The Shrinking Attention Span & What It Means for Marketers

The Shrinking Attention Span & What It Means for Marketers

Jaime Escott - 6 Min Read

The Shrinking Attention Span & What It Means for Marketers

We’re bombarded by distractions every day. Whether a notification on our phones, a ping on our desktops or a vibration on our Apple watches—there are endless distractions that shift our daily routines. It’s the price of being able to watch TV, FaceTime our friends, and locate the nearest Dunkin’ (or Starbucks) all at the same time. 

These quick, simultaneous behaviors are what has formed, what we call, the Impulse Generation. In the Impulse Generation, age is not the principal factor. Instead, the focus is on the similar behaviors we all share: our dependency on the web and mobile devices for fast, easy access to information.

Unfortunately for marketers, this demand for quick satisfaction and constant connectedness makes it increasingly difficult to hold a consumer’s attention. In fact, a study by Microsoft concluded that the human attention span has dropped to eight seconds – shrinking nearly 25% in just a few years. 

This means we are all being fundamentally reprogrammed, regardless of age, to expect an answer fast and easy. What’s more, our diminished attention spans demand instant results.

So, if you’re still reading this, congratulations! You broke the mold and stayed with us for longer than the coveted eight. Before we lose you, let’s get on with what marketers can do about the shrinking attention span.

Tell a (Nonlinear) Story

The key to better engagement is strong storytelling. However, storytelling itself has evolved. Ethan McCarty explains it best in his article, The End of Linear Storytelling:  

“In our world of digital experiences, linear narratives no longer bring in the crowds much less compel them to action…We have to rethink the value we place on stories and embrace new areas of opportunity for sharing and engaging through experiences.”

As McCarty dives deeper, it’s evident that marketers have routinely shared stories with one narrative, one point of view and one corresponding outcome. However, these linear stories make it difficult to retain, let alone gain, the attention of consumers, because they are planned, expected and typically long. 

Rather, bringing consumers and employees through an experience unlike any other is the best solution to engage and connect. As McCarty explains, this can be done by making the shift from managing content to creating experiences.

For instance, rather than just posting a video to your website and hoping it gets hits, share it on social and tag your colleagues in it. Then, write something personable about them and their relationship with you. Once the featured people see it, they’ll be more apt to share it to their own profiles – expanding your reach and building a greater experience for others to see.  

By telling a (nonlinear) story, you’ll bring your audiences through a captivating experience that they’ll stick around for. 

Create Engaging Content 

To break the eight, it’s critical that your content is engaging, authoritative, and thought provoking. It needs to spark emotions from readers, so that they feel a deeper connection to your content.  

Videos are an effective channel to drive engagement and create that memorable experience. In fact, viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video, compared to 10% when reading it in text. This means there’s opportunity to elevate messages through video and evoke emotions that last.

For example, Volvo’s V60 Polestar video sparks emotion by presenting the inseparable bond between a young son and his father. Volvo was able to effectively carry audiences through a touching story, while subtly weaving their brand throughout.

Humor is another element that you can use to create engaging content. In fact, more than half of people say they are more likely to remember and enjoy an advertisement if it’s funny. We leveraged humor for our client, Five Star Senior Living, with a Seniors & Puppies video. This video has seen a great deal of engagement and reactions, because it puts a funny twist on an unexpected scene.  

By creating engaging content, you’ll amplify the brand experience, improve brand recall and retain your audience’s attention. 

Provide Snackable Content

Once you produce engaging content, ensure that it’s short and to the point. It needs to be snackable, so that viewers are able to quickly understand it, without having to scroll through text, or skip forward in a video. 

To achieve this type of user-friendly content, split up your messages with smaller paragraphs, snippets, quotes, statistics, or callouts. This will ensure that your readers can easily scan a page and digest the information quickly. 

Another way to engage is through shorter social stories, rather than longer web pages. While long-form content is necessary to establish thought leadership, it’s important to break down those messages into shorter snippets on social, such as Instagram stories or Facebook posts. 

By shortening your content and creating a more skimmable experience, you will retain your audience’s attention longer.

Design Compelling Visuals

You should also consider creating eye-catching visuals to complement your text. Images with color increase people’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80%, making infographics a key piece to capturing attention. 

Infographics are easy to digest and showcase all of your main points in one, clear, attractive visual. With 42% of marketers reporting that infographics and other graphics are the most engaging form of content, this format is sure to make an impact. 

Personalize the Experience 

Today’s consumers have come to expect information that relates to their needs. This means personalizing their experience is critical to attracting their attention. 

One way to personalize is to align ad targeting with past purchases and online behaviors. 33% of users say they would spend more time with ad content if they could customize it to their interests. By keeping ads highly relevant to consumers, you’ll be sure to command their attention and drive them closer to conversion. 

Email marketing is another medium that should be personalized. However, the majority of consumers don’t feel like they’re receiving that level of personalization. By segmenting lists based on behaviors, like user engagement, past purchases, and buyer’s journey stage, you’ll have a much better shot at engaging audiences. 

Don’t Just Capture Attention – Retain It

Getting someone to look at your content is a challenge. But captivating them enough to stay and give it their full attention? Unheard of. 

Yet there is still hope for marketers. By leveraging nonlinear storytelling, snackable content, compelling visuals, and personalized experiences, you will be well on your way to breaking the eight. 

Attention spans are going to continue shrinking as the need for instant gratification rises, which means you need a digital marketing strategy to effectively engage the Impulse Generation.