Commentary

The True Value Of Time

I recently had an eye-opening managerial experience when, during a performance review, a senior staff member volunteered to forego a salary increase in exchange for additional vacation days. Initially I was shocked that someone would refuse monetary compensation in exchange for more time off This was a first for me.

But maybe I shouldn't be surprised at all. Time has become the ultimate commodity. We can't make more of it, and there's never enough. Due to the wonders of technology, we're now 100% connected at almost every moment of our day, so time away from the office no longer means what it did a few years ago. Technological innovation is also responsible for helping us better manage our limited time. TiVo is the ultimate "time-shifting" device. Why waste 2 minutes and 2 seconds watching commercials when you can fast-forward to the magic of Chuck Woolery making a Love Connection?

Given its scarcity, quantifying the value of time has become a priority for advertising executives. A 30-second commercial costs more to air than a 15-second one. Print ads are measured by the number of readers as well as the length of time they are viewed. Supermarkets value store shelves and end caps by how long people linger in those specific spots. For those who buy media, there's a comfort level to these familiar models. Getting more "time" feels like it is worth spending more for.

Yet marketers demand more than time from consumers. They demand "engagement," or the blend of time and attention. (If you've ever left the TV on in the background while doing something else, you know what I mean.) In other words, marketers don't just strive for time. They strive for well-spent time in which the viewer is participating with the brand's message. Looked at in this light, engaged time may be the ultimate starting point to build a framework for an effective media buy.

The latest research in our series of whitepapers on how to value conversations, BzzAgent explores the question: Where do your dollars drive the greatest time and attention for a consumer? Stripping away all other factors, how does a consumer recommendation stack up against other media forms on the basis of time? On average, we spend more than 6 minutes engaged with someone else when we're sharing our opinions or discussing brands. And short of being a painfully shy shoe gazer or suffering from a BlackBerry addiction, most of us actually do listen closely when talking with others. Does this level of engagement make word of mouth more valuable than other forms of media?

Few would argue against the credibility that comes from a peer recommendation, but the real question comes down to how a marketer can value conversational media against everything else they're buying. Maybe the ultimate measure is much simpler than trying to tease out CPx-type results from each impression. Maybe the true measure of the value can be found in a single rhetorical question: How much is your time worth to you?

One of my employees lives in a modern-era cabin located some two hours west of Boston. There's a rumor that he heats his home with a wood-burning stove. He recently told me his home computer is Internet-enabled, but he rarely turns it on during the weekend. And if he does, he doesn't check his email or browse the Web. We used to wonder what it was like to be a Luddite. To be truly off the grid. Of course, some thought he must be crazy. But given how little time we all have to dedicate to the things that matter, we now realize he's probably the sanest of all of us.

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