The attention span of our consumers, and humans alike, is a reflection of the way we tell stories and hold attention. But rather than look outward and blame outside influences, I challenge you to look inward and improve your ability to keep attention. We’ll get into the logic of this clear but complex notion in this article.
“Kids these days just don’t pay attention like they used to”.
How many times have you heard someone say something like this? They continue to go on some diatribe about how phones have ruined us as a culture, etc etc. And to be frank, there’s some element of truth sprinkled in there. But I think it’s more applicable to the dangers of anonymity and less about eroded attention spans.
Attention spans aren’t shrinking. You just are telling bad stories.
Society has cavalierly thrown around this notion that our attention span has gotten shorter because people are always on their phone or connected to the internet. I’ve poured through the research that shows some evidence but also seen powerful data that suggests otherwise. But there’s a smoking gun that I believe has a lesson any marketer or business professional can take back to their work today: Maybe it’s not that attention spans have shortened; maybe you just aren’t telling a good enough story & we have the ability to find better entertainment more conveniently. A common misconception, and it usually comes from an older audience, is that the younger generation isn’t that social. But that’s just not the case.
The real issue is we have a coddled sense of what it means to be entertaining/social and have been spoiled by limited technology. The average attention span has adapted according to what’s possible. It’s the same reason why commercials today don’t do as well. I can say this confidently as I held a role at P&G, one of the world’s largest advertising buyers according to Adage, heading media insights for a category focused specifically on media. So it’s not that younger generations are less social, it’s just that their network, their party if you will, happens to be online. Coupled with we have the ability to access entertaining things instantly on our phones. Technology and content has ratcheted up the standard of what holds attention. In reality, the facade of shortening attention spans can and should be flipped around by business owners. Instead of pushing this narrative about the eroded sense of decorum that exists in society today, be better at conveying your message.
Don’t believe me? I challenge you to go be a fly on the wall. Watch people around you in your everyday life and note their attention span. When people are in a good conversation or enthralled in a good story, they are not on their phone. If they do pull their mobile device out, it’s to check something that was said or get a fact to bring up and reference. But our courteousness isn’t broken, our ability to adapt to the idea of working harder to be more entertaining is. It’s easier and more convenient to hide behind this ruse than it is to do something very difficult: be more engaging. The reason this is true is because it’s very difficult to be more engaging if you aren’t equipped with the insights to do so. Marketers need to be better at accepting this challenge and going even deeper on what makes their consumer tick. This is the only way you will have any success at all at attracting and retaining attention – especially from a younger consumer.
Reverse Your Thinking
So that’s my challenge to you today. Next time you write up some copy or think about how to get more customers, instead of immediately going to marketing tactics or promotions (both of which are fine answers btw), just hit pause and say to yourself: “Am I working hard enough to EARN their attention with this current messaging? Or am I expecting it?” The truth is, a lot of businesses are going to get blind-sided by this reality. Just because it forces you to a place that is uncomfortable where you don’t know the answer, it doesn’t mean you should be in denial. If you don’t adapt to this reality, the consumer will make you pay the price. The good news is we can help you find this clarity about your consumer that is needed by just about any business in today’s market.
What’s the main way you’ve noticed a change in consumer’s attention? Let me know in the comments section below.
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