People today have an average attention span of just eight seconds. Fifteen years ago the average attention span was 12 seconds.
It’s no surprise people are impatient, or that we’re becoming even more so every day.
But it might surprise you to learn that a gold fish has an average attention span of nine seconds. That’s right, the average person cannot focus their attention on a task longer than a gold fish.
While this statistic about attention span has been talked about—and disputed—often by content marketers and website administrators, their argument is that quality of content matters. The term “attention web” was discussed in an article by TIME that summarized some of the research.
The facts show that the quality of the content you deliver to your audience has a critical impact on how long a customer engages with your product, web page, blog post, or advertisement.
But there’s something about this attention span research that people seem to misunderstand: It’s not that people cannot hold their attention longer than 8 seconds, it’s that they’re choosing what to focus their attention on, very quickly and selectively.
Eight seconds isn’t new, but marketers are still struggling to understand exactly what it means
The 8 second rule is not new in the advertising world. Direct marketers have long understood that the headline you include on an envelope determines in just three seconds whether or not people open it, or pitch it.
Outdoor advertising (and street road signs for that matter) has long operated under the six second rule, meaning you have six words or less to get your message across before drivers pass by.
Best practices for TV and radio advertising recognize that the first few seconds of any commercial are critical to capturing the audience attention and avoiding tune-out.
In the media and publishing world, writing simple, direct titles and headlines still drives sales for newspapers, magazines, and books.
So what the eight-second attention span rule really means for your business and brand is this – your message, story, news, offer, or promise must pass people’s scan test.
Consumers today are continuously scanning information. Content and messaging that are instantly understood as clear, relevant, and interesting will capture attention. And any brand information or messaging that is confusing, complicated, or boring will be quickly ignored.
Pictures, videos, headlines and subheads that help your audience quickly learn what they can expect from shopping your store or buying your brand are vital to engaging customers successfully.
How do you know if your brand passes the scan test? Interview shoppers, and get them to share with you their quick impression of the story your brand is telling them from scanning your website, store aisles, and overall marketing efforts.
In our experience, most retailers and e-commerce brands will discover quite a big gap between what they believe is being communicated to consumers and what shoppers see and experience themselves.
3 simple strategies you can use to help your brand pass the 8-second test
- Kill clutter.
Clutter is the enemy of clarity. When you have a lot of things and messages competing for someone’s attention people don’t know where to focus. Your home page, front entrance, signage and product packaging should all be designed to deliver a clear, direct and singular message.
- Evoke emotion.
Research shows that emotion plays an overwhelming role in decision making. People rarely buy things based on facts and reason alone. How you make people feel – welcome, comforted, excited, happy, etc. – determines how they behave. To evoke strong positive feelings that engage shoppers you need to look closely at the nonverbal elements of your marketing and customer experience; i.e. your visuals, images, colors and sounds. People don’t read a lot in 8 seconds. And communications studies show that 93% of what people respond to is non-verbal.
- Choose clear over clever.
Every brand seems to be looking for that clever idea to help them stand apart from competition. The problem is that all too often these clever ideas get in the way of delivering a clear message. Examine your visuals and copy – do they get the story across to people in the most direct way possible? Get feedback from customers. Then strip down your story to its most basic, clear, and meaningful form. Resist the temptation to add any creative elements that might obscure meaning.
With only eight seconds to capture a person’s attention, retail and e-commerce brands need to recognize that consumers are scanning the information you deliver to them online or in-store. People will quickly and selectively choose to engage with content that is clear, emotional and direct. And they will ignore, tune-out, or skip past anything that is too long, too clever, or too hard to understand.