The 8-Second Challenge: Email Marketing for Our Shrinking Attention Span

With consumers' attention spans at all time low, here is how to make sure people are reading your email-marketing messages.

learn more about Cynthia Price

By Cynthia Price • Mar 18, 2014


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Good news, fellow marketers: Email is not dead.

Indeed, the ROI for email is more than $40 per dollar spent, a return higher than any other marketing channel, according to the Direct Marketing Association.

While email isn't dead, one thing is clear: The email newsletter is a dinosaur. Emails that mimic print newsletters of yesteryear are bulky, lumbering and sometimes monstrous in size. But like the T-Rex's stunted arms, the reach is tiny. These newsletters try to accomplish too much, and in the end, they do very little to drive results.

Why email marketing needs to evolve:

Our attention spans are shorter. The average adult's attention span is down to just 8 seconds (That's less than that of a goldfish.)

We're multi-tasking. Psychology Today reports that only two percent of people are actually good at multi-tasking. The rest of us do it anyway, but it means we're not really "reading" emails -- we're just scanning.

Related: Six Tips for Maximizing Email Marketing Campaigns

We're on the go. We open over half of all email on mobile devices these days, and we squeeze our inbox checking in between meetings, train stops, bites of a breakfast burrito -- you get the idea.

But there is hope. We're still addicted to our inboxes, spending 2.6 hours reading and sending emails every day. Fifty-eight percent of people confess checking email is the first thing they do in the morning. And email is actually how most people prefer to hear from brands they love.

These habits or points make email marketing a unique opportunity.

Getting someone's email address is a privilege. It means we're being invited to hang out in the same place as messages from coworkers, friends and family. We're in the inner circle! But the relationship is precarious and the unsubscribe link is an escape hatch for any unsatisfied reader.

If you're privileged enough to be invited to someone's inbox, here are a few tips for getting asked to kick your feet up and stay a while.

Tell a compelling story. The number-one reason people sign up for emails is because they think they're going to get something. Sometimes that's a thing, like a coupon or a white paper and sometimes it's just a connection to your brand. Foster that connection in every email with strong images and copy that support your brand story. Remind them why they connected with you in the first place.

Related: 7 Myths of Email Marketing (Infographic)

Make it scannable. We process images 60,000 times faster than text. Use images that convey or support your message and get strategic about where you place those images, as they're key to drawing the eye (and moving the scroll bar) down the screen.

Have just one goal. It's tempting to create mass emails that have something for everyone. But that requires your readers to work extra hard to find what's relevant to them. Modern email-marketing platforms allow you to segment your audience in all kinds of cool ways, so the old adage, "right message, right person, right time" is actually easy to pull off.

Think about the behavior you want to drive with your email. Are you looking for a purchase, a click or simply a great impression? Clarify your objective, and work your way back from there. Your readers will appreciate it.

Make it mobile friendly. A whopping 80 percent of people say they simply delete an email if it doesn't render nicely in their mobile inbox. And one-third of people say they'll unsubscribe altogether. Ouch.

When designing your email, have mobile readers in mind. Compelling headlines, striking images, large fonts and a clear call to action are must-haves for mobile-friendly emails that look great on big screens too.

Related: 3 Scary Email Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

Cynthia Price

Director of Marketing at Emma, Inc.

Cynthia Price is director of marketing at Emma, an email-marketing company. With an extensive background in sales and marketing, Cynthia represents Emma at conferences across the country, where she can be found geeking out about everything from subject lines to audience segmentation.

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