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What To Know About Attention Span

Capturing A Consumer In Our Fast-Paced World

Even in November, Christmas often dominates the Houston marketing domain. However, I believe Thanksgiving is its own special brand of beautiful. Great food, lovely people expressions of gratitude, and of course…

Awkward conversation.

Whether it is politics, religion, or that one cousin with a big secret, every family has at least a few topics that that should absolutely never be brought up. Inevitably, one of those topics always gets brought up. Whether your family argues about it or simply brews in tense silence, you can always count on that horrible moment when everyone stops munching on turkey in a mild panic.

One of these dreaded subjects within my family is the abundance of differences between generations. My grandmother, bless her heart, has a special way of alienating every member of the family below the age of forty. According to her, millennials are lazy, our pants are too tight, and our haircuts are just so strange. (Side note: this last comment came about a week after I shaved part of my head.)  Last Thanksgiving, however, she said something that made me stop and think.

“Kids these days just have no attention span. Nobody can sit through movies or hold a real conversation without looking down at their screens. It’s such a shame.”

While usually I dismiss Granny’s tangents as rambling and even a little bit nonsensical, this one stuck with me. After all, television commercials are getting shorter (and many of us opt out of them altogether with streaming services such as Netflix,) and a lot of people do find it difficult to get through a conversation without at least taking a peek at their phones. Between complaining about guyliner and “young professionals” with tattoos, maybe my grandmother has a point.

Are we losing our attention spans?

Far from the lone thought of an elderly German woman, many individuals of all demographics have proposed that we as a society have lost the art of focus. It’s hard to entertain the idea that we could have any attention given our modern world of high speed luxury. Almost everything, from internet to transit to banking, is available within seconds. With all of our amenities and desires immediately available, could we be slaves to our own impatience?

A surprising source recently came out against this idea of an attention deficit. On November 7, Twitter officially doubled their character count from 140 to 280 for all users. As a social media giant that has always capitalized on the brevity of its user’s posts, this seemed an odd step to take. While 280 characters is far from a long post, Twitter is challenging the notion that today’s population can only digest information in bite size increments. This change has left several people wondering if the website will lose those who can’t keep up with longer tweets.

Who is right?

According to the BBC, we are actually much more capable of concentration than my dear grandmother or disillusioned Twitter users would lead you to believe—under the right circumstances.. Despite our fast-paced culture, we won’t hesitate to pay great attention to what is important to us. Think about it for a moment (or more since your attention span will allow it.) You may choose to find out “boring” information—tax information, bus schedules, etc.—in quick, easy lists. You could not possibly say the same about something that truly intrigues you. For example, cats. Would you rather read a list about the silly things cats do or watch a ten minute video featuring felines falling over and attacking inanimate objects? I rest my case.

What does this mean for marketing?

When trying to apply this information about attention span to marketing, there are two major routes a company can take. The first method is to make your information digestible to potential consumers. Rather than attempting to squish as much information as possible into tightly written paragraphs, consider creating an easy-to-read list or graphic. As evidenced above, an individual is much more likely to gather information if they can do so quickly. Perusing a chart to find products and prices is going to be much more appealing than reading through some silly rambling blog that doesn’t actually get to its point until the last few paragraph. Oops.

The other way to garner potential customers is to create content that people will care about. While cat videos are unfortunately not relevant to every business, there are other ways to get people to stop scrolling through 280 character tweets and pay attention to what you have to say. Several months ago, my colleague David Caston wrote an excellent article on storytelling in marketing. Relatability and sympathy are two of the most important tools an advertiser can utilize in gathering the attention and business of future clients. I would highly suggest reading David’s post for further information.

Whichever method you choose, we at Versa Creative would love to help you control the attention span of society. Check out our projects to see how our advertising agency creates the marketing landscape in Houston and beyond.

Oh and Grandma, if you somehow figured out how to turn on your computer and navigate to this blog post, I love you very much.

— Gabs Semansky

Copywriter

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