Capturing Attention: The First Step to Action

December 21st, 2011 | Shonali Burke | 19 Comments

starting overThis past weekend, my friend Ken Mueller shared a video he’d taken of a Christmas flash mob at the Lancaster Central Market, singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

I love flash mobs – who doesn’t, right? plus, I think they’re in my DNA, since no one can flash mob like Bollywood can – so I watched it. It’s a cute video, albeit without much arm-shaking and leg-waggling. But it’s still fun, and it was neat to see some of the expressions Ken managed to capture (check out the lady in the blue sweater at around 1:39/1:41 – she’s completely tuneless but she’s having such a good time).

When Ken posted the video to Facebook, one of the comments was pretty negative, along the lines of “this is completely boring.”

To each their own; no one’s saying everyone has to agree with everyone else. And certainly, there wasn’t a lot of “action” in the video, but if you actually watched it through, you’d see the smiles on people’s faces, as well as bits and pieces of personality (like the afore-mentioned blue sweater lady) that would make you realize, “Hey, people really enjoyed this.” (I actually think Ken did a pretty decent job given he had only one camera and did this on the fly.)

Unfortunately, when we put together plans and campaigns for our clients/organizations, we are in the same boat.

People are bombarded with information, they have “asks” coming at them left, right and center, and if we are not able to capture their attention in a few seconds, we run the risk of losing that opportunity forever (or at least for as long as the campaign is running).

If something about that first touch point – whether it’s a pitch, a video, a blog post, a tweet – doesn’t appeal to them, it is highly unlikely they are going to come back for more, let alone pay attention to what we’re asking them to do. And even if their friends/colleagues/peers respond, they’re still going to think about whether they really want to do so themselves, because their first experience didn’t grab them.

Where we really want to get them is to the point of saying, “Hey, did you see what that blue sweater lady was up to?” Not literally, of course, but you get my drift.

We want them to enjoy the experience of communicating with us, we want them to derive value from what we are communicating to them, and we want them to come back for more. Right?

As you prepare to slow down a bit for the holidays (unless you are in retail, in which case my sympathies are with you), think about how you are crafting the communications with which you’re reaching your customers.

Have they been as creative as they could have been? Have they been as timely as they could have been? Have they done a good job of incorporating your core messaging, but in such a way that they’re not boring?

Have they made your customers say, “I like that. I’d like some more, please.” … have they? Or have they made you fail in business without really trying?

Now is a great time to look at how you’ve been communicating with your customers and tweak your approach for 2012. Maybe it’s great, and doesn’t need any tweaking. But there are very, very few of us who are so perfect that we couldn’t stand some improvement.

And once you do that, I know 2012 will be much better than 2011 for you. I for one am rooting for you.

Image: Taylor McConnell via Flickr, CC 2.0

Shonali Burke
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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"A Little Birdie Told Me" could fly into your inbox just once a month. It's Shonali-as-seen-nowhere-else. What're you waiting for?

Shonali moderator

@ginidietrich You know. When you waggle your leg along to music (or to the music inside your head). Doesn't everyone do it? Indians definitely do.

Shonali moderator

@HowieG Ha! No Pants Day, eh? Sounds like Howie-type fun to me. :p

That's a really great point about TV; on the other hand, when I'm watching TV, the "other offer" is what I'm thinking about, so it's a rare commercial that catches my attention - and thank heavens for DVRs!


@HowieG@shonali@ginidietrich@kmueller62 I tried the no-pants gig once because I was told you need to make a powerful first impression. I'm not sure I got the reaction I wanted. It's pretty humbling to being hand cuffed naked and a busted nose that is bleeding all over the place..........sheeesh, no sense of humor..........

Shonali moderator

@ShakirahDawud I was working on a research project recently (great fun) and that was something that kept coming back to me. Even when one is dealing with serious issues, like literacy, almost always there's a way to have a little bit of fun and capture the audience's attention. Of course there are times when it's inappropriate... but it's still gotta grab you - else why would you come back for more, right?

And that's why I love your writing so much. Usually it grabs me SO much that I have absolutely nothing of value to add, but curl up into a ball going, "I wish I could write like that."

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@Shonali@bdorman264@ginidietrich@KenMueller Places people HAVE to look at ads because of their natural tendency not to want to look elsewhere: Subway Cars, Elevators, any place people refuse to make eye contact in closed quarters/ And sides of bus stops in cities where if you walk towards it on the sidewalk it is impossible to not at least glimpse.


  1. [...] “People are bombarded with information, they have “asks” coming at them left, right and center, and if we are not able to capture their attention in a few seconds, we run the risk of losing that opportunity forever.” Shonali Burke of Waxing Unlyrical [...]