The Myth of the 8-Second Attention Span
How to grab your audience's attention, even when they have infinite options.
Microsoft conducted a widely publicized study a few years ago that concluded the average American’s attention span is only 8 seconds -- less than a goldfish.
This idea that no one can focus anymore has made its way into all areas of business and life, from 140 character tweets to the idea that no one will read long-copy sales letters or watch a video on their computer longer than five minutes.
I call BS on all of it. The problem isn’t attention span; the problem is we have an infinite number of options to choose from.
Back when TV first came out, people had just a handful of channels to watch. If you didn’t like what was on, you had two additional choices. Now, you have 200 choices, plus whatever is on DVR, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube or elsewhere.
If I have options and you bore me, it is easy to simply change the channel. Odds are I can find something that will amuse me, which means you have a very short period of time to entertain me or I’m off to the next option.
Because of infinite channels, marketing has changed as well. 15 years ago, if you didn’t get a good response with your first marketing pieces, any additional follow-up was unlikely to yield any additional results. Today, because it is so difficult to grab someone’s attention, you may not get any response unless you follow up. It requires a much larger and more complicated campaign to break through the noise.
For example, I developed a five-step direct mail campaign designed to get new patients for dental offices. Since the campaign started six years ago, steps four and five combined have gotten a greater number of new patients than steps one, two and three combined. All the steps have similar copy, and although I think the last two steps look cooler, there isn’t an increase in the offer or some other huge reason they should get such a drastic increase in response. They just do.
My best guess is the increase in steps four and five happen in part because of procrastination caused by infinite channels on the dial. When the prospect gets the fourth letter, they realize it is the fourth time they’ve meant to call and make an appointment. So they finally actually call.
How to capture a person's attention
Let's start with this: If you start talking about the latest whiz-bang scientific report, you’re done. Boring never works.
A combination of offline and online marketing works the best. If we generate a lead online, we want to bring them offline ASAP. If that lead is generated offline, we want to connect and bring them online immediately. We want the prospect to get our message across platforms.
An associate of mine, Perry Belcher, once said that today we live in the single most difficult time to get someone to make a first-time purchase from you. That’s the bad news. The good news is we live in the single easiest time to get someone to make their second purchase with you.
Getting someone to buy from you the first time is one of the single most expensive things any business does. But once someone decides to trust you -- once they determine that if they give you their hard-earned money, you will not rip them off -- it is so much easier to get them to simply continue to shop with you over and over again. All you have to do is do what you say you’re going to do and remind them who you are, what you do and that you’re still in business.
Costco is the perfect example of this. It was not easy to convince me that I should pay them to shop in their stores, but they got me to join with good pricing, exclusive deals, a nearly unlimited return policy and a risk-free guarantee on the membership. Now, I get a magazine from them once per month (in the mail) with articles and items I may want to buy. This magazine serves to entertain, educate, and sell me on new products or services they offer.
The more time a person gives you, your media and your products or services, the greater influence you have with them. If you want to sell more tomorrow, remember that consumers have an infinite number of channels to choose from. It is your job to entertain them, educate them and capture their attention long enough to sell to them.