The Consumer and the Shortening Attention Span

When Distractions Get in Your Way
I was driving my friend Jeff to a party. He was tweeting and checking mail. We drove by a busy bus stop. I asked him what he noticed about the crowd. Jeff, being Jeff, was simultaneously insightful and flip. “It’s Seattle, it’s raining, and no one is using an umbrella.” He went back to his tweet. “Jeff, everyone waiting for the bus is glued to a phone.” “Yeah,” he glanced away from Twitter to see the obvious.

The iPhone was only introduced in 2007. Way back then it was rude to tune out people with a mobile phone (unless of course you were a Blackberry fiend). Today, the multitasking life is becoming the norm and there’s seemingly less time for everything.

What’s behind the shortening consumer attention span and changing behaviors? It’s a combination of powerful mobile devices and fast ubiquitous networks. Add to that, 24x7 availability, and a breathtaking wave of never-ending content. You can spend your online time in unlimited ways. There is always something even more interesting than whatever you’re looking at—if only you could find it. It’s a gold rush, and consumers around the world are anxiously digging, and sifting for genuine glitter.

The shortening attention span is one of the greatest challenges facing marketers today. It’s hard enough to cut through the noise and acquire the right customer. You need to engage consumers for more than 30-seconds, and then you must develop a meaningful relationship.

The good news is that everyone around the world is spending more time—much more time—glued to applications, and content. They’re also comfortable spending money online. Their appetite has been whetted and they’re willing to experiment, but on their own terms.

The barrier to acquire consumers has dropped, but the price to engage them is going up. The explosion of network performance, and rich content has fueled savvy consumer expectations. They assume instant gratification, speed, clarity, entertainment, personalization, and a bug-free experience. Competition is everywhere. It’s that LOLcat video, and it’s only a click away. To top it off, friends are wildly waving their hands, flagging the next spot of entertainment.

There are five rules to navigate shortening attention spans.

  1. Know your customer
    • Listen, watch behaviors, and understand wants and needs. Then meet expectations, and be available for the customer. Analytics are astonishingly powerful, but don’t lose the art in the science of marketing. Consumers are people, not clicks, behaviors, and trajectories.
  2. Perfect your message
    • Be clear in words and media. Spend the time to get it right. Rigorously prioritize what you want to communicate. Draft and re-draft. Once you’ve dialed in the right message you can experiment, but don’t change it for the sake of change.
  3. Engage the consumer
    • Maintain and build on consumer interests—which may be, and probably are different than your own. Avoid shotgun weddings as you move the consumer to conversion. Develop a content calendar to keep them coming back. Enable sharing and ongoing activities with friends to create a healthy network.
  4. Build your brand
    • Your brand ultimately lives with, and belongs to consumers. Brand can quickly establish or destroy confidence. Think to the future and use brand as one of the powerful ways you can build a long-term relationship, and lower the cost of acquisition. Brand is your best emissary, and strengthens customer affinity.
  5. Deliver an experience
    • Great consumer experiences begin with excellent product, accessibility, polish, and depth. Once you've overcome indifference and earned a consumer, you need to sustain belief in the product journey. Make the voyage worthwhile.
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