So, today, we're talking about Attention.

The most important thing you need to know about attention is this:

Before they can open your email, fall in love with your offering, whip out their credit cards and send you cookies and/or their underwear via the United States Postal Service…

They will actually have to notice you.

You'll have to get their attention.

Are you on a lot of mailing lists?

Have you seen how many people are telling you how to get attention?

Have you seen how the articles they write are full of smoke and mirrors and vagueness and generalities?

Yeah. Me, too.

Wanna know why that happens?

Of course you do.

Nobody can tell you exactly how to get attention because…


Let me explain.

If some big-shot guru – or medium-shot guru, or your brother-in-law who minored in business in college – says, “This tactic works to gets attention”, that is almost always not an absolute.

They are talking about Vacuum Land, where absolutisms abound and information products run upwards of a thousand dollars.

What gets the attention of three-year-olds does not necessarily get the attention of their mothers.

What gets the attention of white-collar rat-racers does not necessarily get the attention of Mr. Hippie Dippie Commune Pants. (Or, perhaps more accurately, No Pants.)

And what THEORETICALLY gets the attention of everybody – the person's name, “free”, or standard time-sensitivity words – have oftentimes been so overdone that they don't get attention nearly as well as they did when the advice was conceived.

(Hint: The advice was probably conceived before the person you heard it from was even born.)

This is NOT to say that free puppies won't get attention.

This is to say that free puppies won't get much attention… in an inbox full of free puppies.

When much of this (admittedly very good) advice was conceived, the average American did not yet own a telephone and the mail still came by horse.

That is not an exaggeration.

So when you're looking at the advice and going, “You know, I'm not 100% sure that's going to work as well as the person selling me the thousand dollar email system says it is,” yeah, you just might be right.

So how do you know what DOES work?

Well, let's take ourselves back a hundred years or so.

Every now and again when you're driving around rural America, you'll see an old advertisement painted on the side of a fence or a barn.

That used to get a lot of attention because, well, prior to painting ads on barns, nobody painted ads on barns.

You with me so far?

So if you were to paint an ad on a barn, that would get a lot of attention.

And some ads on barns – or the modern day equivalent of a highway sign – still do get plenty of attention.

When Dave's been driving down a rural highway since the Clinton administration and I would give a pound of my own flesh for a quarter pound of a cow's, the McDonald's ad sure gets my notice.

But downtown? Surrounded by billions of competing ads? It only really gets my attention if I'm looking for it.

(Remember that. “It only really gets my attention if I'm looking for it.” That'll come in handy later.)

Now let's think of something like a big, bright flashing light.

Big bright flashing lights get a lot of attention when they are not surrounded by other big bright flashing lights.

If you're walking around a pier in Turkey and all of the knock-off perfumes are starting to blend together, a flashing red arrow that says BAZAAR is going to get your notice.

Now put yourself in a casino.

The place is lit up like a bad Chevy Chase movie and no individual light is going to get your notice.

See what I'm saying here?

Attention is relative.

What works HERE does not necessarily work THERE.

“This tactic works all the time ” means “this tactic works all the time in Vacuum Land” and you'll want to be cautious about following that advice.

So what do you do?

We're going to do three things.

One, we're going to look at your inbox.

Two, we're going to look at someone else's inbox.

And three, we're going to look for patterns.


When you look at your own inbox, you're going to focus on what emails have been successful at getting YOUR attention. It's not perfect advice because you are probably not a representative sample of anything other than, well, you, but at least it shows a use case of someone who lives in the digital age.

What we particularly want to look for here are:

Things that got your general attention,

Things that got your immediate attention,

Things that you don't even notice anymore because they're so overdone, and

Things that you do not pay attention to because you know it's going to be absolute garbage.

For the first two items, we're focusing on what turned your attention ON. For the second, we're looking for what didn't do it for you or, worse, killed the mood.


Find someone else and ask them to let you take a peek at their inbox.

At this point, we're only looking at subject lines, so you don't have to go rifling around their Frederick's of Hollywood receipts or anything.

Just see if you can get a look at what kind of emails they get and what kinds of emails are marked as read. This will tell you what worked, and you can get bonus points for peeking in their deleted folder and noticing what emails they deleted without even reading.


Take your notes from your foray into your inbox and your voyeuristic romp in their inbox, and start looking for any patterns you can recognize. The specifics of what patterns a person recognizes and how they go about recognizing them are unique from person to person, so the patterns you see are going to be different from the patterns I see or Dave sees or Jack sees.

But here are some things you might notice:

The use of your name The use of all-caps Sentence case Title case Urgency Numbers Questions Titles Lame attempts at intrigue, shock or surprise Use of humor

Take a look, and see what patterns you notice.

You'll probably also notice that a tactic used by someone you know and like is going to have a different effect on you than the same tactic used by someone you don't know or don't trust.

Ahh, good for you for noticing. That's part two of our AIDA quadrangle, Interest, and we're going to talk about that right over here.