Audience Attention Is More Discriminating, Not Shorter


The success of every marketing initiative, strategy and approach hinges on a single, key factor: capturing audience attention.

Indeed, digital marketing content and campaigns are constantly evolving as brands look for engaging ways to stand out and grab consumer focus.

However, in the increasingly connected world of smartphones, social media and hyperlinks littered across every piece of content we consume, finding effective ways to capture — and hold — consumer attention poses a major challenge.

Short attention spans? Fake news

As marketers vie for people’s attention online, experts have been warning over recent years that our attention spans are getting shorter.

Referencing a 2015 Microsoft study that revealed the average attention span is down to eight seconds from the 12-second average clocked in 2000, many articlesOpens a new window have been quick to note that this new average is shorter than a goldfish’s nine-second attention span.

Consequently, those in the know have been warning marketers to design campaigns that will stand out to consumers at first glance. Why is obvious: If attention spans are so short, marketing content must seduce audiences immediately or lose potential leads,

Here’s the thing, though: The statistic probably isn’t correct.

As the BBC points outOpens a new window , that piece of data picked up by major publications across the globe doesn’t actually come from original Microsoft research. In fact, Microsoft cites a source called Statistic Brain and, according to the BBC, the sources referenced for those figures “are infuriatingly vague.”

Twin this revelation with findings from Prezi’s 2018 State of Attention ReportOpens a new window , and a sharply different picture emerges regarding human attention spans.

According to Prezi, the issue isn’t that they’re shorter but, rather, that audiences have become more selective about what they read, watch and engage with online.

To be precise, audiences are now pros (or at least they think we are) at quickly identifying which articles, videos, memes or other pieces of content are worth devoting their undivided attention to.

Why marketers should care

An argument could be made that it really doesn’t matter whether the issue is shorter or more selective attention spans. Rather, what’s key is that brands have a very brief moment to convince consumers to pay attention to their content.

But I disagree. Knowing exactly why that window is so small actually matters more than you may think.

Consider this: Consumers typically leave a web page 10-20 seconds after landing on itOpens a new window . Meanwhile, Facebook found that its users will give an average of 1.7 seconds of their attention to a piece of mobile content on the platform and 2.5 seconds on desktop — even less for younger audiences.

Identifying exactly why people are so quick to move from one piece of content to the next is vital for marketers who want to capture as many consumers as possible.

If it’s about audiences being easily distracted, then marketers must design materials that convince them to stay focused.

If, however, we’ve all become more selective about the content we consume, the implications change. That means the modern digital consumer must be convinced on a personal level to pay attention.

And that requires a very different approach.

Notably, it ties to the need for marketers to be as granular as possible when targeting their audiences. Content that grabs consumers’ attention will appeal to their personal values, aligning company and individual; that’s why socially responsible marketingOpens a new window and controversial marketingOpens a new window have become so common of late.

Meanwhile, more discriminating consumption of content across the board highlights the importance of personalizationOpens a new window . Your target audiences will find personalized marketing content more useful and interesting:

  • 75% of consumersOpens a new window  are more likely to make a purchase based on marketing material that recognizes them by name, recommends options based on previous preferences or knows their purchase history.
  • One-third of consumers agree they would spend more time on advertising that is customized to their specific interests, while 71% prefer ads tailored to their interest and shopping habits.
  • Online ad engagement increases three-fold when ads are personalized.

Ultimately, social media culture and smartphone-addiction have got most of us craving instant gratification from our online interactions. Knowing how effectively to provide that payoff to your target buyer personas in your advertising material is the best way to convert prospects to customers.