The circumstances of 2020 have seen businesses push to increased virtual communication and online offerings. How do you compete in this new attention economy, especially with so much noise?

With the explosion of virtual business during the COVID-19 lockdown, one of the biggest annoyances people have is the rash of messages they are seeing and receiving. Doesn’t it seem like you are now getting emails from companies with whom you haven’t worked for many years? Suddenly these old “friends” are sending you emails with well wishes, messages on unity, and a reminder of their offerings. Is your business guilty of doing this? This kind of overload eventually leads to unsubscribing and the impact can even be a negative experience with your brand.

Attention Economy

Collectively we are suffering from overwhelming noise from multiple sources: customers, employees, vendors, media, consultants, and more. Of course, most of the noise comes digitally. This has led us to pay less attention to most of the things we hear and see. This phenomenon has had a significant impact for a business, especially if your customers are paying less attention to you now than before the pandemic.

The real challenge for business during this pandemic may not be innovation of products and services, but the ability to get and keep the attention of customers long enough to persuade them to take action. You are no longer dealing only with a financial economy but also an attention economy. To win in the virtual world, you must create a significant differentiation in the attention economy; otherwise, you will be rich in words and emails, but poor in impact, which in turn affects your financial economy.  I hear frequently from business owners who have been reaching out to potential customers, yet the customers are not responding or taking any action. These business owners are focusing on the wrong economy. You must get customers’ attention before they can take action.

This news is nothing new among marketing and communication professionals. But why is it that most virtual communication is not working? We regularly read or hear advice such as sending targeted emails, emailing more frequently, creating attention-getting headlines, and so on. These are all good tactics, but they assume that this type of communication fits your clients—and therein lies the problem.

Leaders must invest in understanding how their potential clients both talk and listen. A lack of understanding leads innovators to use conventional methods of engagement, which doesn’t allow their new products and services to get traction in the marketplace. Therefore, as much as innovators pride themselves in coming with up new offerings, they must go the extra mile of innovating customer engagement in order for their offerings to be accepted. This is what truly makes great products.

Innovate Customer Listening

Instead of bombarding your target clients with emails, webinars, and more, what if you engaged them so you could listen to them instead? Less talking, more listening; less selling, more asking; less informing, more being helpful. To achieve this, you must change your mindset around customer engagement. You must see your customers as partners in helping you achieve market traction instead of as a means of traction. Business owners must also change the way they listen, how they listen and to whom they listen.

It starts with shifting your mindset. To be successful, you must recognize that customers are as foundational to your new product or service as the original idea itself. In fact, the idea is only as good as the customer who accepts it. Therefore, you must wear the “hat” of the customer from the beginning of the innovation process. You need customer input when you are defining the product, when developing the product, to validate the product, and while you are deploying it and while scaling it. If you miss customer partnership in any of these areas, you will have traction problems. And you might be treating your customers as a transaction.

Customers Are Innovators Too

Customers are ultimately seeking to solve their own problems, and that is why they seek your solution. They are looking for the trust, authenticity, and confidence that comes from working with your brand, not just one or more of your products. This is why connecting with them is critical.

Take the time to evaluate individually as an innovator and as a brand how well you are listening to what customers are telling you. Do you have methods to capture what they are telling you? Do you have systems in place that dictate how you will respond? If your clients were asked if they felt heard by you, what would they say? How much are you investing in listening versus talking to your customers?

During these unpredictable times, the secret to market success may not be coming up with the latest technology or medical product—it may instead be developing meaningful connections with your customers through effective listening. Right now, listening as the most innovative skill you need to develop as a business owner, entrepreneur and leader.

About the Author

Dr. Evans Baiya is an internationally recognized and trusted guide to business leaders and innovators. Using his 6-stage process, he helps the businesses identify, define, develop, verify, commercialize, and scale ideas so the businesses and individuals can learn, grow, and thrive.  He is the co-author of the award-winning book, The Innovator’s Advantage and co-creator of The Innovator’s Advantage Academy, a detailed step-by-step innovation training. Learn more at

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