customer attention span

Engaging Customers in the Micro-Attention-Span Age

Nobel-awarded economist Herbert Simon explains the attention giving process as ‘satisficing’, a combination of satisfy and suffice – so we give attention to things as we think they deserve.

There is a lot of speculation that the lure of the next click, the addictive qualities of social media, email and texting are significantly shortening people’s attention span. 2020, the new year that we have ushered in also carries the connotation of Twenty20 cricket popularity which over the years has got shorter.

By Vanita Keswani

While we all recognise pacy traits in our behaviour and environment, isn’t it contradictory how easy it is for us to binge watch a season of TV on Netflix in four days ?

The existence of both behavioural trends means we are missing something fundamental to consumer psychology. That missing link is the role of self-imposed psychological filters. In an era of unlimited choices, consumers have developed methods to defend against information overload. While this may mean they pay little attention to content they filter out, it also means they engage significantly longer with the content they actually actively let in. Nobel-awarded economist Herbert Simon explains the attention giving process as ‘satisficing’, a combination of satisfy and suffice – so we give attention to things as we think they deserve. This leads us to an understanding that attention can and needs to be earned.

Attention is a spectrum. It is a well- known fact that we humans operate in a default state of pre-attentiveness where we have a broad and un-specific focus to everything around us. Our state of consciousness, and our subsequent level of attention, can then change when triggers surface on a continuum ranging from low attention to focused attention.

Attention is commonly categorised into two distinct functions and triggers : bottom-up (or exogenous) attention, an externally induced process in which information to be processed is selected automatically because of highly noticeable features of stimuli; and top-down (or endogenous) attention, an internally induced process in which information is actively sought out in the environment based on voluntarily chosen factors (Connor and others 2004; Corbetta and Shulman 2002; Itti and Koch 2001).

In the context of media and advertising, I have listed down some of the commonly used ways of earning higher consumer attention by marketers classified under these two kind of triggers. Bottom up or exogenous triggers – these are more external and stimulus driven. Some examples of bottom up triggers would be vying for attention through

Unexpectedness through any form of disruption.

It could be an ad of high emotion (The Google India Pak ad spot) or humour ( The Fevikwik fish TVC) or sometimes the medium itself could deliver unexpectedness and be a reason to stand out (Eg. Enamor catches attention of consumers by advertising on hoardings for their women innerwear collection)
-High reach and impact media platforms – High reach generally equals high attention
We all know the positive impact of IPL on various nascent brands
-Brand interaction in the first five seconds of the mobile TVC
Google Best practises suggests this and is being used by quite a few advertisers.

Top-down / endogenous guidance triggers – these are goal oriented and customised

  • Matching state of consumers mind with product need. We see this applicable in terms of advertising scheduling for categories that are highly seasonal like air conditioners & soft drinks in summers and woollens & body moisturisers in winter.
  • Catching consumers when they are searching for something online. This is popular and we have all experienced this whether it is during researching a travel destination when we are shown advertising related to our travel journey or shopping for apparel and being exposed to a variety of apparel buys.
  • Other intent signals online like interest affinity audiences, custom affinity audiences, in-market audiences and video remarketing lists. Such strategies are proven to get better ROI on ad campaigns than generic demographic targeted campaigns.
  • Brand purpose – It has potential to transform passive exposure into active participation and also connect consumers with their passions to form communities of like-minded loyalists. The Ariel Share the Load campaign is one such successful initiative.
  • Topical ad content – We all stop and pay attention to the Amul topical hoardings where the Utterly Butterly girl is cast in different roles.

So in an age of “short attention span” where advertising is incidental most of the times, is it imperative to deploy such and more tactics to earn focused attention? Does it mean that incidental advertising does not deliver consumer behavioural outcome ? A recent WARC paper titled “High value of low attention” reveals the good news that while high attention drives the most impact, the greatest uplift in sales impact occurs when a viewer moves from a pre-attentive state to low attention.

My mantra would be simple – No one size fits all.

The attention filter mechanism by consumers is an opportunity and worthy challenge to overcome, where the starting point for every marketing effort should be grounded in gaining a better understanding of our audience’s motivations and need states. As media specialists, there is a need to identify the right mix of catching the consumer attention for each of our campaigns. Sometimes it may be apt to tinker with content mechanics like placing the logo in the first few seconds of the mobile TVC, while at other times it may be about mounting an integrated campaign to trigger an emotional reaction, introducing a narrative hook, or prompt a sense of identity and recognition, and at still other times, it may be just left to 30secs TVC advertising.

To sum up, it is important to learn the key influences and dynamics that help gain attention and aim to shape our campaigns and media spends better in an effective manner. Otherwise we may get used to a world of blunt force marketing where shouting out louder is the safe and easy way to earning consumer attention, sales and action – no thanks !

Vanita Keswani is CEO, Madison Media.

This article originally appeared in BrandEquity. Photo by Azat Satlykov on Unsplash.

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