Companies all around the world are spending millions trying to capture audience’s attention every day. It’s therefore no surprise that the fight for attention has become one of the most important items on the content agenda. Despite this, many companies do not understand the principles of attention economy, and how to leverage consumer attention, in order to ensure their content stands out from the crowd.

In this article, we’ll discover exactly what the attention span of today’s average consumer is, as well as delving into the ways in which you can increase a consumer’s attention when they’re exposed to your content.

But first let’s look into what exactly is attention economy.

What is the attention economy?

Comnsumer attention is a valuable resource in today’s society, which companies must compete for if they want to be noticed. In the attention economy, attention is the currency, with users awarding their attention to only the most deserving of recipients.

This has led to many changes in design trends, in the hope of attracting and retaining a user’s attention. However, it’s important to note that not all of these trends improve the user experience – many techniques aimed at increasing attention may sacrifice user experience.

What does the attention economy mean for…Brands

Every day thousands of brands compete for consumer attention, increasingly brands need to fight for their share of attention or risk getting left behind.

This means carefully targeting promotions to maximise ROI (return on investment), maximising every single opportunity to capture attention and increasing the impact when attention is captured.

Vendors

The increasingly competitive attention economy has led to more and more vendors trying to help brands to stay ahead. Their services fall into a wide range of categories including:

  • Advertising and promotion
    • Print
    • Web design
  • Content and experience
    • Video marketing
    • Copywriting
  • Social and relationships
    • Conversational marketing
    • Social media marketing
  • Data
    • Analytics and visualization
    • Marketing research agencies or consultancies
    • Market research platforms

Between 2019 and 2020, the number of marketing technology companies grew by a massive 24.5%. That’s a reflection of how desperate brands are to make the biggest possible impact in the competitive attention economy.

Consumers

Ever wondered how many adverts consumers encounter each day? The answer may surprise you.

In the 1970s, we saw an average of 500 to 1,600 adverts a day. If that seems a lot, fast forward to 2021 when the average person is estimated to come into contact with between 6,000 and 10,000 adverts every single day. There’s no wonder that our attention spans are becoming shorter as our brains attempt to separate the useful information from the distractions.

Consumers have shorter attention spans as the levels of distraction are higher and they are being pulled in many different directions, there is also evidence that consumers are becoming more savvi and discerning to the media they digest leading  to purchasing decisions being reached more quickly.

As a result of decreasing attention spans, consumers are also less tolerant of poor experiences, as well as having higher expectations of customer experience. Statistics show from a few year ago demonstrate that poor customer experience results in lost sales – $68 billion in US sales and £35 billion UK sales in 2016.

Key research into the attention economy

What is the average attention span?

Before we look at how to optimise consumer attention span, we need to first understand what the average attention span is in 2021.

In 2015, the Microsoft attention span study found that the average human attention span is just eight seconds. This is how long, on average, 2,000 participants were able to focus on a task before their attention switched to another activity.

This is a steep decline from the 12-second attention span that the tech-firm identified a decade previously in 2000. In fact, you might be surprised to hear that this 8-second attention span is actually a second less than the attention span of a goldfish.

A 2016 study found that the human attention span is decreasing year-on-year by up to 88%. This means that consumer attention span in 2021 is now likely to be even shorter than the eight seconds discovered by the Microsoft attention span study, and up to 88% shorter than in 2020.

What is the average social media attention span?

When it comes to social media, it seems like we’re less willing to give our attention span to the content that we see there, unless it really captures our attention. Let’s look at some social media attention span statistics to get an understanding of how consumers pay attention to social media content. 

The average Instagram user will give an average of 3-10 seconds of their time to watching a video on their feed. Meanwhile, an Instagram story can be up to 15 seconds long but the majority of users will only view 40-67% of that content before moving on to the next story. This highlights the importance of grabbing the consumer’s attention quickly with your video marketing.

Moving over to Facebook and the story is very similar. One study found that 10 seconds is the sweet spot for brand impact when it comes to video ads on Facebook. This was the average time that it would take for a consumer to receive the desired impact and brand recognition, without their attention declining.

How many purchases are subconscious?

A recent study found that 95% of purchasing decisions are made subconsciously, with emotion being the biggest driver of decision making. This means that advertising which taps into a consumer’s emotions is more likely to attract attention and lead to a higher conversion rate than advertising which simply markets the attributes of the product.

Subconscious drivers such as attention typically have a greater impact on lower priced purchases such as buying a chocolate bar. Higher cost purchases such as a car will generally involve more research, using the conscious part of the brain rather than the subconscious.

How quickly do consumers make purchasing decisions?

Consumers like to make decisions quickly, especially when the decisions relate to low-cost purchases. In fact, one study found that consumers can make decisions in as little as a third of a second.

61% of consumers say that a good shopping experience means quickly finding what they want, with 56% of consumers willing to share personal data to receive a faster and more convenient service. This demonstrates the importance of optimising the customer experience to make it as seamless and straightforward as possible.

How important is video in the attention economy?

Video is one of the most effective ways of capturing attention and getting your message across. Research shows that consumers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video, compared to just 10% when reading the message in text.

The two most effective techniques that you can utilise within video are emotion and humour. We’ve already discussed how emotion can help to tap into the subconscious, where 95% of purchasing decisions are made. However, humour is another technique to make your content more engaging. More than half of people say that they are more likely to enjoy and remember an advertisement if it makes them laugh.

How to find a competitive edge

In order to win, direct and retain attention, you need to find a competitive edge which sets you above the competition. In this section, we’ll discuss how you can utilise your competitive edge to make the most of consumer attention.

