Dennis Shiao: Don’t Just Get Customer Attention — Keep It

August 3, 2021

Dennis Shiao

According to marketing consultant and martech maven Dennis Shiao, if there’s one thing B2B marketers should be doing more to gain customer attention, it’s simply talking to them. 

Of course, the founder of Attention Retention LLC knows this doesn’t include catching people once with gimmicky click-bait content, or saturating feeds with content for the sake of content. Dennis preaches understanding customer needs rather than making assumptions so brands can earn and, ultimately, keep that prized attention — the key premise behind his agency’s position — by delivering quality over quantity.  

Having built his wealth of knowledge in B2B marketing over an impressive 20-plus year run in director-level roles, Dennis has led the martech charge for organizations in CMS, marketing automation, email marketing, and more. His ability to help create and distribute engaging content — including successful webinars and podcasts — has boosted crucial sales leads, increased revenue, and has also earned Dennis such accolades as Contributor of the Year from CMSWire, and the TechTarget Innovation Award.

With his interesting background that, as he puts it, “combines a left-brained IT Pro with a right-brained creative, writer, and communicator,” we recently highlighted Dennis as a marketer to watch, and he was kind enough to connect with us for an extended interview. 

In this Q&A, Dennis shares his thoughts on creating more compelling content, tips for webinar presenters, and what marketers can do to stand out in social media feeds.

LinkedIn: Tell us about your company, Attention Retention LLC. What inspired you to found it, and what makes it different from other B2B agencies?

Dennis Shiao: After an entire career spent in full-time roles, I founded Attention Retention LLC in 2019. I went out on my own in 2018 after my full-time marketing position was eliminated in a layoff. I love the freedom and enjoy the variety from working with clients across a few different industries. I wrote about my career transition in a post I titled, “The Accidental Freelancer.”

What makes us different from other B2B marketing agencies is in our tagline, “Keeping attention is as important as getting it.” While some agencies can churn out lots of content each week, we focus on quality over quantity. We want to help clients retain the attention of their audience. That starts with compelling content that connects with the audience and makes them stay for a while.

LI: What’s one thing that today’s product marketers could broadly be doing better to create more compelling content and messaging?

Dennis: Spending more time with customers and prospective customers. My pet peeve with marketers is the belief that we know what’s best for customers — in other words, we know what they need and we’re here to serve it to them. 

Well, that’s only true if we deeply understand our customers and I believe that many marketers aren’t quite there. The better you understand (and even predict) customers’ needs, the more compelling your messaging will be. I wrote more about this in a post urging marketers to spend more time with customers.

LI: You’ve had a lot of success with live webinars in the past. What do you view as the keys to planning and executing great webinar content?

Dennis: The typical webinar is 60 minutes long, with 30+ slides and 1-2 speakers. This format makes it hard to hold viewers’ attention, no matter what the topic. Beyond great content, which is a given, I think presenters need to mix things up in order to keep viewers on their toes.

Vary the time between slides, including some bursts when you’re flipping a slide per second (i.e., fast-paced). Leverage the features of the webinar platform to draw the audience in (e.g., polls, chat, Q&A, etc.). I had a boss who said that webinar presenters should try to get the audience to touch their mouse (or keyboard) every five minutes. If you keep them active, you’ll keep them engaged.

LI: Breaking through and earning attention on social media feeds is a primary challenge for today’s marketers and brands. What’s your advice for standing out?

Dennis: It’s so tough, especially since the algorithms that determine what gets shown in social media feeds are fickle and unpredictable. One thing to do is be consistently interesting. Remember that no one has the perspectives and life experiences that you do. So show off your “unique-ness” and your distinct point of view. It’s better to share original thoughts than to share links. If you’re consistently interesting, then people will engage, comment, and re-share your posts. That will make the algorithm take notice. 

LI: Which emerging technologies and innovations hold the most promise for B2B marketers, in your eyes?

Dennis: An easy answer might be “Clubhouse,” but given that I’m not on Clubhouse yet, I’ll skip that one. There will always be new technologies and innovations for marketers — we’re lucky in that sense. While marketers should watch for new technologies and assess when (and how) to try them, I like to stick to the basics: understanding audience needs, defining the right marketing strategy (i.e., before tactics!) and ensuring consistent execution of that strategy across the team.

LI: The last year has obviously been a turbulent one for society, with COVID lockdowns and civil unrest stemming from George Floyd's killing. What do you view as the biggest challenges of the past 12 months from a marketing standpoint?

Dennis: It’s true that 2020 was a turbulent year for society and the world. A challenge for marketers was to figure out whether to pause campaigns — and beyond that, whether they (or their brands) needed to speak up, take action and make a difference. 

To some degree, this decision goes beyond Marketing, though marketers can be the ones helping lead the way. In the end, some brands stayed silent, some made muted statements and others went all-in. I think brands should look beyond their products and services and figure out where they fit in the wider world, and whether they have a larger mission.

If they do have a larger mission, then 2021 is a great time to take action.

LI: What content is giving you life? (Or, what's the most impactful/memorable piece of content you've encountered recently?)

Dennis: MarketingProfs created the World's First B2B Marketing Sea Shanty (a video), which debuted at their MarketingProfs B2B Forum online event. It was created and performed by Nina Bell, head of demand gen at MarketingProfs. I loved watching it. In fact, I was singing the sea shanty in my head afterwards. There’s a fantastic story behind its creation. It’s a story that connects the original sea shanty to a modern day video that went viral on TikTok. Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs gives the full story in her email newsletter, Total Annarchy.

LI: How do you use LinkedIn to engage and grow your audience?

Dennis: I just launched my LinkedIn Company Page! It has a modest following for now, so my focus is to share the page with clients, colleagues and friends and invite them to follow it. On my personal LinkedIn profile, I like to check the feed each day and engage with connections’ on their new jobs, promotions and related happenings. I also like to share content to my profile — usually events that are coming up or content that I find interesting.

LI: Any final thoughts?

Dennis: No additional thoughts, but thanks for the opportunity!

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