Your audience has probably already lived through Y2K, a global financial crash, Brexit, a pandemic and a cost-of-living crisis. They must be exhausted. Is it any surprise that the content they seek is one that entertains, amuses or simply distracts from daily life? The new year represents an opportunity to refresh your content and better match what your audience needs.
But there’s a golden rule: it mustn’t be boring.
I want you to think about your own behaviour and how you interact with business content. That could be your LinkedIn feed, TikTok at home, TV commercials, flyers you’re handed, webinars or in-person events you attend. Answer these questions, honestly:
According to an infographic on Wyzowl, citing a piece of research by Microsoft, the attention span of a human has reduced to just over eight seconds. This infographic was last updated in September 2023 and a quick search produces this statistic in many of the results. Indeed, you’ve probably heard the ‘less attention span than a goldfish’ analogy.
The thing is, it’s not true. Or FAKE NEWS, as we scream these days.
Here’s a much better breakdown of attention from Forbes that talks about what attention really is and about our capacity to concentrate on content for a long time. Read it later, I’ll bring in some of the ideas here.
In short, attention is about how interesting something is and, importantly, continues to be. As long as piece of content remains interesting to someone, they are more likely to keep reading, keep watching, keep listening.
This BBC article from 2017, just two years after the goldfish analogy was created, talks about attention being task driven. This feels right to me. After all, when you’re in the cinema, watching a great movie, you’ll happily sit there, even holding out nipping to the bathroom.
And how many times have you watched multiple episodes of a TV show on demand?
So, thinking about WHAT attracts your attention (and your audience’s) in the first place is key; we want their task to focus on us.
What are they likely to be doing? When might they see your content? What do you need to pull them away from?
The Forbes article talks about how commercials are often louder than the programmes they are inserted into. If you think about newspaper ads, they are the same. Billboards aim to drag your attention away from your walk or commute to gaze at the message on them.
Here lies the first lesson of content attention: whatever content you are creating needs to grab the audience. In the case of a blog in a set of search results, your blog title and meta description are what will determine the click. For social media, a visual can stand out from the rest of the feed someone is scrolling.
Here’s an example of something that got my attention:
The music, the weird puppets, the repetitive instruction that I can’t stop repeating. And all so different from ads I’ve seen from this brand before.
Let’s face it, we probably haven’t a Unilever budget, but we can certainly take the ideas here, particularly the part about being different from what people may expect.
What can you create that is unusual for your brand, and that would make people want to look more? Can you use some of the techniques in this ad (or others you’ve seen) for your own content?
For example, the banging beat: is that usual for your business or industry? If not, I’d suggest it should be on the table for possible selection. If all you see in your sector is twee, vanilla on-hold style instrumental, perhaps it’s time to rock the boat a bit. Choose whatever style you think isn’t done much.
How about the volume? Not literally, but in the opening statement. Does it say ‘pay attention’ quickly, or is there a slow, winding build up to a point that will never be made because the viewer has moved on before they heard it?
Try starting with your key point first so that the viewer sees that before anything else. Then go into any explanation or reasoning about why you’ve made that point. This can apply to a video or the copy. Most platforms will only display the first couple of lines before the user has to choose whether they wish to ‘See More…’ – that’s the first call to action you have to get them to take.
If you’re posting a graphic or an image, what stands out from the rest of the content around it? Consider creating such an image in a striking colour palette other than the one you normally use. Radical, I know, and I can hear branding experts crying into their colour wheel, but your objective is to get attention and keep it there, not keep them happy.
Once we have people looking, how are we going to keep that attention when there’s so much pretty stuff to look at elsewhere?
Pace is an increasingly important factor in keeping attention, but it depends on the location of the content in my opinion.
Considering social for a second, if you’re posting a video, that video needs to move relatively quickly. No slow transitions, no unnecessary pauses. Jump cuts have been a thing for a while so don’t be afraid to cut most silent moment – keep the ones that add something, like drama. We’re seeing overlaying of narration/audio while scene transitions take place. There’s virtually no space for emptiness in short-form video.
Carousel, or multiple image, posts ask the user to swipe left to reveal the next image/video in the sequence.
Make. Your. Point. Fast.
Actually, you do want them to swipe and to get to the end. Dwell time may be a thing the algorithms look at, but I’m betting those dwell times are dwindling as we go forward.
If your content is hosted somewhere other than social, pace is likely to be less of a concern. A video on your website may reside in isolation and, without the temptation to click something else on screen, you can likely slow the pace down a tad. Even then, there’s always a distraction someone has on their device, so beware.
The story or narrative of any content is perhaps the most crucial element in deciding whether someone’s attention is retained. Can the viewer get into the story? Does it speak to them? Can they relate? What emotions do you want them to feel when they see your content?
Such emotions can often cause people to react in a way they were not expected. By that I mean that they possibly had no intention of clicking the link you place at the end of your story, but your content made them feel the need to do so. This research study in 2018 found that compelling content, combined with well-placed and engaging call-to-action buttons, can positively influence customers’ impulse buying behaviour.
So, what happens if your content is just too similar to everything else? If you’re not brave enough to break the mould or if you feel it’s too risky for your ‘brand’? Well, aside from falling into the oblivion that is irrelevancy, the biggest downside of overly safe content for me is that it becomes a waste of your time.
Why spend time not getting noticed? Regardless of what people’s attention spans are, the world is fast-paced. Being scrolled past or having the page turned where you’ve placed your print ad feels a missed opportunity. In my experience, audiences aren’t there judging whether your content is different from how it used to be. But they are making quick decisions on whether they should even look.
Take a risk.