Winning attention

The first step is to attract and gain the attention of the consumer. There are many ways in which you can do this.

Firstly, be aware of saliency. This is the degree to which something stands out from its surroundings. This applies to elements within a webpage, adverts and packaging. The higher the saliency of an object or element, the more likely that a consumer is to notice it. The best way to measure saliency is to use a tool such as Dragonfly AI which accurately measures saliency to predict attention.

Movement is one of the most effective ways to attract attention. This is because consumers’ attention naturally goes to where they see movement.

However, it’s important to remember that the consumer may only see what they are looking for. For example, they may fail to notice that an object has appeared, moved or disappeared when they are focused on other elements of the surroundings. This is known as change blindness and can be seen more clearly in Simons and Chabris’ Selective Attention Test.

Directing attention

Once you’ve attracted the attention of the consumer, you’ll need to engage it in a way that drives the desired behaviour. This could be for commercial objectives such as sales or to improve customer experience, such as self-service support or information retrieval.

It’s important to have a clear visual hierarchy to guide the consumer’s attention to the most important elements of your content. You can do this through scale, variations in colour, contrast and through grouping elements together.

Retaining attention

You’ve gained the consumer attention and directed it to where it needs to be. But how do you retain that attention when there are so many distractions around?

It’s critical to minimise the cognitive load, or the mental processing power that is required to digest your content. If content is too complicated, many users will naturally switch off from it. In order to maximise usability and retain consumer attention, it’s important to minimise the cognitive load as much as possible.

Tools and techniques for attracting, directing and retaining consumer attention

There are many different tools and techniques that you can use to attract, direct and retain consumer attention. These include measuring attention and saliency, utilising effective advertising formats and continuously monitoring the performance of your content.

Measurement and testing

Measuring the effectiveness of your promotional materials enables you to gain an in-depth understanding of how they are attracting and retaining consumer attention.

Tools which are used to measure attention can be divided into predictive analytics and descriptive analytics. Predictive analytics includes eye-tracking heatmaps and artificial intelligence software which predict consumer attention for any given piece of content. Descriptive analytics tools include click and scroll maps, which provide an insight into how consumers interact with your website.

Once you understand how consumers interact with your content and where their attention is attracted, you can begin to make adjustments to your content to avoid distractions, increase interaction and extend the attention span. 

Effective advertising formats

In today’s over-saturated digital world, we need to make the most of  target audiences’ 8-second attention span. One of the most effective ways to attract and retain attention is through the use of visual storytelling tactics.

A recent study found that consumers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video, compared to just 10% when read in text. This demonstrates the power of video in holding attention and getting your message across.

We know that consumers often rely on their emotions for the decision-making process. Video creates the fastest emotional response of any type of media, with that response occurring within just one second. So, if you’re looking to capture the attention of your audience and retain that attention, video is a valuable tool.

Wrap-around adverts are also emerging which create a 360o border around the webpage being viewed. These advertisements create a high-impact promotional opportunity with high levels of attention. In fact, a wraparound ad can generate up to 15x more attention than standard display advertising.

Continuous performance monitoring

It’s also important to continuously monitor the performance and attention share of your campaigns. This can enable you to make meaningful adjustments over time to increase your share of attention and conversion rates.

Useful metrics to measure include:

  • Dwell time – the amount of time that a user spends looking at a webpage or content.
  • Reach – the number of consumers that your content reaches.
  • True reach – the number of consumers who interact meaningfully with your content.
  • Conversion – the number of consumers who become customers after viewing your content.
  • Probability of Perception (PoP) – the percentage of consumers who are likely to notice each element at first glance.
  • Share of Attention (SoA) – the percentage of attention given to each element of your content.
  • Location Attention Score (LAS) – the average level of saliency of each area of an element within your content.

How to use Dragonfly AI to improve attention span

Dragonfly AI is a valuable tool for increasing attention span, whatever type of content you’re producing and whatever channel you’re using. Here’s how you can use Dragonfly AI to improve attention span.

Assess your current content

The first thing to do is to use Dragonfly AI’s heatmapping tools to assess your existing content. This could include your website, video content, printed media, packaging and even in-store displays.

Predictive attention heatmaps will accurately predict what users are seeing first and how successful your content is at grabbing their attention. The ‘hot’ areas of the heatmap, marked in red, will show you which elements are getting the most attention whilst the ‘cold’ areas of the heatmap, marked in blue, will show you which parts of your content are being ignored.

You’ll then be able to make adjustments to your content to ensure that the elements that you want people to see are getting the attention that they deserve, whilst making sure that there aren’t any distractions.

Utilise data-informed design

Once you understand what grabs your customers’ attention, you’ll be able to use this to inform your future content. Rather than guessing what the consumer will be interested in, you can use the data generated by Dragonfly AI to inform your design and make sure that it’s right first time.

The three metrics that Dragonfly AI measures are:

  • Probability of Perception (PoP)
  • Share of Attention (SoA)
  • Location Attention Score (LAS)

These three metrics can give you an in-depth understanding of how your content is likely to perform, before it even completes the design stage.

A/B or multivariate testing

When you’re creating something new, whether it’s a new webpage, video or packaging, creating and testing multiple versions can be both costly and time-consuming. Heatmaps allow you to take the guesswork out of A/B testing, giving you a clear insight of which version will generate the most attention.

In summary

With just an 8-second attention span, the average consumer can be difficult to engage. Not only does your content need to grasp their attention, but it also needs to retain that attention past the critical eight second mark.

Utilising analytics tools such as Dragonfly AI can give you an in-depth understanding of how effective your content is at attracting and maintaining attention, whilst giving you the data that you need to optimise your design and maximise your share of attention.


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