Understanding the challenge of short attention spans
- By Mark Amtower
- Mar 11, 2020
From 1989 to 1995, HBO presciently produced a comedy that predicted a phenomenon beyond our control, the ever-decreasing attention span. The show, Short Attention Span Theatre, soon become known as SAST (representing yet another growing phenomena- the acronymization of our language…talk about a short attention span).
As one might surmise from the name, SAST was a series of short skits and interviews, many of which were LOL (sic) hilarious. Among the hosts was a rising comedic star, Jon Stewart. This was eminently watchable TV for the simple reason that things happened quickly, and if you only had a few minutes to spare, you could watch, laugh, and move on without fear of missing a plot twist. Look it up on YouTube- it stands the test of time
I did a little research on attention spans recently and found that some people’s attention spans were now under ten seconds. TEN seconds.
Our attention spans are getting shorter. I won’t speculate as to why except to say that with the various technologies available the craving for instant gratification continues to outdistance our desire for deeper understanding. I’d blame Gordon Moore (see below), but he was simply pointing out the obvious.
Not only are attention spans getting shorter, but the majority of people are multi-tasking, especially the younger ones, which further reduces the attention given to each task.
So now we get to the crux of this matter: in marketing “content is king.” Companies seeking to grow marketshare have an ever-increasing need to put content into the hands of people who make buying decisions. Unfortunately, it’s likely that their audience lacks the time to consume the tons of daily content that’s coming at them from multiple directions.
And, like most, they probably have a shrinking attention span.
So, we have the collision of short attention spans with the desire to get the attention of decision makers, an audience that may or may not pay attention to your content even if it crosses their screen or even lands in their inbox.
Add to this the fact that content is being produced and shared at a breakneck pace. Think of this as Moore’s Law(1) where computing speed is replaced by the amount of content being generated, and instead of doubling every two years (Moore’s original concept), now it takes maybe a couple of months to double the amount of content being generated. As Moore implied, this is not a reversible condition.
With this addition to our “content is king” premise, how do we get the attention of the audience we seek?
Many marketers understand that being concise is key. I call it the word-per-idea ratio (2) where you strive to keep the ratio as tight as possible while retaining the ability to convey a concept. This is why many business videos, podcasts and blog posts are short. It is why I try to keep most of my articles and blog posts to under 500 words. Make one good point and make it fast. Next time you have something to share, people are likely to remember that you make your point quickly, and they may be more likely to give you another look.
Violate that by boring them with verbosity or rehashed ideas and you are toast.
The biggest problem is getting your content in the queue of the decision makers, and this is never a given. Even if it gets in the queue, a variation of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle(3) occurs: the timing- will it be found and read or will it miss being seen because it was not delivered in the venue (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) when your prospect was present?
Short attention spans + so much content + timing issues = black hole absorbing unseen content.
There is no simple solution to this puzzle. However there are ways to increase the odds in your favor, including
- Try to produce good content that is germane to your audience
- Only one main idea per piece of content
- Use a compelling headline or title that highlights the topic you will discuss
- In written pieces, use graphics
- Cite original sources as necessary and when you can link to those original sources
- Hashtag people and companies mentioned
- Re-purpose the content into multiple formats
- Place the content in venues where it will most likely find the right audience
- Place it in those venues more than once (retweeting is great, posting on LinkedIn in different places should work)
- Send it directly to those you really need to reach IF you have a relationship with them
- Generate content on a regular basis, not on rare occasion
- Make certain the content is edited for clarity and grammar
- Ask viewers and readers to share (“If you liked this, please share it with those who might find it useful.”)
- Care and feeding of regular viewers/commenters – comment back on comments and remember to say thank you
- All of your content (or links to it) should be in one location on your web site
Is this too much to keep in mind when producing content? Initially, yes, but most of it becomes muscle memory with practice.
If and when I come up with a more practical solution, I’ll call it Amtower’s Content Marketing Law.
AND, if you like this article, please share it….
This article is an expanded update of: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sast-meets-content-marketing-when-heisenberg-collides-mark-amtower/
(1) Moore’s law: IT executive Gordon Moore wrote in 1965 that the speed of computing would double every two years predicated on the number of transistors a microchip can hold.
(2) I first heard the phrase “word per idea ratio” from Chris Trelease, then with telemarketing firm Sturner and Klein. I worked there while in graduate school and a short time beyond that, and I met and worked with some great people.
(3) Uncertainty principle, also called Heisenberg uncertainty principle or indeterminacy principle, statement, articulated (1927) by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, that the position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory.
Mark Amtower advises government contractors on all facets of business-to-government (B2G) marketing and leveraging LinkedIn. Find Mark on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/markamtower.