It’s really difficult to keep people engaged these days.
The idea of a short attention span will no doubt make a lot of you think of that last person you were trying to converse with who was ‘umm-ing’ and ‘ahhh-ing’ and generally making the right noises but who was far too busy trying to Snapchat the drink you’d just made for them to really be taking in a word you’re saying (I know because, to my friends, I’m the worst culprit).
And yes, I believe that technology may have given me a slightly shorter attention span. Or…did I always have a short attention span that is now being pandered to by technology…? Hmmm, I forget.
But as everything is compressed down and our attitudes become more fleeting, technology is reacting and we end up in a vicious cycle.
The Consumer or the Tech?
It’s the old chicken and egg scenario – did technology make us this way? Or was it the consumer attitude that caused the demand for such technology? But then surely it must have been technology that created this ravenous consumer appetite?? Ahhhhh!
Let’s have a look at some examples and the knock on effect on your business:
Communication is shorter
I’m not even going to start with letter writing or phone calls or even emails because texting, which, at the time seemed like the shortest and least formal way to contact someone has been hugely compressed in the last decade. From topping up a fiver to send texts at 12p a go, there was no way I was ever texting someone back if my balance was around the £1-2 mark. And if I did send a text, you can assure that every single character space was going to be filled up, even if it did mean I had to put more kisses to someone I didn’t particularly like.
Free texts soon changed all this and were allowed to get longer, spanning 3 or 4 of your free texts and eventually encouraging phone makers to increase the amount of characters allowed. But with contract phones and a shift in format from an inbox to more of an instant messaging display (no longer did you have to go into your ‘sent’ box to see what the hell that person was talking about) texts started to become shorter. Free messaging apps like Skype, WhatsApp, Kik and Facebook messenger have ridden this wave and some have even replaced the email in some corporate environments.
Even Tweeting, which has become a popular platform for business has limited us to using 140 characters to say everything we want to say. The result: we need communication and interaction to be short, sharp and instant – even with business communications.
The knock-on effect? And of course this has had a knock on effect with the consumer attitude– an attitude of ‘they can wait for a reply for five more minutes while I just try to defuse this bomb’ simply won’t wash any more. If you don’t reply instantly, you could be at risk of losing business, friendships or even family. Or worse, receiving another 8 messages in the next half hour. For your company though, a quick response could be the difference between a sale and a public slating.
Food is faster
Sites like justeat.com have now made it easier and quicker to consume – literally. Because fast food isn’t quite fast enough (and nobody wants to be nominated to ring the takeaway) we were soon able to do it all in just a few clicks.
However I believe the consumer was here first on this one – there was a much stronger consumer demand before sites like justeat.com came along and online shopping is testament to this; shopping online for just about anything and everything has made our need for other services such as fast food to catch up and be equally as simple and hassle free.
The knock-on effect? The knock on effect here isn’t so much in the way that we eat or even dine – but in the way it’s encouraged technology to provide us with services in the leisure industry as a whole. For example AroundMe, which lets you know via location data what leisure services are nearby saving you vital hours of walking around a strange city and heaven forbid asking a stranger where they would recommend. Of course this knock on effect is great for local business – bars and cafés can have their good Google reviews displayed and be reached much easier and quicker. Particularly useful if they’re not based in a ‘central’ location.
If we flip this, another really interesting knock on effect is the way in which consumer brands or chains have responded to technology – brands like KitKat, Yorkshire Tea and Oreo have all cottoned on to the benefits of digital interaction and are now using it to their full advantage. You may have read a story this week about a comedian who ordered Domino’s Pizza on the train via Twitter. This is obviously and extreme (and unlikely) consumer demand but with the hastag #PizzaOnATrain trending worldwide, Domino’s – under the watchful eyes of the internet – had no choice but to pull it off without a hitch.
Entertainment is lighter
I’ve touched on this topic very briefly in my article ‘Sex Sells…but Who’s Buying?’. Entertainment has without a doubt changed with technology. The way in which people are amused is an awful lot to do with share culture now – entertainment has morphed into something much less complex than it was ten years ago. Mobile recording, Youtube, Snapchat and Vines have seen entertainment getting shorter and more slapstick.
In some cases, advances in technology has enabled the consumer to become the star – whereas the accidental ‘You’ve Been Framed’ style home video format had dated somewhat by the noughties, the home star like Jenna Marbles in America or KSI here in Britain have become the choice of entertainment viewing for millions online.
The knock-on effect? Businesses can benefit greatly from this. Everyone wants to be the star, wants to be involved in some way. This is why using technology to up your levels of consumer interaction is so vitally important. Consumers now expect to be involved in your marketing campaigns in some shape or form – to get some form of mention or response and using this to your advantage could do wonders to your online presence.
Relationships are fleeting
Even the way in which we engage and relate to others has become victim to the short attention span. A lot of people will blame social networking sites but I think it’s hard to pinpoint this one.
Of course dating sites like Plenty of Fish and apps like Tinder have sped up the dating process tenfold but is technology to blame for our fleeting romances and our fickle attitude to relationships?
Think about it – as soon as someone gets a new partner, it’s almost compulsory to make it ‘Facebook official’. Or if we have a new ‘bestie’ we have to take snaps in order to let everyone know that we’re connected with that person and of course having a great time together. As cynical as it sounds, it’s not unknown to magnify our ‘love’ for people with stories and images to further establish OURSELVES as loveable individuals. However, when it all goes wrong two months down the line, we’re not ashamed to let everyone know that it didn’t quite work out as planned either.
The knock-on effect? Well, unless you’re Durex, who cleverly recognised the more direct way in which technology has effected our relationships and used it to create their viral ‘turn off to turn on‘ campaign, it might not be so obvious.
But, this consumer attitude could mean great things for business – consumers are more willing to ‘love’ your brand or service than ever and let everyone know about it. Look at the way Facebook has developed: not only do you have the option to let everyone know what you’re doing in a status and who with, but what you’re watching/eating/drinking and how it’s making you feel. And if you’re ‘drinking Yorkshire Tea’ and ‘Feeling ecstatically happy’ about it, this reflects on the brand.
This has led businesses to use technology as a means to encourage more feedback and to connect with the consumer in a very public way and of course the consumer is more than willing to play along. However, remember that the fickle consumer works both ways and will soon let everyone know, very publicly, how they feel if you put a foot wrong.
I could get caught up in this little tech/consumer causality dilemma for some time, but the fact is that, no matter what business you’re in, you need to get into the mind of the consumer to be one step ahead. If attention spans really are getting shorter, then you have to be the monkey with the loudest cymbals.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not by any stretch calling the modern consumer stupid – what I’m saying is that you have competition out there online and if you don’t find the latest way to grab your audience’s attention someone else will.