the target audience, and how amplified are the target audience's responses).

Of course, Kim Jong-un and Tim Cook did not invent the idea of doing big things to capture global attention.  Terrorists have been systematically using the same strategy to draw attention to their various causes.  The difference with Kim and Cook, however, is that their attention-strategy is done repeatedly, but a consistent actor, to fulfill the end goals of a coherent, unified, and well-thought-out strategy.  And because they are bound to stay in their respective positions for a long time (much unlike the fickle world of international terrorism), a long-term view can be referenced upon to craft those strategies.

Unfortunately, however, the reception to the latest reincarnation of their attention-grabbing stunts to the world have been more muted than either of them probably hoped.  The reality is, even head-turning self-marketing requires significant amount of innovation, and frankly, neither have been particularly diligent on ensuring that the message conveyed this time around are different enough from previous times so that the international press and the ordinary folks who cares have something new to talk about.  Minor tweaks to the same old thing just won't cut it anymore in today's short attention spans and ubiquitous sensationalization.

But one may ask about just how possible it would be ensure differentiation when the core "product" is still the same.  After all, iPhone will still be a smartphone that looks roughly similar in every version released.  Apple will try its best to incorporate revolutionary technologies (the wireless earphones is the big one this year) but one cannot just speed up technological breakthroughs.  No matter how much Tim Cook would desire his phones incorporating them, such things as hologram technology to make the physical phone obsolete simply will not happen overnight.

The same technological breakthrough hampers North Korea's nuclear weapons program.  Nobody will "lend" top-secrete technologies to the hermit state, considering global commitment to nuclear non-proliferation at this point.  No matter how much Kim pushes them, North Korean scientists will require years to master the art of manufacturing stable warheads and missiles that can credibly threaten to hit mainland US.  With loyal nuclear scientists dearth in the country, he cannot simply mass-persecute them for failures like he does with other citizens.

So with absence of major breakthroughs, should the attention-seeker simply withhold news?  Since their revenue streams depend almost exclusively on new "products," to not publicize may not be a viable option.  Instead, they could consider changing the publicization strategy a little, shifting the focus from releasing the "big picture" of comprehensive details, to gradually, in small steps, trickling fashion, releasing vague reports of "progress updates."  This way, they can keep themselves in the news while keeping the public busy guessing what they will do next.

And more importantly, such gradual way of releasing piecewise information can realistically set expectations beyond the reality.  To "work on something" does not necessarily (and certainly does not have to) mean that the thing being worked is bound to be accomplished.  And more frequent updates does not mean the final product will be ready in a "short time."  The exaggerated rumors to be generated by ambiguous signals probably serve as better for receiving attention than the final product, which may simply disappoint (and subsequently, silence) many of the best rumor-spreaders.  

No comments:

Post a Comment