Digital Essays 2014: Keeping pace with the attention race

Jill Saydam

Jill Saydam explores how innovative content is critical to grabbing the attention of the evolving digital generation.

What is holding your attention?

As I write this article I find myself distracted. Suddenly it’s incredibly important that I look at Kim Kardashian memes, review a map of the world’s deadliest diseases and watch a cute video of a kid reciting the alphabet with Kermit the Frog. In the span of six minutes I’m amused, distraught and then hopeful.

I’m distracted while writing this. You are more than likely distracted while reading this.

Did you know that a goldfish has a longer attention span than a human? According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (US), in the year 2000, humans were able to focus on a single task for an average of 12 seconds. By 2013, it reduced to 8 seconds. The attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.

On average, consumers are being served up to 3500 messages a day. We know that there is a limited capacity for the amount of messages we can take in, let alone react to in the time and space available.

With everybody competing for attention through a multitude of channels, it is now more important than ever to think strategically and creatively about branded content.

Seven things to consider when it comes to digital, marketing and content

1. Become best friends with data

Sophisticated data analytics and automatic ad buying with technology such as Programmatic will improve our ability to target messaging. Data insight can and should also be used throughout the campaign cycle. Using data to gain behavioural insight into who we are targeting, along with understanding where they are and what they are doing, can be essential fuel for developing a winning creative campaign.

Some great data insight tools:

  • Demographicspro.com – Demographic analysis and brand affinities of any Twitter account, hashtag or campaign
  • Socialbakers.com – Competitive intelligence and social media measurement
  • Google Analytics – Comprehensive statistics that allow you to measure web traffic, traffic sources, conversion and sales

2. Stop calling yourself a marketer. Start calling yourself an innovator.

Calling yourself an innovator instead of a marketer instantly shifts the way you approach everything. Innovators begin by finding the gaps. They identify problems and then start working on a solution.

When you apply innovative thinking to marketing, you open yourself up to a much broader toolset, giving you the potential to have a greater impact than traditional marketing may be able to achieve.

Nivea knew that potential customers for their suntan lotion spent a fair amount of time at the beach. A full day outside without access to a power outlet would likely drain the battery of any mobile device. Giovanni + Draftfcb were thinking like innovators when they created a solar panelled printed advertisement that was distributed in magazines and could power mobile devices. Simply plug your device into the solar panelled, branded page and keep it charged all day. And, while you are at the beach, you just might need some Nivea suntan lotion.

Brands and marketers should be collectively aiming to make people’s lives easier, better and more fun. That’s what innovators are doing.

3. Don’t be content with content

Digital technology is creating a behavioural switch across all demographics, but it is the 18 to 24 year-olds that we must pay attention to if we want to gain insight into the future of communication. The millennial generation demands authenticity and expects immediacy. Digital is not an extension of their lives; it’s an integral part of it.

It is important that marketers recognise and seize the opportunities being offered by new digital channels and take a different approach to creating content accordingly.

  • Think like a filmmaker. Regardless of whether your brand story is told through text, images or video, you need to consider what journey you will take your audience on. How will your users contribute to the advancement of the story?
  • Match your brand content to the channel. Instagram has over 90 million active monthly users. As a purely visual channel, fashion and food brands can do particularly well if the content fits the style of Instagram.
  • Humour works brilliantly in the digital universe. If that fits well with your brand – use it.
  • Emotion will always solicit a reaction. Know the emotions you want to evoke and then craft your content and creative to do just that.
  • Content doesn’t always need to be sophisticated. Use digital channels to give exclusive behind-the-scenes views.
  • Align your content and native advertising with the surrounding context. Make it a natural extension of what is already in front of the reader.
  • Use images. Engagement rates with images can be 500 per cent higher than text only.
  • Keep content short and snackable.
  • Use local languages and be mindful of local customs and any cultural sensitivities.
  • Think mobile first. Between native apps, messaging and push notifications you only need to provide something compelling and useful to positively disrupt the mobile user experience.

 3. Think differently about video

Video must be a core part of your creative marketing strategy. Parking a TV commercial in a YouTube channel or as a pre-roll ad is not a digital strategy. Consider adding an interactive layer so your audience feels like they are part of the action. Or provide only a portion of the story and see where your community takes it.

Burger King knows everyone hates the pre-roll ads, so they created 64 videos based on the most popular YouTube searches by their demographic. In the ad, two actors sitting in a Burger King, apologise to you for interrupting your video. They go on to mention the search term you used for the video you are about to watch. This is arresting, because you wonder how they knew you were looking for that video. It’s not just another generic ad, but specific to you; so you watch the rest of the pre-roll to find out more.

4. Everyone loves a good social experiment

Curiosity about ourselves is human nature. When brands give us authentic insight into who we are and why we do things, they gain our trust and open the door to a potential relationship. Social experiments suggest the company is more than just an end product. It is willing to invest in the collective understanding of ourselves. As a potential customer – we appreciate the effort and want to know more about the brand behind it.

Purina Tidy Cats, a brand that sells kitty litter, set up a social experiment. The premise was to offer free therapy to stressed-out people. At first glance, it looked like a large glass room in a park with a pillow and earphones with meditative audio. But a few minutes into the therapy session, kittens were released into the room. The video shows how playing with the kittens visibly reduced the stress levels of people in the room. This is a good example of how an otherwise uninteresting product can find unique ways of gaining awareness, while simultaneously creating a positive brand affiliation.

5. Timing – Who wouldn’t want a cookie newsroom?

Adopting a creative content and deployment method that can hitch a ride with trending topics requires a newsroom style approach. It may require rethinking how your internal resources are organised for real-time content production.

In 2012, Social Marketing agency 360i came on board to help Oreo Cookies celebrate its 100th anniversary. Every day for 100 days a team identified what was trending and then created a unique re-interpretation of the Oreo Cookie and pushed it out to various media channels. The Talk Like A Pirate Day cookie, The Mars Rover Lands cookie, etc… By jumping into the zeitgeist of the moment they were able to grab the attention they wanted. While the content was creative, it was its timing in relation to other events that had people’s attention and made it stand out.

Oreo has nearly 40 million Facebook followers. Ritz crackers has under 2 million. Oreo is doing something right.

7. The talent

So who is going to make all this great stuff? Creative content comes from people with innovation in their DNA. They have an insatiable curiosity. They continually wonder why humans do what they do. They are well travelled. They know how to tell good stories because they have lived good stories. They are good at their jobs and have hobbies that have nothing to do with their jobs. They play in digital as much as they work in digital. They let ideas come first and technical execution later. They know how to leave their egos at the door and work collaboratively. These are the people you want on your digital content creation team.

There is an important place for content in the overall marketing mix. Effective content has the potential to inform, enlighten, engage and entertain. When done well it will hold attention, spark a conversation, motivate and inspire action. Innovative content will not be just a marketing message – it will be powerful and interesting enough to keep our attention… for at least eight seconds.

(Jill Saydam is an independent integrated and digital creative director. LinkedInTwitterPortfolio.)