Kathy Sierra on being provocative:

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image shamefully stolen from the Creating Passionate Users blog

Ripped from Corante:

Ah, Kathy Sierra... What can I say. Kathy writes one of the most consistently great blogs dealing with business, marketing, and all things related to them. One of her latest entries on Creating Passionate Users deals with capturing and keeping someone's attention. For the purposes of this discussion, that would be... your customers, or potential customers, but the concept can definitely be applied to other parts of your life as well. (Students, cute girls, managers, parents, readers, etc.) In her own words:

"When you want to get--and especially keep--someone's attention, what's your competition? What else could they choose to focus on at any given moment? The belief that we have 100% conscious control over what we pay attention to is a myth. The belief that users can and will choose to pay attention to our message/ad/docs/product/lesson, etc. is a mistake. So what can we do to up the odds of getting and keeping attention?"

In true Kathy form, the answer is never far from the question. Here, she quotes David Lichman:

"The secret is to be more provocative and interesting than anything else in their environment."

Aha! Okay. Nothing new there. We've already heard about Seth Godin's "be remarkable" argument, and the value of being a "purple cow."

But you know what? It's worth revisiting frequently, and Kathy does a great job of reminding us of this essential strategic ingredient.

I'll be lazy here and quote Kathy again (and again and again and again...):

"If we want our users (members, guests, students, potential customers, kids, co-workers, etc.) to pay attention, we have to be provocative. We can moan all we want about how the responsible person should pay attention to what's important rather than what's compelling. But it's not about responsibility or maturity. It's not even about interest. It's about the brain."

Here are some of her suggestions on how to capture the interest of our customers:

1. Be Visual

Pictures are more important to the brain than words, and unless you've already got their attention and are a good enough writer to paint pictures in their head, you'll do better with visuals. The more stimulating the better. Even graphs and charts are a huge help.

2. Be Different--Break Patterns and Expectations

As long as we're doing what everyone else is doing (or what we have always done), the brain can relax and think, "Nothing new here... whew... what a relief, that means I can now go back to scanning for something that is". Ways to be different include doing the opposite of what you normally do, or doing something expected in a different domain, but which is wildly unique in yours.

3. Be Daring

You know the story on this one--being safe is often incompatible with being provocative.

4. Change Things Regularly

This is about continually breaking your own patterns. Consistently shaking things up whether it's look and feel of your website to the product itself. (Obviously the definition of "regularly" and "things" varies dramatically depending on the type of product or service. MySpace can change daily to the delight of its core audience, while a financial app better keep its UI stable for a much longer time and find something else to change regularly (like the website, tutorial style, or online forums).

5. Inspire Curiosity

Humans often find puzzles and even questions irresistible. Just try to walk by a TV playing a quiz show and not think about the answer to the question you heard walking by. How many times have you watched to the end of a movie you didn't particularly like, just because you had to find out how the story ends? Our legacy brains love curiosity because it usually means more learning.

6. Pose a Challenge

The level and nature of the challenge work only if they're within boundaries that work for your audience, of course.

7. Be Controversial and Committed

Take a stand. Mediocrity is not a formula for holding attention.

8. Be Fun

Remember, brains love fun because fun=play, and play=practicing-to-survive. (And as we've said many times here, fun does not have to mean funny.

9. Be Stimulating. Be Exciting. Be Seductive

Keep in mind that seduction does not have to mean sexual. A good storyteller can seduce me into sticking with the story. A good teacher can seduce me into learning. A good software app can seduce me into getting better and better.

10. Help them have Hi-Res Experiences

This gets back to the notion of being-better-is-better. The more your users know and can do, the higher resolution experience they have. Whatever you can do to give them more expertise will help keep them interested in wanting to know and do more. But they need to be up the skill curve a ways before this really kicks in, so we must do whatever we can to help get new users past the rough spots (i.e. the "suck threshold").

See? I told you she was good!

The theory of "attention share" ("wallet share's" right-brain twin) has been earning serious points with me for the better part of a year now. By the way, for a great little article on the shift from "mind share" to -and relationship with - "wallet share," click here. It's pretty basic, but that's okay.)

Kathy's post also echoes John Moore's post this week about the Ann Taylor brand, which introduces us to Ann Taylor's Kay Krill, and her five tips on reviving a fashion brand:

1: Know your client—not only what she wears, but how she lives.
2: Have an action plan, and have total agreement from the senior leaders who need to execute the plan.
3: Evolve. Retail is not a static business; there’s great danger in staying still.
4: Constantly communicate with employees at all levels.
5: Stay positive and optimistic.

Compared to Kathy's fresh and energy-infused list, Kay's fabulous five list may seem a little... sober, but it is equally important. Kathy's tips deal with being remarkable. Kay's tips deal with not only staying relevant, but also making your organization get from the strategy phase to the execution phase. The two go hand in hand. Being remarkable without being relevant basically equates to just grabbing people's attention. (Like... being a clown.) Likewise, being relevant without being remarkable is just boring. ("Bueller? Bueller?")

I may be stating the obvious here, but... hey, that's not always a bad thing: When looking for potent ingredients to add to your brand's magic recipe, equal doses of remarkable and relevant work best when used together...

... and preferably in very large quantities.

Have a great weekend, everyone. :)

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