While managing a direct marketing department, I used to tell clients that the time span that they had to capture a prospect's attention was directly related to the amount of time it took to walk from the mailbox to the trash can. I still believe that's true. I don't know that I believe that consumers' attention spans have shrunk over the years, as failed marketers have been whining about, though.
I believe that the growth in mediums has evolved clients into greater attention spans, not less. Where we see this is the popularity of such programs as Angie's List, Epinions, Blogging, Amazon Reviews, online Communities, etc. People are putting a lot of effort into discussing the products and services that they love and hate. That kind of attention is even more important than viewing the 60-second spot in the Superbowl. There is a thriving business wrapped around consumer feedback.
These complaint forums for consumers have a huge volume of traffic as well. One dramatic example of the attention is a blog entry where the writer recorded and posted his attempt to cancel his AOL account. It's received hundreds of thousands of hits. Imagine what kind of money AOL would have to pay for that kind of positive attention! How much promotional money was lost on this single recording?
In another example, David Berlind posts a recording of his 13-minute call with T-Mobile, with whom he paid (outside his normal account) for wireless access at the airport and was unable to connect. T-Mobile refused to refund his payment.
According to a new Pew Report, 8 percent of internet users, or about 12 million American adults, keep a blog. Thirty-nine percent of internet users, or about 57 million American adults, read blogs – a significant increase since the fall of 2005.
The point of this is that consumers attention spans are expanding, not contracting. However, their attention is turning away from the mass medium, crappy advertising, and PR and is turning towards community and word-of-mouth.
As a marketer, it's your job to learn how to engage consumers through these new technologies and mediums. If you try to battle them, you just will not win. Consumers are paying a lot more attention than they used to, with better sources than they've ever had.