Attention span declining. Shouldn’t we measure retention span?

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Attention span declining. Shouldn’t we measure retention span?

Consumers have an incredibly short attention span. And it’s getting shorter, which is becoming a frightening scenario for marketers.

In 2013 Microsoft Canada surveyed 2,000 people and found the average attention span had fallen to just 8 seconds. Ouch! In 2000 it was 12 seconds!  And a goldfish is thought to have an attention span of 9 seconds. Double ouch!!

On the good news front, according to the same Microsoft study, our ability to multi-task has improved. Phew!

This short attention span must be read in the context that, according to research, consumers are exposed to at least 5,000 advertisements per day! A figure that has grown from around 2,000 per day 30 years ago. (Source: 2014 study of media usage and ad exposure by Media Dynamics, Inc.)

However I wonder if the issue we should studying isn’t attention span but retention span? In other words, to find out how and why people are training their mind to deliberately take less time to process information by quickly skimming over thousands of headlines, captions, images, film clips and sound bites, and retaining only the snippets of information that are relevant to our professional and/or personal lives.

The study revealed that a technology-savvy audience (which may be a few or most people depending on the product/service) have “lower sustained attention in the long run” but have “more bursts of high attention in the short term.” That is the key here. Using more technology, i.e. multi-screening behaviour and heavy social media usage,  is “training consumers to become better at processing and encoding information through short bursts of high attention”.  Unfortunately, so the report says, “this advantage erodes over time.”

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I’m not convinced that it really is a lost advantage. For marketers it’s what the consumer does with the information after seeing/hearing/reading it that matters most. A short attention span, ipso facto, should not limit a person’s ability to retain the information for later use when making a purchase decision.

There’s no doubt in the pre-Internet world consumers took much more time to gather information and answers to those burning questions (the Encyclopaedia Britannica wasn’t in our pocket back then; now there’s a brand that was digitally disrupted!) or compare prices/features/retailers. Did consumers in that era retain information better than nowadays?

So the challenge for modern marketers is twofold:

a) Create simple and memorable messaging; and

b) Occupy every channel your customer may be prowling.

See – things haven’t really changed that much since the digital revolution disrupted marketing and media.

How long are marketing ideas remembered in this cluttered, digitally-unstructured consumer world? I reckon there needs to be a study into retention span.

Need help with your organisation’s customer retention span? Contact marketingbytes to discover how we can assist with the strategic planning, technology selection and implementation.


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