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Marketing to the 8-Second Attention Span

How have humans adapted to the exponential rise of technology? Answer: they haven’t. With a quick Google search available to indulge anywhere your mind wanders, the included distracting ads, and the ability to switch between apps on your phone or tabs on your computer, it’s no wonder that humans now have less focus than a goldfish.

What does this mean for businesses? Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, said that in today’s climate, “the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.” Harnessing this precious and fleeting “commodity” involves a series of goals that must be completed within a matter of seconds. It’s the hard truth, but with new media and new minds, you have eight seconds to promote a brand you’ve spent years building. Ready, set, go!

Seconds 1-3 are when you have to intrigue your viewer enough to make them want to give you the rest of their 7 seconds of attention. I quite liken this to receiving a promotional email and deciding whether or not to open it based on the subject line. Visually, the use of bright colors is always an eyecatcher, but combinations such as grayscale with a hint of gold can set the mood for elegance. That’s another important goal: setting the right mood. You want to be sure that the tone you project reflects the story you are trying to tell. This way, you will intrigue the right audience. It’s no use grabbing the attention of tweens with brightly-colored illustrations if you are selling elegant conference space. Intriguing word choice is critical and should reflect the language of your intended audience. Highlighting a few adjectives can catch your viewer’s attention.

Seconds 4-6 are your opportunity to resonate with your audience. This is your main task of communication, and can make or break clear understanding of your message. An effective pitch will relate to them and their priorities.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, Seconds 7-8 are your time to again intrigue your audience for more, and divert the attention just enough to delve into a new “span” of attention. Consider how Americans can focus on three hours of television a day despite this seconds-long attention span. The answer is simply evident in the swift changes of camera angles, music, plot, scenery, and subplot. In a way, the producers of these programs effectively “restart” this attention span frequently. You can apply the same principle to your communication. For instance, an advertisement on Instagram or Facebook may feature a link leading to a website, thus gaining eight more seconds of attention.

Across media, you can tailor elements of these principles to attract and engage your audience within a limited time frame. We at InMotion have experience with many marketing contexts and have a few suggestions. In a short commercial, for instance, this timing can be applied more literally, with an eye-catching opening, impactful message, and closing by igniting another spark of interest. Perhaps a radio advertisement begins with comical dialogue (featuring distinct voices), then information about the product or service, then the closing dialogue, perhaps with a “I wonder what this will do for me.” Always attempt to achieve the balance between giving the most information and not overwhelming your audience in that eight-second timeframe.

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