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  • 08.17.10

Capitalize on the Invisible Hand…of Time

There’s no “invisible hand” more famous than Adam Smith’s description of the force that guides free markets toward efficiency. After studying time and attention for the last several years, it’s very clear to me that there are also invisible but powerful “hands” affecting customer behavior, and therefore business success, that are far less famous and rarely understood.

There’s no “invisible hand” more famous than Adam Smith’s description of the force that guides free markets toward efficiency. After studying time and attention for the last several years, it’s very clear to me that there are also invisible but powerful “hands” affecting customer behavior, and therefore business success, that are far less famous and rarely understood.

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While Smith was concerned with the laws of economics, I think of these other hidden forces as the Laws of Time-onomics, if you will. Just as understanding supply and demand is important, understanding the forces of time and attention that shape customer decision-making can drive innovation plans, competitive actions, and new market opportunities.

Most Businesses Overlook How Time Affects Customer Decisions

Most firms are missing the boat when it comes to customer time. Customers factor time into their decisions every day, yet most businesses tend to overlook this. Executives and managers expend tremendous effort evaluating pricing strategies and customer demographics but devote little, if any, effort to understanding how time factors into customer decisions. Consider for a moment how angry you’ve become when a business has wasted your time and you will gain a rapid understanding of the magnitude of this issue.

But this goes well beyond customer service. What it boils down to is this: if you’re not using time and attention as a competitive weapon, you’re going to lose–lose customers, lose marketshare, lose profits. Time is a powerful competitive differentiator because it is so scarce. Take for example, how this is becoming evident in the form of Time Wars.

Customers, whether in the B2C or B2B markets, don’t spend any more time evaluating options or purchasing today than they did 40 years ago More and more offerings are competing for the same small slice of time and attention. Add to that the fact that every customer has more ways of diverting their attention–smartphones, iPods, multiple PCs–and this highlights how scarce time and attention are today.

But it’s worse than that. In the war for attention, everyone loses. Neuroscientists have shown that attention, especially when multitasking, is a diminishing resource.

That’s why simply trying to be “louder”–whether with flashier ads or deeper discounts–to compete for limited attention is a sucker’s game. There are ways of competing on time and attention that are built on more than just trying to get more of it from your customers. An earlier post, “The Rise of the Inattention Economy” looked at just one of the many ways to take advantage of time constraints and inattention.

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Harnessing the Forces of Time in Your Favor

To start competing on time and attention, you have to start building it into your customer value equation. Today, time and attention are largely externalities in the economic calculus of many companies. That leaves you at the mercy of competitors who understand how the economics of time work.

Over the coming months, I’ll be exploring the Laws of Time-onomics–insights I’ve gained from writing my book The 24-Hour Customer and working with clients.

The Laws of Time-onomics will help you begin to build the forces of time and attention into your business value, your product development, your marketing plans, your customer retention and acquisition strategies–into everything that you do.

There will only ever be 24 hours in a day. Companies that understand and harness the forces of customer time and attention to their advantage, rather than fight them, will enjoy an increasingly dominant market position, and the profits that go along with it.

Adrian Ott has been called, “One of Silicon Valley’s most respected, (if not the most respected) strategists” by Consulting Magazine. She is the author of the new book The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy (HarperCollins, August 2010) and CEO of Exponential Edge®Inc. consulting. Follow Adrian on Twitter @ExponentialEdge

©2010 Exponential Edge, Inc., All Rights Reserved

About the author

Adrian Ott, award-winning author, speaker, and CEO of Exponential Edge Inc., was called “one of Silicon Valley’s most respected strategists” by Consulting Magazine. She helps relentless visionary executives to foresee disruptive opportunities and accelerate market leadership.

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