Try as I might to dispel the myth of the shrinking attention span, it continues to dominate way too many marketing presentations and keynote speeches. So, I worked with a colleague at Ablog Cinema to produce the first in a series of videos that dispel some myths and misconceptions online… as well as bring some of my rants to the public.
Make your blog posts shorter, videos shorter, and graphics simpler… the list of terrible advice goes on and on. Marketers have not just spread the attention span myth; it’s also been spread by major news media, including Time magazine, the Telegraph, the Guardian, USA Today, the New York Times, the National Post, Harvard on US radio, and in the management book Brief.
Despite widespread beliefs about shrinking attention spans, some research suggests that adults today may have better concentration at work compared to previous decades. This could reflect a trend where IQs have risen, suggesting improvements in cognitive abilities, including concentration.
Thankfully, one media outlet did the work and investigated the myth that human attention spans were shrinking… the BBC. Author Simon Maybin contacted the listed source of the data – the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the US National Library of Medicine, and the Associated Press – and neither can find any record of research that backs up the stats.
In, yet, another irony… Simon finds that goldfish don’t have short attention spans, either!
It’s About Choice!
We now live in a world where everything is on-demand and literally at our fingertips. Here are some examples:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – I searched for assistance on some code I was writing. I clicked the first few results on the search engine results page and didn’t find what I was looking for. I then rewrote the search and ultimately found the information I needed. Does that mean my attention span was shorter because I spent little time on each search result? No, it meant they weren’t relevant, and I continued searching for the information I needed until I found it. My attention span never swayed from the task at hand… but the choices did.
- Audio and Video – I love listening to podcasts and watching videos but have no patience for bloviating or self-promoting speakers. I will skip listening or watching videos continuously… until I get to a result where the quality and production provide me with what I want. And then, I may listen for hours if the topic is informational and entertaining. We live in a world of binge-watching on-demand video… folks, there are no attention span issues on a weekend of Game of Thrones!
AJ does a great job of sharing videos where the target audience is between nine and fifteen years old! For all of history, old curmudgeons have battled young people to pay attention… and these YouTubers can get billions of views for videos that sometimes last more than an hour.
What our youth have that we didn’t have is choice and convenience.
So What Does That Mean for Marketers?
The discussion seems to reflect two overlapping phenomena: attention spans may be shorter for immediate tasks or media consumption, possibly due to the vast amount of information and distractions from digital media. However, there may be an increase in the ability to concentrate in work-related contexts or tasks that require sustained attention. This suggests that the issue is not merely reduced attention spans but also how modern information environments impact attention allocation.
It’s important to note that while attention spans are decreasing for rapid, stimuli-rich environments like online browsing, the ability to focus intensely may be improving or changing due to the complexity of tasks and the need for cognitive engagement in work or study. The situation is complex and multifaceted, with different factors influencing how attention is managed and exercised in various contexts.
I would challenge marketers to move in the opposite direction. Provide in-depth articles, tons of statistics, helpful advice, infographics, videos, and podcasts that deep dive into topics of interest to your target audience. This also doesn’t mean you don’t want to capture someone’s attention in the first few seconds. You should… and then assure them that the information they’re looking for will be fully explained, though!
We develop a content library for every client, and these deep dives produce excellent results for them. Sure… some irrelevant visitors scan and leave… but prospects looking for the information stay, devour, share, and engage with the information provided. To win at content, stop producing endless streams of junk content and provide high-quality, informative content your target audience seeks!