Fish food for thought: Your target audience has the attention span of a goldfish

By: Megan Schreck
PAICR Communications Committee member
PAICR Member since 2016

Welcome to 2017, a year when the power of social media and digital marketing has never been more pronounced. Not convinced? Just ask United Airlines, President Trump, or the young man who received a year’s worth of Wendy’s chicken nuggets for beating a retweet record. I bet they would be able to tell you a story or two about the ugly, the bad, and the good of a society that is constantly connected. The point is we live in an age when information is constantly flooding our newsfeeds, home screens, and inboxes. And the ability to obtain information has never been greater or more instantaneous.

In a recent Microsoft study, which focused on analyzing our attention spans as a result of the increasingly prevalent digital lifestyle, the research revealed that as end users we are adapting to a culture of connectivity. This should be good news for marketers, right? Well, yes and no.

The good news: As an increasingly tech-savvy end user base, we are able to process and encode information to memory more efficiently. (Whew, dodged a bullet there.)

The bad news: We are competing in an information war zone alongside every other marketer. (Alright, game faces on, marketing staff.)

The ugly news: End user attention spans have decreased to 8 seconds. 8. Seconds. According to the study, that’s less than the attention span of a goldfish. (Pause for a collective and incredulous jaw drop).

But Microsoft’s study shouldn’t frighten any modern day marketing professional. And if we’re honest, the research merely solidified what we intuitively knew. But what the research does is reinforce that the need for marketing resources, and talent capable of cutting through the constant noise, is no longer a nice to have, it is table stakes.

So how do we as marketers engage a user base that is more connected than ever, better equipped than before to process our message, but with an attention span that is less than that of a goldfish? I thought you might ask that.

Here’s some marketing fish food for thought:

  • Tighten up your target audience: Don’t waste valuable marketing resources by casting too wide a net.
  • Keep your call to actions clear, concise, and clutter free: You have eight seconds, make them count. Keep the goal of your marketing simple, actionable, and prominently placed.
  • Develop a healthy dependence on data: Similar to the movie Finding Nemo, develop the mantra that fish are friends, not food. Invest in the ability to research and understand the demographic and behavioral patterns of your target audience with the goal of creating user-focused content.
  • Use the creative collective to curate content: We as marketing professionals all want to believe that our idea is the next best thing since sliced bread. But the really good marketing teams know that the best ideas and innovative solutions come when everyone is at the table. Keep your eyes and ears open for innovative ideas – they can come from anywhere or anyone.
  • Don’t tighten the noose with typos: Remember, eight seconds. Don’t ruin your chances with a typo. Develop an editorial process within your marketing team that requires multiple sets of eyes to ensure all your hard work doesn’t go to waist (please note: pun intended).

Oh, and a final note, mainly on a personal pet peeve level, but absolutely spell check first names when doing personalized messages. Because candidly speaking, nothing causes me to delete an email faster than one that begins “Dear Meghan.” And I venture to guess that I’m not alone.

Now, what about you? What marketing “fish food for thought” would you add to this list?

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