How to advertise to an audience with an 8-second attention span

How to advertise to an audience with an 8-second attention span

In the time it took you to read the title of this article, parse what it might be about and decide that you wanted to click on it, many more viewers checked out and went on to the next one. It’s nothing personal – that’s just how most 21st-century digital consumers process information. The attention span of the average ad viewer is growing ever shorter, and ads that require sustained engagement are less likely to click with many audiences.

So how can you capture this shrinking resource with your digital marketing tactics? To pique a viewer’s interest (or at least nurture a seed of it in their brain), you’ll need to incorporate some best practices for keeping it short, punchy and useful. These six strategies will help guide your digital marketing toward the right balance of brevity and information.

1. Clarity is king

When in doubt, use simple and concise prose. Your guiding principle should be to create something that’s useful or interesting to the viewer and doesn’t make them work too hard for it. Tell them in a sentence or less why they should care about your ad.

One way to create clarity is to give the viewer a simple and concrete concept to latch on to. Some examples of good “anchor points” include:

  • A problem with a competitors’ product that your product solves.
  • A new model or feature that’s just been added.
  • A strong, single-sentence customer testimonial.
  • A short phrase that uses active, exciting language.
  • A pleasant or exciting image that creates an aspirational desire.

It takes practice to develop your digital advertising strategies in a way that’s assertive about demanding the customer’s attention, so it’s key to use A/B tests and focus groups to continually refine your approach. And when in doubt, consider the limitations and advantages of the medium in which you’re working.

2. Know the best practices of the platform you’re using

Each digital advertising platform has its own set of rules—not just the formal ones, but the implied ones. Know the terrain of the digital landscape and make sure that you can articulate your message in different ways depending on the platform.

With Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platform advertising, you’ll need to be especially aware of this. Something that works as a tweet often doesn’t make a good LinkedIn post, and vice versa. If your social media posts aren’t getting enough engagement, consider that they might need to be tailored to the platform better and review some best practices and stay on top of recent updates when writing for different social media.

These best practices include making sure your formatting is correct, avoiding duplicate content and sharing high-quality, legally owned images that users will enjoy seeing on their feed. Familiarizing yourself with each platform’s unique standards, such as their character limits and post formatting is also important. Typically, less text is best and will allow for a greater visual appeal, especially on Twitter, which has one of the smallest character limits. Overall, always consider the end-user, what they will enjoy seeing, and how you can best help them.

3. Don’t push video content where it’s not appropriate

By now, everyone knows the secret of the “pivot to video” that swept the digital ad industry a few years ago: That the numbers on engagement with video content had been inflated, severely in some cases. That doesn’t mean that video isn’t a great medium for reaching digital audiences – but it serves as a reminder that video needs to have its place in context.

Autoplaying videos on a website home page are one example of a video strategy to avoid. For one thing, it often causes pages to load slowly, and you can see why a slow-loading website would be a problem for a consumer with a radically shortened attention span. And for another, it increases a viewer’s cognitive load in a way that can be unpleasant if it’s unexpected. For many people, watching a video is a bigger cognitive commitment than reading a few short paragraphs of an article, so try to consider whether video actually improves your message.

Lastly, keep video content short and sweet unless you’re purposefully doing a more in-depth video for customers further down the sales funnel. And great long-form content has its place as well – but you should consider how best to use it. In fact, that’s exactly what our next tip is about. 

4. Get more out of your content by splitting it up

The 21st-century attention span works best if you feed it in small bites. If you’ve got a cool informational video or article that’s long and involved, consider splitting it into parts. This accomplishes several things:

  1. It gives you more search engine real estate and can allow you to segment your audience more effectively based on the individual interests you’re addressing in each section.
  2. It makes the content more readable or viewer-friendly.
  3. It maximizes the utility of your content by turning a single post into a week’s or a month’s worth. 

This idea also applies at the micro level. Try to keep paragraphs relatively short and break up text with lists (like we just did.) Make it snappy, make it relevant and – if appropriate for your brand voice – make it fun.

5. Personalize ad content

There’s one relatively easy way to make your content way more useful and interesting to your audience: Personalize it. In an age when consumers see thousands of ads per day, personalization is an effective way to make your content stand out.

Almost all of today’s ad platforms offer some kind of personalization and targeting tools. Whether it’s social media PPC, search engine PPC, email marketing or any other platform, there’s probably a way to personalize your ad displays. PPC ads are particularly attractive because platforms like Facebook and Google offer robust targeting tools built into the ad buy system and solid metrics to track your ads’ performance.

It’s also worth noting that personalization can cross the line into creeping out the consumer, so be wary of personalization that targets potentially sensitive information. Keep a sense of empathy for the consumer in mind and ask yourself, “Would I be okay with someone sending me a targeted ad or email about this?”

6. Use visual aids and interactive elements to leave a more lasting impression

Content that creates visual interest for the viewer will always have the advantage. Infographics and charts are a great way to accomplish this, as they can convey a lot of information in a useful, bite-sized format. The flowchart, for example, is a classic because it gives a lot of useful information and adds a level of interactivity and personalization.

It’s also an exciting time to take advantage of the many new ways for customers to interact with a website or app. That same flowchart, for example, could be turned into an interactive personalization quiz that helps customers find the product they need from a range of choices. Meanwhile, many eyewear manufacturers now offer “digital try-on” features that superimpose a pair of frames on a user’s picture. While these features require more dedication and attention from the viewer, they can be effective because they create interactive engagement, not just passive viewing. 

Some marketers might wish for the days of five-paragraph ad copy, and some might love the challenge of the new attention economy, but what’s clear to everyone is that the lightning-strike attention span is the new normal. Successful 21st-century marketers will address that need by finding ways to communicate more information in smaller bites, and by doing it in a way that respects the constant demands our world places on a consumer’s time and attention. 

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