Are you smarter than a goldfish?

goldfish_cr1kFocusing on the basics, not the bait, still matters

As technology gets smarter our ability to focus has gone for a dive. The average human attention span is now shorter than that of a small orange aquatic vertebrate that swims in, rather than graduates from, a school.

Fish are notoriously flighty. Experts say that a goldfish has an attention span of about 9 seconds. At last count, the average human attention span was just 8 seconds – even shorter than that of a fish and down from its dubious 12-second average in 2000.

Fishing for Metrics

It’s no surprise that – in an era of constant connectivity – attention spans have approached bottom-feeder status.

Orthopedic doctors, chiropractors, optometrists, therapists and other specialists confirm that 24/7 information takes a toll. Experts report a spike in related complaints, ranging from carpel tunnel syndrome and neck pain to eyestrain and anxiety disorders.

By any metric – stiff necks or short attention spans – communicators and consumers alike need the triaged reminder that sometimes less really IS more.

Marketing Lines in the Sand

In any media, best practices require respect for shrinking windows of focus and time. Dangling lures – from notice-me subject lines to trendy graphics and flashy viral videos – can have unintended effects. Faced with information-overload and competing noise, most people tune out.

Ignore the shiny trend-du-jour fish bait. If everyone’s talking about it, it’s yesterday’s news. Stay the course and focus on your own unique messaging. Then, trust time, tending and consistency to build awareness and strengthen your brand.

Once you’ve developed something of real, enduring value, say what it is. Nielsen and other studies show that a page with a clear value proposition will hold people’s attention longer.

Too frequent, inconsistent or scattershot communicating creates confusion. A simple marketing plan and editorial calendar are essential to help you set priorities and stay on track.

Whatever you’re writing, keep these line-in-the-sand basics in mind:

Start strong and be clear. Front-load your message. Your headline is the first thing people notice. If it’s interesting and informative, it can compel visitors to take a closer look.

Think about things from your audience’s perspective. Respect them. Walk in their shoes. Think about what they want and what questions they might ask. Then tell them who should read this and why.

End with a call to action. Tell your readers how to get what you’re offering or what you want them to do: call a number, visit a store, schedule an appointment, ask for a free brochure, visit your web site, join a list, place an order, contact your local center to volunteer, etc.

Stay current, but skip the shortcuts. It’s important to stay informed about evolving best practices in your field. But long-term goals and relationships worth keeping require more. As opera star Beverly Sills has said, there are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going.

When people seek only the quick fix, the trendy buzz or the shiniest awards, success can be elusive or fade quickly. Branding that’s not here-today, gone tomorrow requires true quality, value, consistency and trust. It’s rarely an overnight sensation.

Share Stories. Consider Video. It’s better to show than say. Stories add interest and relevance, while appealing to the human experience. If your product or service changed a life, solved a problem or transformed a process, tell people about it.

Videos may help. One study by Forbes found that nearly 60 percent of senior executives prefer video to reading when both are available. Video length shouldn’t be much longer than two and a half minutes. Add a summary of the video message. Those who prefer skimming or scanning content will appreciate it.

Focus! Studies show multitasking can lower efficiency. Don’t try to say it all or do it all. You can’t be all things to all people. In any demographic, few people are unaffected by the contemporary era of conflicting demands. Contrary to conventional wisdom, research shows that young people – often considered early adapters or frequent users of technology – have actually become much more forgetful than older people.

Using tech devices to multitask probably doesn’t help. A study published in Computers & Education found that students who used laptops during lectures performed more poorly on a final test. Students who sat near them were also distracted and scored much worse on the final test. Researchers suggested that multitasking creates an inability to be fully present when it matters.

Attention-span trends underscore a classic mandate for balance plus limited, clear and focused messaging. More protein and fewer flashy lures may, in the end, hold the attention of any demographic – possibly even including goldfish – a little longer.