The State of Distraction – Engaging Today's Consumer

“Information overloaded, time starved audiences.”

A phrase I use, and an issue that I raise regularly in discussions around strategies that engage people versus strategies that don’t. We are very much in the age of shortened attention spans, and quite often this challenges us as marketers to look deeper at our data and customer insight to see the bigger picture – to better understand where our customers engage and where they tune us out. Until you can genuinely engage someone, you simply cannot convert them. And today, consumers are a lot better at sniffing out the promotional stuff. In the end, they want simple and ‘humanized’ experiences that keep their interests at heart and their minds and intelligence engaged.

Here’s a prime example of where consumers are tuning out: The majority of people that encounter a banner ad will actually avoid it, and when surveyed, state that they can’t remember the brand or message associated with the ad. In usability studies, the phenomenon of “banner-ad-blindness” is a scientifically proven behavior, and hence has become a major consideration in strategies. However, banner ads still perform well and are an essential part of the marketing mix—but only when done correctly. We must catch our customers at exactly the right moments with content engaging enough to get them feeling intrigued.

The new frontier of Content Marketing holds much promise as a strategy to engage customers. Not only to “break through the noise”, but to actually deliver something contextually relevant, timely and personalized – something that holds value and integrity.

The Economist Group recently unveiled new research on content marketing. In a survey of 1,500 marketers, they discovered a wide disconnect between content creators and consumers. 93% of marketers reported connecting content with products and services, and a majority (75%) said content should frequently mention products. A bulk of their audience, however, disagrees. 60% of survey respondents claimed they turn down content that sounds like a sales pitch. Instead, three-fourths of respondents said they look to content for insights or ideas related to business. To me, this is reminiscent of the early years of web design. A time before brands acknowledged the fact that aligning the experience with what customers want, and how they navigate, is paramount to success. Today, it’s the only way to keep them engaged.

Across all channels we are seeing trends that are telling us an interesting story: We are not simply seeing distraction. What we are seeing is attention directed at the things that warrant it. An interesting example to support this is with the growth of podcasts, and the amount of downloads and loyalty or time spent watching select videos. I’ll dive deeper into these examples in another post.

An additional illustration I found quite fascinating is within the entertainment industry. I pulled the following from the UK publication The Guardian, quoting George Potts of University College London:

“It seems to me that TV drama has risen to its supreme position because of its unique ability to overcome or buck the trend in the short-attention-span society,” says Potts. “It’s strange how some series can demand so much of viewers and yet this doesn’t put people off in the way that a ‘difficult’ novel would.”

He cites the lack of flashbacks in the hit drama series, Breaking Bad, as indicative of the tribute its makers paid to viewers’ intelligence. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll remember the scene in Confessions (episode 11 of the final season) when drug dealer, Jesse Pinkman, has an important revelation involving the ricin cigarette (a key item in the unfolding drama of betrayal). Saul had earlier pickpocketed the ricin cigarette.

“There’s no flashback, no initial explanation – all the viewer is offered is Jesse gazing at a cigarette packet as a reminder that in the previous season Saul’s assistant Huell had pickpocketed him in exactly the same way.”

Why is that significant?

“The lack of flashback for such a key scene and the confusion it can and did cause is my favorite example of how television no longer feels the need to pander to viewers,” says Potts. “Given that Breaking Bad’s audience kept increasing until over 10 million tuned in for the US season finale, this clearly paid off.”

The show clearly went beyond just being an adrenaline rush. Though that is one reason why people were so drawn in, the point Potts is making is that it respected its audience in a way not all shows or content in general do these days. It urged viewers to be thoughtful, to constantly think about the twisted direction each episode found itself taking, and ultimately, how all the dots could be connected. And to Potts’ final point, it certainly kept people coming back. Breaking Bad is one of those rare anomalies in entertainment, but perhaps marketers can learn something from the way it gained, almost effortlessly, such a degree of loyalty from its audience.

More to come on this topic!

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  • Marian

    Be consistent in giving your audience quality information about your business. Information that you’re audience want’s to know. For sure you will get there loyalty.

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