Our attention spans are short. I mean, really short. How short? They're shorter than a goldfish's, which is nine seconds. We hardly can focus on something before becoming distracted.
Here are some alarming stats from the Center for Biotechnology Information:
• 25% of teens forget major details of their close friends and relatives.
• 7% of people forget their own birthdays from time to time.
• An office workers checks his/her email box 30X per hour.
• Typical mobile users check their phone at least 150X per day.
• 17% of website pageviews last fewer than 4 seconds.
So, basically, we forget who our friends are, when our own birthdays are, how to read more than 4 seconds worth of text... but we somehow remember to check our work email inbox all day long.
The most interesting stat from this study relates to our decreasing attention spans. In 2000, we had a whole 12 seconds to pay attention, compared to today's paltry 8 seconds.
If you're wondering about the culprit, look at our technology.
In 2003, LinkedIn and MySpace launched. In 2004, Facebook and Digg launched, grabbing every college-aged kid's attention until later monopolizing everyone's attention. In 2005, YouTube and Reddit launched. In 2006, Twitter launched. In 2007, Tumblr launched. In 2010, Pinterest and Instagram launched. In 2011, Snapchat launched. Add to that a zillion other sites and a million text messages all vying for your precious 8 seconds.
What This Shortened Attention Span Means for Marketers
This diminishing attention span makes marketers' job incredibly hard. Whether someone sees this post, clicks it, shares it, or even reads it all depends on my capturing your attention. Maybe I'm doing a good job, maybe not. But, I can't help wonder whether our world of social media, apps, nonstop content, and "always on" mindset is making us dumber, more distracted, less creative, and more likely to mentally check out when we can't figure something out the first time.
Joe Kraus, a serial entrepreneur and partner with Google Ventures, gave a presentation in which he offers an alternative coined "slow tech." In his presentation, he says, "We are creating and encouraging a culture of distraction where we are increasingly disconnected from the people and events around us, and increasingly unable to engage in long-form thinking. People now feel anxious when their brains are unstimulated.
"We are losing some very important things by doing this," Kraus states "We threaten the key ingredients behind creativity and insight by filling up all our 'gap' time with stimulation. And we inhibit real human connection when we prioritize our phones over the people right in front of us."
Most of us place a tremendous amount of importance on technology and would be lost without it. I think there can be a happy medium between overstimulation and complete disconnect, and marketers can champion this less distracting way of reaching audiences.
Do I think it will happen soon? Probably not. I think it will get much worse for a while, but getting customers' attention isn't impossible.
Here are three tips for getting customers, even with 8-second attention spans, to focus on you.
1. Keep It Simple
Getting inundated with information makes anyone want to shut off. When marketing to a very short attention span, distill your information into memorable, easy-to-comprehend nuggets.
In other words, chop off the superfluous jargon. Your message should be so simple that your grandma could read it and understand your value.
2. Show Me, Don't Tell me
A total of 65% of the population are visual learners. In marketing, visuals play a huge role in capturing our attention and keeping it. Remember, it takes a lot less time to process an image than to read a lengthy paragraph. And when you only have 8 seconds, time is money.
Think about Apple product descriptions. They make you want to buy that new Apple Watch not because of the specifics of the watch, but most likely because of a sleek and gorgeously placed photos.
Make sure to pay close attention to your mobile site's and website's design, image clarity, and overall design aesthetics. Just as memorable as an awesome image is to a user's perception of your brand, a grainy and awkward image or poorly designed website can quickly sour a prospect's desire to click and learn more.
3. Consider the Channel
Ours is the age of overstimulation, clutter, and demand for our attention.
On the bright side, our ability to multitask has shot up. On the not-so-bright side, the actual attention we give to the task at hand, our friends, marketing messages has gone down. Way down. So, what does that mean for marketers? Your message must be short, use snazzy visuals, and be delivered via an uncluttered, unobtrusive channel if you want to be heard.
Though email inboxes are flooded and mobile ads can be intrusive, SMS remains uncluttered, ubiquitous, and simple. It has not been tainted by the over-delivery and spamming of email marketing. Moreover, SMS is more personal. Due to the bite-sized nature of SMS messages, receiving one won't disrupt someone's day, and if it's compelling enough, that person will take action. And in the end, we all want to make a connection.
"Digital connections offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship," states sociologist Dr. Sherry Turkle. "We expect more from technology and less from each other."
Are we becoming more and more addicted to stimulation and dependent on digital interaction and likes? And should we, as marketers, raise our voice only to be heard as a whisper among the marching parade of advertisements? Or, are we becoming smarter (albeit with a shorter attention span) and more discerning due to these "distractions" and bombardment of crisp, refreshing content?
Whatever the answer, I know that marketers don't need to fill the airwaves to inspire action.