Beyond the goldfish bowl: recalibrating our digitised lives

You might recognise our next guest as the former voice of the CIM. Ally Cook is an experienced and confident content creator, copywriter and communicator, with a demonstrable track record of working across print and digital publications to deliver strategic results. When Ally worked for the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), she managed the content & engagement team, she was responsible for delivering a content strategy that met the needs of the CIM’s 25,000+ members and the wider marketing community. She is now the Community Content Manager at WeAre8.

This episode developed over on LinkedIn, when Ally and Asif discovered a shared love of the tomes: Lost Connections and Stolen Focus, both written by Johann Hari. We know Asif loves a printed book! These books interrogate the impact of digitalisation and social media on our lives, and our ability to focus and make deep and meaningful connections. With a radical new way of thinking about depression and anxiety, what does this mean for marketers, and how can we use these lessons to build relationships with our stakeholders?

Ally Cook

Community Content Manager at WeAre8

Key topics

Both books make you think about how digital technologies impact our lives. Says Ally: “Well, I think the answer to this is really twofold, because obviously primarily from a point of view of being a marketer, the number one thing that we want is customer retention, right?

“And it’s a conversation we have so much, about how much attention is waning.
How do we get attention? How do we grab it? How do we maintain it?

“So on that side, it’s a really, really important challenge to understand how trends in customer retention are changing, but also on the other side of that as marketers, innovation and creativity are so important for us in everything that we do.

“If you have a lack of attention, you’re not only limiting your own ability to be an effective marketer, but if you don’t fully understand how attention is changing, you’re not going to be fully able to grasp customer attention and really maintain it and compel them to take actions.

“Everyone is striving for the most attention grabbing content that there’s so much digital noise out there. Stolen Focus says office workers only focus on tasks for an average three minutes at a time. Think of the impact that would have on idea generation, on creativity, on the ability to create effective campaigns. How are we going to create great things in three minutes?”

Ally is an advocate of quiet, reflection times. She says what is really beneficial is: “Taking those moments either to do a workout or to do something really mindful, exercise, moving your body, taking care of yourself.

“Those quite fundamental things are absolutely key to getting our creativity back, but unfortunately we are so starved of them in our everyday lives and the way that our culture works.

“There are a lot of marketers who are always on.

“There are probably even more marketers who find it a challenge to find those moments of quiet reflection. But those are so important because as Hari discussed in the book, when your mind wanders, that is when you make connections, that’s when you discover those ideas.

“You’re giving your brain time to process and you’re not constantly distracted and I think that is so important for creativity. It doesn’t feel particularly creative or productive, but actually it’s just giving your mind the opportunity to just explore without being completely task focused without being distracted or interrupted.

“To be innovative as marketers, we need time to think rather than just always trying to generate ideas in false or forced settings. This idea that marketing is really time poor is something I think we need to move away from or at least to set better habits and better balance.

“The idea that we are always on and always connected – actually, taking time to disconnect is the way to get to those really creative ideas rather than thinking that you need to constantly be chasing stimulation because that time away is actually when your brain can really work its hardest.”

“When you look at the impact that the lack of attention has on productivity as well as the creative side, it really is shocking how it can have a massive impact for businesses.
So much so that we’re seeing the four day week movement kind of coming in.

“When you look at Stolen Focus as a piece of work, these issues that Hari is talking about feel huge.

“You’re talking about the way that our culture is set up, our diet, the way our cities are designed, and the way we sleep. The way we interact with others. They feel like huge issues that are going to be really hard to overcome.

“I think this is another reason why these topics are so important for marketers because marketers and communications professionals can change the world and we have to. In so many issues affecting society today, marketing plays such a huge role.

“Obviously we know marketing has always been incredibly valuable, but during the COVID pandemic, businesses put a lot of focus on marketing and communications.

“We need to focus on this if we’re going to impact the biggest challenges facing us today, but I think actually this should be a really interesting call to arms for marketers to look at how just better gaining and retaining consumer attention will help us to make real change in these areas.

“And I think it’s so easy to think that these issues are too big for us to tackle, but actually I think probably most of the communications professionals listening today know that we really do have a lot of power to influence consumers in society, and I would really love this to be an action, you know, something that people take and think, right, what can I do about this in terms of my business?”

Ally joined CIM fresh out of uni and almost immediately bagged herself some CommsHero swag! She says: “I’ve been at CIM since I graduated. It’s where I discovered my love of marketing communication and I have a very vivid memory.

“In my first few weeks, I posted about joining on LinkedIn. One of your colleagues got in touch and sent me a kind of pack of CommsHero swag and that was my first moment of feeling really connected to the marketing community and industry.

“It was a really lovely moment, a kind of shared connection and olive branch to feel like OK, I belong here, I’m part of this now and I think that those connections are so important, particularly now in a kind of virtual hybrid world where you don’t connect with colleagues as much.”

A final thought

So there you have it. What are your thoughts? Is technology inherently bad for our attention? Let us know on Twitter @CommsHero.

Thoughts on Lost Connection:

  • On the face of it, this seems like bad news for marketers. But the opportunity is huge!
  • Building meaningful connections with customers should be the raison d’être of marketing (IMO) and this book goes to show how fundamentally important that is.
  • Marketers have a mission ahead of them: to change the way humans live. Sustainability is a big part of that challenge, but so is fostering connections to galvanise people to make a change. This book provides a roadmap to doing that.
  • In times of crisis (Covid, cost of living, climate change), these messages are going to be all the more important for marketers.
  • On a personal level, in a more hybrid world, there are some super important learnings to take away on how to ensure you can maintain high levels of personal resilience and wellbeing.

The show notes are the creation of friend of #CommsHero Teela Clayton.

This episode is sponsored by Blink. The world’s first enterprise app designed exclusively for frontline workers.