Myth: Shorter Attention Spans


Myth - people's attention spans are getting shorter. 

This statement continues to be parrotted about, and I want to save you the pain of accepting it as fact. That decision could prove disasterous.  Because buying into it threatens our ability to capture our audience's attention and succeed.

I believe the exact opposite is true: people's attention spans are increasing. My evidence?  Netflix and other on-demand broadcast entertainment alike.  People will trade their entire weekend to watch a newly released series.  That's incredible. And the show doesn't even need to be new. For example, a couple years ago Battlestar Galactica ruined my life.  By far that was my most unproductive sleep deprived month.  I would get home and 8pm-2am was nothing but Starbuck and Cylons.  I'm not alone by any means.  This behavior is so widespread we came up with a term for it: "binge watching."  So, why are people convinced that attention spans are getting shorter and shorter? 

To be more accurate, we're living in a time of content saturation.  Advances of the internet, mobile, and imaging technology democratized content creation and publishing.  Now, anyone with a phone and something to say (which is just about everyone) can create their own following, or add to the ongoing digital conversation.  The internet went from information highway to landfill.  There's so much information it's too much.  It's overwhelming.  There's just not enough time to consume it all.  And a lot of it is junk and a waste of time.  That, my friend, is the kicker.  Time.  We don't have enough time.  Our attention is how we focus and utilize our time.  And in a world pop-up ads, notifications, social media feeds, and instant messages... everything is a distraction.

Naturally, our defenses are up.  Day in and day out we have to hack our way through this content jungle searching for something worth our time.  We're searching for value.  As a result, our pallets are quite sophisticated.  We're annoyed more easily.  If a company is trying to take advantage of us, push a product on us, our alarms scream.  Sirens flash.

Brands can do tremendous reputation damage by failing to recognize today's landscape.  You can't just advertise.  You can't simply put your name out there and hope for the best.  That's a valueless effort, and it will be ignored.  We have to recognize that our audience has a refined sense of what is worth their time and what is not.

So our content needs to be meaningful and valuable.  It must entertain or take away a pain.  How do we create that?  By practicing empathy and building a genuine relationship with the audience we serve.  We must establish trust.  The most effective strategy I've come across for this is storytelling.

I recommend Donald Miller's StoryBrand framework for this exercise.  His framework is absolutely fantastic.  He applies storytelling to brand positioning.  It's all about understanding your customer on a deep level and seeing your business from their perspective.  We need to face the truth: we're cursed.  Cursed by our own expertise.  The deeper we know our solution and/or service, the further detached we become from knowing our audience.  So we need to start with empathy, being students of our audience, and loving them through incredible service, adding value to their daily lives.