Your attention span – the shocking truth

With research by Microsoft suggesting our attention spans have decreased over recent years from twelve seconds down to a meagre eight, the challenges facing businesses and brands in how to effectively engage audiences is changing. AML Strategy Director Caroline Elliott investigates the best methods for combating consumers’ decline in concentration.

The indomitable rise of smartphones putting apps, gaming and the internet within fingertips’ reach has resulted in humankind being utterly unequipped to sit quietly and think for itself. And what’s more… oops, damn, I’ve lost you. With a mere eight-second attention span I suspect you’re already checking your email or tweeting a hilarious new photo of your cat.

Back in 2000, humans were the proud owners of a twelve second attention span – a whole three seconds more than the much-maligned goldfish – and now we’ve dropped to a mere eight.  I suspect a whole army of goldfish to be creating a series of ‘human who?’ jokes at our expense (or perhaps Douglas Adams was right and they’ve secretly invented smartphones in a bid to control us). Microsoft’s recent research shows something we’ve probably all been suspecting – that constant access to technology is resulting in people becoming less able to concentrate as they constantly switch from one task to another.

Alongside an inability to concentrate, we’ve also become utterly dependent on external entertainment to occupy our minds.  The idea of having a smartphone prised from our fingers and sitting quietly and just, dare I say it, think, has become so repugnant that a scarily high proportion of people would rather administer electric shocks to themselves than face fifteen minutes in their own company.  Shocks they had previously stated they would pay to avoid.

Harvard University discovered that two thirds of all men and a quarter of women, regardless of age, education and income, would rather receive a jolt of electricity than have nothing to do but sit in a room with just their own thoughts.  One particularly keen participant managed to shock himself a whopping  times in the 15 minute period; how’s that for happy in your own company?

So what does this mean for businesses and brands communicating with such short-term disengaged minds?

– Keep
– It
– Simple

We don’t have long to get your message across. Snappy headlines, powerful images and shareable ‘infosnacks’ are just some of the ways we can communicate effectively with a short-term ‘always on’ mindset.  And it’s worth remembering that people are always looking for external sources for those much-needed distractions. So interesting content, new ideas and relevant messages can reach a highly receptive target.  Which is why we believe a simple idea – disseminated in different formats across multiple channels, and supported by content journeys the user can self-select based on their time degree of interest – is one of the most powerful marketing tools businesses can use. Of course if that doesn’t work, we can always just shock them.