American Marketer


Goldfish-sized attention spans: The marketer’s new challenge

July 22, 2015

Derrick Lin is senior brand strategist at Resource/Ammirati Derrick Lin is senior brand strategist at Resource/Ammirati


By Derrick Lin

The average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to eight seconds.

That is shorter than the attention span of a goldfish. Glub-glub.

One school of thought on the cause of our shrinking attention spans is our growing ownership and dependence on multiple screens and devices. Continuous pings, flashes and alerts demand our attention now, and it is fundamentally changing the way we operate.

For marketers, the shrinking of attention spans is yet another challenge in the age of multiple content sources and engagement options.

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The race to be top of consumers’ minds has never been more critical, and the ability to retain that attention for the length of time it takes to have an impact and snag a sale is imperative. And perhaps the most important, yet heavily contended area for engagement, is mobile – the go-to device for consumers.

We compile a quarterly mobile intelligence report that tracks the mobile features and functionality of 115 of America’s leading retailers.

Researchers take a deep dive into the latest developments in retailer mobile marketing initiatives and, not surprisingly, the latest report corroborates that retailers are turning to very specific tactics to maximize the eight-second window.

For example, Zara and Bloomingdale’s ensure that users pay attention to the most important assets on-screen by eliminating clutter and maximizing full-bleed product images.

Amazon gives users control over the type of push notifications they receive and when they receive them.

And Sephora avoids message fatigue by adding inspirational and tutorial topics in its push notifications.

But while these retailers are maximizing eight-second attention spans, others are failing to make a connection.

Here are some do’s and don’ts that can help guide strategy for mobile executions.

Do: Use strong imagery
Eight seconds does not give users a lot of time to absorb copy and clutter.

Instead, retailers should adopt full-bleed, high-res product images that attract attention and allow closer inspection.

Also, retailers should remove user interface elements that prevent consumers from seeing what they actually want to see. Best-in-class example: the Zappos mobile app.

Don’t: Leverage push notifications solely for promotions
While push notifications are a good tactic to make users aware of promotions, the No. 1 reason why users delete a retailer app is to eliminate annoying push notifications. Yet, the majority of retailers still rely heavily on this tactic.

Instead, ensure that push notifications provide actual value and that the body of a push message can be absorbed in the moment. Best-in-class example: Sephora push notifications.

Do: Create skimmable content
Whether it is an email, a push notification or a product page, content must be skimmable and easily digestible on mobile devices.

Critical information is often dropped below the fold or does not load consistently on mobile.

Great mobile design presents skimmable information at a glance, with the option to explore more information with a single click. Best-in-class example: Bath & Body Works email.

Don’t: Create cookie cutter SMS
SMS should feature unique offers, not duplicates of the same offers featured on other channels and touch points.

Engaged, loyal and high-spending consumers are the most likely to sign up for marketing across multiple touch points.

Sending the same message to the most important consumer group is not the smartest way to increase sales. Best-in-class example: Staples SMS.

Do: Have a clear call to action
Retailers need to give engaged consumers immediate and meaningful actions, such as “tap to see more” or “shop the product,” in prominent spots or provide deep linking to specific sections within a mobile app, and not homepage links. This minimizes the opportunity to exit, especially when email or a Google search kick-start the shopping journey. Best-in-class example: MyHabit.

Don’t: Have a complicated user interface
Complicated navigation requires a user to go through numerous steps or taps to get to what is important, which is not an ideal experience for a mobile user on the go.

A simplified user interface minimizes distraction, frustration and user abandonment. Best-in-class example: the H&M mobile app.

Shortened consumer attention spans and increased distractions certainly pose serious challenges for retailers, but all is not lost.

The same Microsoft report also concluded that people have become incredible multitaskers.

So retailers should continue to ping, flash and alert consumers, but ensure that every interaction is seamless and moves the consumer journey forward. Because the clock is ticking.

Derrick Lin is senior brand strategist at Resource/Ammirati, Columbus, OH. Reach him at