Marketers are constantly trying to grab the attention of their audience in new and innovative ways. This feat is made more and more challenging by the influx of data and data-related searches on the internet.
Our average attention span is eight seconds -- less than that of a goldfish?
17% of page views lasts less than four seconds?
Only 4% of page views lasts more than 10 minutes?
Only 28% of an average webpage of 593 are actually read?
The influx of social media platforms, the rise in smart device usage, and the spread of wireless internet and mobile data have all contributed to the way we as a species absorb, retain, and are stimulated by information.
Our attention spans are decreasing because of the way our societies are evolving. Think of what this means for us marketers whose very livelihoods -- not to mention egos -- depend on whether or not people read, view or engage with our content.
But don’t be alarmed! Here are three facts about how our brains learn to help make your marketing content stick.
Finding #1: 50% of our brain's capacity goes towards vision.
Visuals play an enormous factor in how engaged people are with your content because it’s such a big part of how we process information. Image clarity, proportionate image size-to-monitor ratio, and appealing website or mobile design aesthetics are essentials to consider when creating and optimizing content.
Pinterest’s success is owed to its successful marriage of an image-rich platform with eCommerce. And who hasn’t stayed up past reasonable hours watching “Cats Gone Wild” or “How to crochet yourself into a cocoon” on YouTube?
What Marketers Can Do
Duplicate these success stories by providing good-quality visuals that not only enhance your core messaging, but can be linked to a defined KPI within your business. Remember, it’s not just including pictures in blog posts -- it’s creating engaging infographics, posting short, spunky videos, and developing graphs when you have the data in your content.
Finding #2: General concepts are easier to remember than details.
When introducing a new concept (or a new product or service), it’s never good practice to bombard your audience with technical information up front. (That’s why you should consider using the content marketing funnel. High-level information should be spread first.)
Our brains grasp the big picture of what we’re learning better than the details. That’s why best practices for presentations include summarizing your points instead of having a huge block of explanatory text. It’s also why good teachers always start with a general overview of a subject before delving into specifics.
What Marketers Can Do
Every time you create content for an audience, always remind yourself to not get too lost in explaining too many details for top- and middle-of-funnel audiences. There are always opportunities for your prospects to learn more: reading on for deeper level content, contacting you, and so on. But they won’t do so if you start out by flooding them with over-complicated, poorly-organized information.
Finding #3: Variations in patterns and outliers make people pay more attention.
Humans have always stuck to a style of learning called "block practice," in which you repeat the same subject or task in one block of activity. Block practice is how we’ve traditionally learned in school and how we perceive the “correct” way of learning to be.
However, block practice is not nearly as effective as it could be. It results in quick burnouts and an aversion to return to that subject. Instead, in a study performed by UCLA Psychologist Bob Bjork, a practice called “interleaved” learning is shown to result in better information retention and recollection.
An example of interleaved learning is practicing one type of math problem and then immediately switching to another type. Long-term, this style challenges your brain to think harder about what you learned and stimulates better information retention.
What Marketers Can Do
These three tips on using an interleaved learning practice will help you in your marketing initiatives:
Avoid getting into a groove. Continually sending the same message -- even if it’s in a different format -- will not only cause your audience to ignore your collateral, but will also make them associate your content with things they don’t want to read.
Mix in old material. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. Ask around to see which pieces of collateral performed the best in the past six or twelve months, draw one or two takeaways from it, and spin old pieces in a new angle for new readers.
Mix it up. If your audience is used to one style coming from your business or brand, they’ll be sure to notice a deviation in patterns. We’re not suggesting a major brand facelift (like what Gap did), but if you usually churn out white papers and research reports, consider lighter pieces like infographics and blog posts.
Half the battle of marketing lies in understanding human psychology and how our brains work. Once you understand that, overcoming the attention-span hurdle and making sure your content really sticks with your audience will be made that much easier.
Originally published Mar 19, 2015 12:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2017