Should Your Market’s Short Attention Span Worry You?

Image of SmartphoneOn a recent United Airlines flight, I noticed something discouraging.

People have alarmingly short attention spans.

They just don’t focus on one thing for long before getting bored, worn out or distracted.

Here’s what I witnessed (before I mention it, maybe I shouldn’t have been so nosey but I couldn’t resist).

Girl with her smartphone

The girl sitting in front of me on the flight was in her mid-twenties (I’m guessing). Maybe I shouldn’t guess because there are two things I’m horrible at guessing: age and weight. Two things you shouldn’t guess aloud, by-the-way.

But this mid-twenties, strawberry blonde was holding up her smartphone (pre-flight) and fiddling with it for a time. It was a long enough time to spark my curiosity.

What could she have been fixated on for so long?

Well, it was dismaying. She wasn’t fixated on much for very long at all.

In the few minutes I observed her, I watched her go from playing Angry Birds, to chess, to texting a friend and a host of other apps of which I’m unfamiliar (I don’t have a smartphone, by choice).

She didn’t spend more than a few moments using an application.

In fact, in between all the apps and texting, she occupied herself by casually scrolling through menus, reading old texts (which I couldn’t read – don’t worry) and flipping through different menus trying to find something to keep busy.

Sure, it’s boring sitting on a plane before taking flight. The Sky Mall is marginally entertaining for a quick flip-through (who buys that stuff?) so cell phones and laptops do the trick. I get it.

But why did her task-hopping alarm me?

Competing for attention

As an online marketer and small business owner I have to understand that people have lousy attention spans. Hey, I can be impatient and get distracted as well.

But to see this person flipping through menu after menu, screen after screen, starting and stopping one game just to do the same to the next; I thought to myself:

“Holy smokes! How can we manage to put something together online that would ever keep eyes on it for more than 45 seconds?!”

How can you compete with the sleek graphic interfaces and entertaining games like the ones Ms. Smartphone was bored using?

Marketing peace

Here’s my answer: don’t worry.

There is no magic bullet, no specific words to type, and no website layout that will guarantee you’ll have your visitors rapt by your message.

You simply have to produce the most useful, engaging content you can. Videos, text, audio and images can and should all be used to deliver your message. Offer your content on a site with clean design and be clear with your calls to action.

There’s no need to worry.

The people who align with your message will come back for more, on their terms. You just have to keep showing up and bringing the goods. They will love you for what you do and, with time and practice, you’ll improve at giving them reason to come back for more.

So before you break out in a cold sweat wondering if anyone will take the time to learn about your product, service, or if they’ll read your blog: relax.

You will find your people and win their attention by consistently delivering quality content.

Do you ever notice how distracted people are these days? Does it worry you and how do you respond? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo: tachyondecay

6 Responses to Should Your Market’s Short Attention Span Worry You?
  1. Aaron Andrews
    August 13, 2011 | 7:00 pm

    *Raises hand to testify* … I actually struggle with this. Yes, I have a very short attention span. I struggle reading a blog post or article on my blackberry without texting or pulling up another website. What can I say, I am 80′s baby. But no, I have been trying to get better with this and actually plan on making a conscious effort to leave my Blackberry alone for a couple hours on certain days and just concentrate on whatever task is in front of me.

    I think you are right on when you said “You simply have to produce the most useful, engaging content you can. Videos, text, audio and images can and should all be used to deliver your message”… I would like to see the use of audio and video integrated into blog posts more. One of my favorite bloggers, Marlee Ward uses video in a lot of her posts and it always helps me understand the message when she is delivering it via video. Nice post Jon!

    • Jon
      August 21, 2011 | 9:52 am

      We call it multi-tasking but it’s really just bouncing around and fidgeting. We’re all guilty of it sometimes. Yes, Marlee does a great job using video and I’m sure she’s enjoying some additional traffic from it as well. Smart play.

      It’s tempting to pick that phone up every few minutes but we have to fight the temptation! Good luck, Aaron.

  2. Sarah Russell
    August 15, 2011 | 10:40 am

    Agree with Aaron – I think it comes down to knowing who your target market is and how they want to engage with your content. If your audience is younger or more tech-savvy, then yes, it might be worth it to find different ways to deliver content than long blog posts (although this should obviously be tested, not just assumed).

    Personally, I’m totally guilty of flipping through iPhone apps when I’m bored or waiting for something (like a plane to take off, Dr. appt, etc), but when it comes to getting work done, I don’t have trouble focusing on reading or writing for long chunks at a time.

    • Jon
      August 21, 2011 | 9:54 am

      There you go, Sarah! Focused and ready to get things done. Awesome. Playing games and fiddling with apps is okay when you’re sitting around doing nothing I suppose. I was just surprised how little time was spent (by the girl) doing any single thing for long.

  3. Adrienne
    August 18, 2011 | 10:18 pm

    I’m sure this happens with people of all ages but I have noticed it more with the younger generation. They get bored really easily.

    But I will also pipe in and agree. Keep them interested in what you have to say and they’ll stick around long enough to read it. If not, they’ll be back. That much I’ve learned. Or maybe the people who visit my blog just like me. Oh heck, they visit so that’s a good thing.

    Thanks Jon and enjoyed hearing how nosy you are. Don’t worry, I’m horrible with age and weight too which is why I refuse to answer those questions when asked. :-)


    • Jon
      August 21, 2011 | 9:55 am

      So true, Adrienne. They bore quite easily (my age group included).

      Of course your visitors stick around because they like you. Who wouldn’t! You’re very outgoing, friendly and always available and ready to help. Haha, yep I was nosy!

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