How Marketers Can Cope With Short Attention Spans

A goldfish has a longer attention span than the average human, and there’s research to back it up. Find out what you can do as a marketer to overcome this. Two key considerations to keep your marketing efforts from going belly-up.

Pay attention! It’s clearly hard for us modern humans to pay much attention to anything, as proven by recent research from Microsoft.  Here’s what you need to know from both that article, and an April 2015 study by the Statistic Brain Research Institute:

  • Our ability to focus for any extended period of time is at an all-time low because we’re increasingly consuming more pieces of media, especially digital media.
  • Human survival has always depended on our ability to focus on what’s important (you know, like a lion running towards you!). We’re still wired to be aware of what’s moving, but it’s usually not a wild animal, just a wild number of ads.
  • We don’t do down time much anymore. If there’s a moment here or there when we aren’t engaged in something, we pull out our handy screens to fill that void in instead of actually ceasing to consume media for a minute.
  • A goldfish has a longer attention span than you. By nearly 10%.

Anytime we learn something new about media consumption or consumer behavior, we as marketers should ask ourselves how we can apply the information to our marketing efforts. If we know that attention spans are down, consumption opportunities abound, and clutter is everywhere, what do we do with that information?

Keep these two main ideas in mind to address this question:

  1. Winning a consumer’s attention is more competitive than ever
  2. Keeping a consumers attention is more challenging than ever

Winning a consumer’s attention is more competitive than ever

The best thing to remember as a marketer is to keep it simple. In advertising, every second counts. Billboards used to be the only medium in which marketers focused on the fact that there are only a few seconds, and even fewer words, to gain a passerby’s attention. Today, with more media and screens grabbing our attention than ever before, EVERY form of media is competing with something else. So eliminate any unnecessary words, or better yet, use visuals instead of words whenever possible.

Not only does messaging need to be simple, it needs to be attention-grabbing. Rich media is more attention-getting than static creative, with a 23% higher click-through rate (CTR) and 1000+% more engagement. Rich media also plays on basic human instinct, which is to look at moving objects (because they might be there to harm you!)

Remember that old media rule of running an advertising frequency of three? The idea was that consumers needed to see your message once to ask: “What is it,” the second time to think “So what,” and the third time they might decide “This is for me!” Frequency still matters, but because more advertising messages than ever before are fighting for our attention, marketers need to give consumers even more chances to see their “shiny object.”

Think about this: if the rule about three ad exposures started in the late 1960s when there were only a handful of media choices, then today that number should at least double (and maybe even triple) with the amount of noise consumers face. If we want something more than intuition to guide us and would rather apply some math to this idea, let’s use the Statistic Brain Research Institute study data, which says that in the year 2000, our attention spans were measured at 12 seconds. Today, they’re down to 8 seconds—a 30% decline. So one might argue that each step will be at least 30% harder to achieve, needing 1.3 exposures per step (more than one, so round up to two for each of the three steps), for a frequency of six.

And think about this: you need to increase the odds that your best target audience will see your ad because with targeting capabilities getting better and better through the layering of data, you want to give your most qualified prospects every opportunity to see, and engage with, your ad—rather than moving on to the next, potentially less qualified, target.

Keeping a consumer’s attention is more challenging than ever

What is one great way to keep someone’s attention? Tell a story! Great storytelling plays off of human emotion, because emotion affects behavior more than any other factor. You can use images or words to tell stories that incite the basic human emotions of love, hate, fear, envy, and desire to get a person engaged and ready to act.

PETA tells stories about terrible animal treatment and suffering to motivate people to sign petitions, donate money, and/or change their food choices. Plastic surgeons show before and after pictures to tell the story of a person’s journey, and to create body envy and desire for similar results. Commercials that expose a family’s pain and devastation after an identity theft situation play on fear and anger, driving consumers’ desire for protection against identity theft.

Basically, anything that makes you feel emotion is going to keep your attention engaged for a certain period of time. And the stronger the feeling, the longer you’ll remain engaged.

In addition, you can hold on to your customer interaction longer through the use of great landing pages. The primary purpose of a landing page is to convert a prospect into a customer, or at least to move them one step further through the sales funnel with your call to action. You want them to convert quickly, because the next distraction is only moments away!

The conversion metric might be an email sign-up, a page visit to the map of a specific store location, a phone call, or even just learning more about them for database segmentation. You improve and extend their experience with you by using relevant imagery, using a clear call-to-action, and optimizing your page for mobile devices.

Finally, be relevant! This idea relates to creative more than anything. Your landing page should be consistent with your advertising, whether it’s a simple Pay Per Click (PPC) ad, or a full-blown multi-media campaign. If your landing page has major inconsistencies, your customers might lose trust in your brand and do the opposite of what you intended. The public is consuming more media than ever before, and has more choices than ever, so give them every reason to pay attention to your brand.

Have I lost you? Did you read or “skim” your way to the end of this information? You just proved the points here, so go back and read. Then apply these tips to your marketing initiatives to get—and keep—your customer’s attention!