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Three Ways Human Attention is Transforming
Grabbing attention is one of, if not the foundational challenge marketers are tasked with solving. What combination of promotional, pricing, product, and placement strategies will perk up ears enough times to build recognition for your brand?
It’s a complicated question not just because of the business considerations that need to be made — ultra-low prices may get noticed, but may not make owners and investors happy — but also because of the limits to human focus. The same way we can’t move forward and backwards simultaneously, we can’t fully process everything around us at once. We move from subject to subject, word to word, image to image. Even when our attention is divided (like when we’re multi-tasking), we’re picking and choosing. We manage the steering wheel while listening to the radio; we look out for stop signs as we talk to people in the backseat.
In other words, attention is scarce; we only have so many moments in a day, and only an infinitesimal fraction of the stimuli we’re exposed to will receive our conscious consideration.
We explored this in more detail on June 2 in our webinar Attention Economics: What Brands Need to Do to Survive. Faris Yakob, author of Paid Attention, spoke to the way audience attention to advertising has changed in the digital era. As a recap, we leave you with some quick facts about the biology behind of attention — the stuff that will always be the same.
1. More Media Consumption Is Cutting Into Attention
If you suspect that the deluge of content on the web is making it harder to gain attention, you’re right. A study from Microsoft found that the human attention span has dropped from 13 seconds to eight seconds between 2000 and 2013, largely thanks to increased media consumption.
That may be partly why the IPA found that TV is the best medium for building long-term brand value. TV (still the most frequently consumed media source) doesn’t display ads alongside — or as a barrier to — the content the viewer is seeking; it gives ads their own time and space to be viewed.
2. Anxiety Limits Our Attention
When you are worried — either because you’re an anxious individual, or because you’re concerned about something in particular — it becomes harder to concentrate other things, researchers have found.
That might be a larger problem these days with the ever-pervasive time-crunch we feel like we’re up against. More than 61% of the U.S. workforce say they don’t have enough time to do what they want (even though that might not be true). In response, try alleviating that anxiety — either through humor — like Marriott has done with its comedic original films that double up as smart native advertising — or, if appropriate, empathizing with those human pain-points.
3. Multi-tasking is Largely a Myth, But That’s OK
We can walk and chew gum or (as stated above) talk while driving. But when it comes to more complex efforts — and when multiple things are vying for your focus — we aren’t multi-tasking so much as switching between tasks. “You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly,” neuroscientist Earl Miller told NPR. At first glance, this might seem to pose a problem in the age of multi-screen. We have a finite capacity for attention, researchers believe.
But Microsoft’s study actually found that the digital age is training our ability to alternate between tasks and subjects competing for our focus. That means even if they’re looking at their phones, they’ll laugh at jokes from a TV or look up when prompted. Attention doesn’t retreat entirely; marketers can take advantage with experiences that cross the digital threshold, like KIND Snacks is doing with its #kindawesome campaign, which combine social media with on-the-ground experiences. You can also look to GE, which leans into multi-screen behaviors by releasing programming on both TV and social during live events.