Attention Span Attention Marketing Agency Leadership

In B2B, why is no one paying attention to attention?

By Will Green, Associate Creative Director

Ledger Bennett


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October 9, 2023 | 7 min read

Attention is the most important commodity in advertising, says Will Green of Ledger Bennett. Why, then, isn’t B2B work attention-obsessed?

A peeling triangular sign featuring an exclamation mark!

Attention - the unsung essential of B2B marketing? / Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Demand attention.

That’s the most important thing any piece of creative has to do. In the case of an ad, it’s pretty much the only thing it has to do.

But even for content that does other jobs – explainer videos, e-books, useful guides – if the headline or front page doesn’t grab your audience from the off, all that brilliant work will go to waste. They just won’t click on it. They won’t open it. And they won’t hear the message you’ve spent time, energy, and budget crafting. They’ll get distracted by something else – something brighter and shinier – and never think of you again.

So, attention is pretty much the whole game. Why, then, does no one ever talk about it?

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Attention as an afterthought

In B2B marketing, you only hear the word ‘attention’ on two occasions. First, when slashing long-form copy because of short attention spans. And, second, in media conversations where attention is a metric.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Actually, there’s plenty wrong with the first one, but that’s for another day – but attention as a media metric is totally valid.

The problem is, by the time you’re measuring it, it’s too late. Sure, it’s useful to know how much attention an ad got. But think back to the creative meeting, to all the rounds of feedback, and be honest: was attention the thing you were gunning for?

Probably not. There will have been plenty of discussion about audience and messaging. Lots of thought about the images and making sure the colors are compliant. Probably someone has used the word ‘atomization’.

And once you get lost in all that (again, totally valid) debating, it gets harder and harder to step back and ask: does this turn heads? Will this make someone stop mid-scroll? Will someone remember a single bit of it three seconds later? Or feel compelled to share it?

Because that’s what your creative needs to do. Otherwise, all those other conversations are just people talking over the sound of a tree falling in the forest.

Three ways to inject attention

So, why isn’t ‘get people to notice’ the first KPI on every creative brief?

Two reasons. First, it’s subjective. What seems provocative and interesting to one person might be off-putting and offensive to another. You can use those attention metrics afterward and learn from them. But, even then, there’s no real way to A/B test creative ideas.

And, second, it’s hard – harder certainly than checking work against messaging pyramids and brand guidelines where there is at least a concrete foundation for subjective opinion.

So, how can marketers make ‘attention’ the thing they aim for? How can they make sure their agencies and in-house teams know the first thing any creative piece has to do is make the audience sit up and take notice?

We think there are three questions you need to ask, so you can take some of the meandering subjectivity out of things.

1. ‘Is it about us or our audience?’

No one likes to be stuck at a party with someone who only talks about themselves. If your creative is based on ‘our world-leading solutions’ or ‘our next-gen product’, the best response you can hope for is ‘good for you’. Most likely, no one will care.

2. ‘Is it based on an emotional truth?’

People buy on emotion, then justify with facts.

To get attention, your creative has to relate to how people feel, not what they think. B2B is packed with potent emotions: fear of being left behind, the desire to be promoted, pride among peers, the satisfaction of understanding an in-joke. Your creative needs to use those emotions.

3. ‘Is it surprising?’

We respond to things we don’t expect far more than the same-old, same-old. It might be a deliberately provocative stance against an industry sacred cow. It might be a ban on images of people with phones next to buildings. It might be as simple as an unusual word in a headline.

Whatever it is, to stand out, you need to say something different, or at least present what you’re saying in a way that’s unmistakably your own.

A lesson from Leo

There’s a timeless Leo Burnett quote about advertising.

“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.”

And that’s it. That’s still the job for all creative and should be the first consideration for any creative review. First, demand attention. Everything else follows from there.

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Attention Span Attention Marketing Agency Leadership

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Ledger Bennett

We’re Ledger Bennett — a B2B marketing agency and part of the Havas Media Network. We don’t just create campaigns that lead to MQLs, we develop strategies...

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