The World’s First Psychologist Came Up With This Great Marketing Hack 150 Years Ahead of Everyone Else


Whether it’s “conversational marketing” or “AI-based tailored touchpoints”, the trends for today’s envelope-pushing marketers have a single red thread running through them: they recognize the human being on the other side of the business transaction.

Human beings have a finite set of attentional resources. The founding father of our science, William James, once wrote, “attention implies a withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.”

Innovative marketers and brand strategists may be forward-thinking, but their foundational thinking on human attention and psychology is ancient. They recognize that to succeed, a business needs to master the art of attention. That means:

  • grabbing people’s attention with newness and the appeal of ‘what could be’

  • holding people’s attention with reliability and the appeal of what is safe and can be counted on

  • Securing people’s attention with identity and the appeal of what is most important: “me, me, me”. 

Grab attention with the shiny and new

During change, our inner explorers come out to play. Looking at a map of uncharted territory, we’re compelled to find the new and grab hold of ‘what could be’.

We’re in the greatest period of change in human history. And with change comes new things … new things to distract us from the old and the boring. That is, humans find themselves ‘withdrawing’ – their preferences, their needs, and ultimately, their attention – at every moment of the day. 

We want more athleisure and fewer suits; less make-up and more skincare products; fewer cars per household and better internet connections. We are also spending a lot of time online, where we tend to purchase all the above. 

So, how can a brand wade through the noise to capture consumer attention? Novelty.

Our brains crave it. We love to see and experience things we haven’t before and, when we do, our brains release dopamine as a reward. The neuroscientific origin of this is that our brains are wired to notice foreign stimuli in our environment to assess whether they’re a threat. But when it comes down to it, new stuff makes us feel good, we remember them better, and we are neurochemically inclined to keep looking for them.

For a brand…

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