Posted by Fabrick on 21 June 2017

We have all heard of the phrase, the memory of a goldfish, but is it true? It’s claimed that goldfish have a memory of just 9 seconds and this fact is then used to reinforce the point that research has shown that humans can only concentrate for 8 seconds. So putting the goldfish to one side for a minute, if we as consumers only have a concentration span of 8 seconds, how as marketers do we influence in such a short period of time?

Firstly, is the fact that we only have a concentration span of 8 seconds technically correct? Probably not. Every day we spend much longer concentrating on something – reading an email, listening to a colleague. However, it’s maybe true that our subconscious memory span is only 8 seconds – if we are reading a magazine our minds may only give us 8 seconds to digest information we are scanning, absorb it and provide us with an emotional response such as turn the page, read more etc.

So where does the 8 second myth come from? It comes from a study conducted by Microsoft in 2015. They surveyed 2,000 people and monitored the brain activity of 112 additional people using electroencephalograms (EEGs). It was observed that the average human attention span is rapidly declining. In the year 2000, we could boast having an attention span of 12 seconds. Not anymore. The Microsoft study revealed that we now have an attention span of eight seconds – making our attention span shorter than that of a goldfish!

So not only do we have low attention spans but it is getting lower. So what as marketers should we being doing about this? It has been estimated that we’re now exposed to about 5,000 daily adverts and messages. Couple that with declining attention spans and it makes sense that most of your prospects aren’t even noticing your messages.

One solution is consistent messaging and volume to create a repetitive message pattern. This is a proven method of breaking through the noise of the 5,000 daily messages and the main reason why major brands increasingly focus on displaying the same ads. In the case of TV advertising, this is why you can sometimes see the same ad multiple times in one day

But does it make financial sense? In short yes. Research has shown that this approach allows brands to tap into the psychological principle called the ‘mere-exposure effect’. Also known as ‘the rule of 7’, the idea behind this principle is simple: The more people are exposed to your message, the more they take note of it and act on it.

However, advertising can be a very expensive format and let’s face it, not every construction product manufacturer or distributor has the budget to be placing full page advertisements in the key trade press each month. But that’s ok, advertising is not the only solution and the principle is the same whichever format you choose to use – repetition builds brand recognition.

That said, people do react differently to messages online versus those in print. The Microsoft research found that people who spent more time on digital media actually used their attention in very different ways. It showed that digital media users are more intensive, more efficient and extracted more information more quickly. It would seem that digital media is training our brains to become better at processing information through short bursts of high attention. In other words, digital media lets us process more information, more quickly.

In addition, the research showed that we are becoming better at alternating between different things – how often do you finding yourself multi-tasking on line? Googling one thing, writing an email and writing a document, jumping from one to another without any loss of concentration.

The overriding conclusion of the research is that our attention isn’t diminishing. Instead it’s becoming more demanding. We are able to process information faster and more efficiently and we’re always hungry for more.

So does the goldfish myth matter anymore? As humans we are evolving. We want more and more information and so the 8 second rule doesn’t count anymore as it’s not a case of us only having an attention span of 8 seconds, but more a fact that we want more than 8 seconds of information.

Yes, good marketing works on clear messaging and repetition of messaging and brand, but it is also about creating content that is informative and interesting – it has to be something we want to read and digest and take action upon.

If you are a construction product manufacturer appealing to an architect, you need to get their attention and then explain why your product is so good, how it can help their next project and provide them with the information they need to go to that next step – whether this is BIM details, performance specifications or case study application examples. If you’re a contractor and you want to influence real estate owners, you need to explain what makes you different, what your pedigree is and what sets you apart from your competitors and leave them wanting to meet you and find out more.

Bottom line, your customers aren’t goldfish – so don’t treat them like they are. I would also like to add that in defence of goldfish, scientists have proven that goldfish memory spans are nowhere near as short as 9 seconds. Your goldfish can actually remember things for at least five months! Don’t let’s start on ‘a customer’s 5 month attention span’ myth though …..

David Ing, Managing Director, CFA

Leave a comment