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Seth Godin, a well-known marketer and public figure is credited with saying that “marketing is a contest for people’s attention.” In today’s technology driven environment where people often have access to multiple Internet connected devices, garnering an individual’s attention and holding it for a substantial amount of time is an increasingly challenging prospect. Information on the Internet is commonly provided and shared in short bursts. Examples include Facebook posts and Twitter tweets (which have a 140 character limit); both of which allow users to include photographic content if they choose. The rapidity and frequency with which information sharing occurs makes it easy to jump from one thing to the next which has some interesting implications on a deeper level.

Harvard Business School Historian Nancy Koehne’s interest in the shift within the book publishing industry towards shorter and more frequent publishing cycles and serialization strategies led her to look for data on the average human attention span. The information she found indicated that as of 2013 the average attention span of a human being was about 8 seconds (you can find the interview where she discusses this topic in greater detail here). To put that into some perspective the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds. In fact, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine (the source of Nancy Koehne’s data on this topic as well) the most currently recorded 8 second average for a human’s attention span is the result of a drop by about 4 seconds from its mark as of 2000. So there does seem to be something bigger going on here with some interesting implications for marketers.

An interesting article in Adweek discusses some of the findings from a study conducted by Yume in partnership with IPG Media Lab, a company that develops technology for multi-screen advertising. The study included the gathering of information from more than 7,000 respondents. One particular point of interest was that participants in the study had a greater rate of recall for messages delivered in video format while at home when it was delivered via smartphone versus tablet versus desktop computer, with respective rates equaling 41%, 39% and 37%. Another interesting finding was that people were more receptive to ads that were received while in a public place compared to when they received them at school or work; and those same people were the least receptive to them when received at home.

It’s safe to say that while this type of information is valuable and the actual study most likely goes into much greater detail (in regards to the findings) there are a lot of other factors to consider when looking at these types of factors when placing advertisements. For instance, is the low rate of receptivity for ads received in the home related to (at least in some cases) the idea that some consumers value ads less at home because they have other forms of distraction and entertainment available to them that they value more highly? If that’s the case perhaps an ad that provides information that has a value added quality in relation to the sources of entertainment and distraction that a specific individual values might be responded to more positively when received in the home environment. Digital marketing technologies offer a wealth of demographic data to analyze and use for targeting purposes. For savvy marketers there are all sorts of factors that can be examined and considered when looking at the who, what, when, where, how, and why of their advertising efforts.

From a marketing management perspective here are some questions to consider:

  • What kind of advertisements might be best delivered to an individual while they are at work and through which device? Would this depend on the industry the individual works in or the role they have and if so why?
  • As a marketer what kinds of information would you hope to find within a report on the attentiveness of audiences based on location and device (i.e. the study by Yume)? What kinds of decisions would you use that information to help support and why?
  • Despite the challenges of holding the attention of consumers what are some effective ways that you’ve seen in which marketers have delivered longer and more complex content to consumers through multiple device channels?