In 1998, the average attention span of human beings was calculated at 12 minutes. A decade later, that number was down to five minutes. In 2018, it fell further still to three minutes – a 75% decline in just two decades. While there’s no single factor contributing to this decline, marketers and advertisers are wrangling with the same conundrum – how do they acquire, message and then retain prospective consumers within this ever-reducing attention span? When combined with all the ways in which we interact with the world today, the war for consumer attention is becoming he most valuable outcome for the advertising industry to win.
When we developed Systems Planning, we made a concerted effort to bring all physical and digital connections into one platform, mimicking the way the world functions around us today. After all, we no longer operate in silos. We’re all part of a complex and chaotic world where we – as consumers – come into contact with myriad visual, auditory and tactile stimuli. And yet, the wider industry still limits its focus to one set of micro-factors when planning the way consumers move through the world. Building The System – our proprietary communications planning platform, and a “breathing” technology solution – made us aware of the value of interconnected factors that affect why some consumers move from one stage to another while others just drop off.
The quest for attention is not just limited to the seconds of a video commercial, the scrolling of a social newsfeed, the passing glimpse of a billboard, or any other advertising media format. It extends to how consumers react to changes in the world around them, where they shop, what causes they’ll lend their support to, what news matters the most to them, and, most importantly, what they will consume – both physical and virtual.
Today, we use ever-iterating technology and our collective professional experience to identify the most opportune moment to capture a prospective consumer’s attention. Once we have that split-second, we deliver the most viable message to get their attention – and keep them long enough to either buy a product or implant an idea that will inspire their attention over the next few hours, days and weeks. That’s how the loop for advertising attention continues. Business growth lies at the end of this progression.
In the past and up until today, we’ve given parts of this step-wise progression to different stakeholders. Media agencies locate the most opportune moments of reckoning, creative agencies develop the most viable communications messages, shopper agencies and trade teams optimize the in-store experiences, and after-sales teams continue the conversations. Every single stakeholder is vying to retain consumer attention. This is why attention is one of the most valuable metrics for businesses today. Working on improving its efficiency will contribute significantly to any business’s growth.
It begins with empowering every stakeholder to make attention a core metric. For example, when selecting media placements and formats, work towards highlighting those that are better at being viewed. When defining a creative message in combination with where it will be served, make attention a yardstick for whether you’ve succeeded or failed. Or, when you’ve sold a product, define how long will you wait before you retarget a consumer to keep them within the shade of your brand’s umbrella.
You might think you already do these things, but you need to make attention a macro-metric – and optimize your entire system of communications against it – to realize its power. Nowhere else will the impact be felt more than in the upper half of the marketing funnel. When you make sales the focus of the upper half of your funnel, you take away a lot of the creative freedoms that come from gently pulling the consumer into your world. But when you make attention the focus of the upper half, you give yourself a better framework to grow.
Using attention as a key metric of success will make your entire communications system more robust and efficient – giving you a secondary axis against which to measure the impact of your marketing efforts. While measuring intent to purchase is still important, measuring attention is crucial, because it lets you know when to nudge consumers and communicate a product need. As the world gets increasingly complex, it’s time to embrace attention as a key metric for driving business growth.