The Danger isn’t Attention, It’s Context

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We had a fantastic interview with Mark Schaefer on our podcast about his post, How the physics of social media is killing your marketing strategy. Mark provides evidence that every company must be working on providing spectacular content, higher volumes of valuable content and delivering that content where the audience is.

Listen to our Interview of Mark Schaefer

Some folks call this snackable content and some nuggets. There’s an explosion of this content thanks to visual mediums like Pinterest, Instagram and Vine. Given this growth of easily digestible content, the myth that’s being propagated throughout marketing and the internet is that consumers’ attention spans are getting shorter. Multi-tasking, distractions, email, phone, apps… all of it must be taking our focus off of the tasks at hand.

I’m calling BS.

Not BS on Mark’s advice, which I believe is spot on. I’m calling BS that the attention span of the average business or consumer is getting smaller. I believe the attention span and focus is greater than it’s ever been. I believe consumers are leveraging search, social media and tools to become more efficient at consuming information than we ever have been in history. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have the opportunity to find and thoroughly research our next purchase from the palm of our hand. We had to rely on sales professionals and marketing material alone. Purchases and decisions were made within the trust of a handshake and sometimes little else.

In the ol’ days of the Internet, it was referred to as the information superhighway. The reason was simple… so much information available within milliseconds. For marketers, this has been extremely valuable. This last week, I had to find a new ad management system for my blog after the last one discontinued some key features. After a few minutes, I had a thorough list of platforms. After a few hours, I was able to research which ones had the features I needed. And within a few days, I had tested each. The result was that I found a platform with all the features I needed without ever speaking to anyone or signing any contract.

No other project had my attention during that period. I wasn’t on Facebook and Twitter. I wasn’t answering phone calls. Short attention span? Not a chance. That said, many of the sites that I visited lost me. Poor feature documentation, lousy overview videos, difficult registration processes, no contact information… all of these inhibited my ability to get the context I needed to make my decision.

schumacher simplicity

Some marketers utilize focus and context deceptively to their advantage. The average case study, for instance, points to a client that’s had the greatest results with the product or service sold, ignores other contributing factors, and never mentions the clients who had terrible results. The result is that the consumer or business that’s making the purchase decision is left to analyze the information and see whether it’s a good purchase decision.

Readers are left to generate their own context around the facts you’ve provided. This can lead to missed expectations and may generate leads that aren’t a good fit for your organization.

Key to Mark’s advice here is offering amazing content AND maintaining the quality of the content while making it more digestible. At the extremes, this is the job of a great inforgraphic designer. Too many infographics are simply a ton of stats slapped in nice graphics. But the best infographics develop an overall story that the graphics and statistics within support.

Twitter versus Blogging

Many would have you believe that this is the difference between Twitter and Blogging… that Twitter is for the attention-deficit user and that blogging provides the context we need. I would argue that Twitter is absolutely valuable because of the context it generates. On any given company, user, topic, update or hashtag, Twitter yields conversations and links efficiently to give you the context you need. Apps like Vine and Instagram lack the ability to link for deeper context – but I do believe that will come (especially as they request advertising).

Don’t be concerned with the attention span of the reader. Be concerned that you’re providing the greatest value and full context optimized and minimized in the most efficient, effective, and portable media possible.


  1. 1

    We have to make sure that our content will reach our target audience through the use of different
    tools.But of course we must also remember that having a good quality content is the key to success of our campaign.

  2. 2

    Couldn’t agree more. In fact, was having this conversation today with someone. They said “look at how Godin writes” to which I responded by saying, “that’s like saying ‘look at how Harvard raises money.'”

    Both are outliers. Solid, thought-provoking, intriguing content WILL get people’s attention.

    You’re spot on. Thanks for this. Big fan of Schaefer (since his post here- )

    as well, so looking forward to the podcast…more evidence of your point!

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