Nowadays, attention span is one of the scarcest commodities we have in modern society. Online life can be addictive and endless, with perpetual anticipation of the next big thing and every brands’ reputation on the line. With this in mind, now is the perfect time to start prioritising and shaping your comms, with authentic and captivating PR strategies. Maintaining your company’s reputation, demonstrating your positive culture, and looking after your own workforce will ensure people are tuned in and listening.
Attention span is defined as the ‘amount of concentrated time on a task without being distracted’. Scientifically, they call it ‘attention failure’, essentially investigating why cognitively we reach for our phones with such ease and frequency at every point in the day. Attention spans are shrinking, with some reports suggesting that humans are 25% less engaged than they were only a few years ago.
Researchers in Denmark studied a range of media types; from movie ticket purchasing habits, popular books, Tweets, as well as Wikipedia attention time. What they found was that the hotness of topic, time in the public sphere, and desire for a new topic vary greatly and depend on the media type. As an example, Twitter is currently fixated on the recent Elon Musk board scandal but people will quickly move on to the next thing. Those doing a deep dive on Wikipedia are engaged for far longer.
How can we overcome this attention span deficit? By moving to briefer, personalised, and authentic comms to engage distracted audiences and create content that is evergreen that won’t be caught up in the trend cycle. Not just with audiences, but with your internal comms too. Using engaging internal comms strategies to hold attention will also ensure this is reflected externally.
Positivity engages audiences, and shines your reputation
Brandon Stanton, the creator of the viral storytelling account Humans of New York, emphasises when writing his personal profiles that he does not describe people in adjectives, but rather describes actions of their life. After all, actions do speak louder than words. Looking across his portfolio of work on social channels (with 20 million followers), he notably gets right to the point, with little explanation or introduction. Your audience is smart enough to get the gist.
The journey of a good narrative in comms
Researchers found that people read information on paper vastly differently than online, as the amount of data to absorb on a singular page in a book is far less than a busy webpage. The slow and linear journey of a book is why it is so pleasing to race towards the end (no spoilers, please!). Your online content should follow suit, and always engage in a complimentary, moving narrative journey.
It seems obvious, but the simplicity of the beginning, middle and end with challenges addressed by solutions, is just the way our brains like to consume. So, when you’re creating content and communicating with your audiences this year, remember to get back to basics. And don’t check your phone whilst writing it- resist the urge, if you can.
Great, you’ve just spotted an interesting article you actually want to read, but of course you’re just about to run into a meeting. Sound familiar? We thought so and it seems to be a regular scenario we all face.
Everyone may now be online, but we are increasingly just skimming over content, failing to properly engage with anything online. If we do want to devote some quality time to a piece of news or an article, we can’t, and frankly it puts us in a bad mood. This is something the media world is starting to recognise.
Attending a recent digital journalism conference, news rewired, showcasing the latest IoT inventions for the media world, we came across PrinterThing. Though still in beta, it enables users to ‘pocket’ articles they like throughout the day and then print off all the news and features at the end of the day to read at their leisure in their own home. Social giants have also already cottoned on to this growing need. We’re sure many of you are already aware and even use the ‘save for later’ functions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, letting you bookmark Tweets, posts and photos to refer back to later.
Immediacy is losing its appeal and we don’t always want to be the ‘always-on’ consumer’, continually gobbling up but not processing content. As the editor of The Monocle highlighted at the conference, we are living in a two-speed media world – fast and slow – and “sometimes it’s good to be slow.” It’s true; we are willing to wait twenty minutes for a cup of coffee, as long as we know it’s guaranteed to be good. We can be patient if it’s worth it.
But what does this shift mean for marketers and PRs, and how should you be catering for these changing preferences?
Strike a balance
Grabbing someone’s attention can be simple, but you also have to keep it – that’s a little trickier. Balancing both is a fine art but one that marketers need to master if they’re going to deliver what consumers want.
First, you’ve got to spike consumers’ interest, using that punchy title, a leading question or a great image or video to make them want to read on – but make sure that there’s substance behind it and avoid clickbait at all costs. Anyone who clicks on a link and finds out that the article or video is irrelevant will be annoyed. If they have specifically saved down content to look at later, taken out precious time to digest it properly, they will be fuming. You may have elicited that all-important click and generated a precious view, but you may have lost a potential customer. Worse, you have may have done damage to your brand.
So, don’t mislead people. Instead, remember that well-known phrase ‘quality over quantity’. Slow it down but make it worth people’s while and just like that great cup of coffee, if they know it will be good, they will keep coming back for more.
Don’t be short-sighted
When it comes to analysing results and reporting, everyone has been raving about the need for real-time data – that’s the only way we can gain real insights into consumer behaviour and preferences. If ever true, it’s no longer the case. If we are saving content to read at a later time, then real-time data will only tell part of the story. To truly know the reach and engagement of your content, you need a comprehensive view taking all activities into account across a much longer time frame. This will provide much more accurate and insightful results than just scrutinising the here and now.
This also presents a further opportunity for marketers and PRs to monitor and track what type of content and what topics are proving the most popular among your target audience. Keeping an eye on which articles, videos, and more that your audiences are saving, for example, will give you a clearer and more informed idea of what resonates with your audience, not just what sparks their interest but also what connects with them on a deeper level.
Can’t beat them, join them
This new disregard for fast-consumption is also a result and rebellion against over-saturation. We are completely inundated by content, pushing many of us to go offline completely. Indeed, a former Facebook exec recently apologised for ‘ripping apart society’ – and I think we all have at least one friend who has completely deleted all their social accounts. However, it is also having a serious impact on businesses across every sector. PR and marketing are no different.
No, we will not all be going offline completely and, no, printed media will not be having a complete revival, but marketers do need to change and re-think how they target consumers online. We already know the importance of SEO, but with consumers trying to drown out the noise from adverts and news feeds, they are only going to listen and, more importantly, engage with what they are specifically looking for. So, make sure you’re offering it to them – providing the content they actively seek out, ensuring your keywords are fully optimised and relevant, and of course, boosting those all-important search rankings. When consumers do go looking, you want them to find you. Increasingly, brands will only be able to engage with their audience if consumers come to them first and with the upcoming era of GDPR, there will be increasing restrictions on how you can reach out to them.
Though we are not abandoning the world of digital completely, we are seeing an increasing frustration and rebellion against online, and certainly the fast-pace associated with it. So, for 2018, take it down a notch and slow it down to make sure you’re offering what your consumers want, how they want it and when, and resonating with their needs. We take this as a very positive sign that marketers and the internet are starting to focus less on what they can do and more on what they should do; a sure sign that we’re evolving, or at least growing up a bit.
Slow and steady may yet win the race.
Facebook Live has been brilliant for communicating with audiences globally, but recently people have been using Facebook Live as audio only, whilst having a still image to accompany their broadcast. Facebook has spotted this trend and has sought to develop a new platform for brands to reach their audience, Facebook Live Audio. The premise is the same as Facebook Live, one click, and you’re live on the internet.
Facebook hopes that brands will use Facebook Live Audio for book readings, interviews and of course talk radio, bringing low-bandwidth, real-time audio broadcast content to news feeds and Facebook pages.
Another thing Facebook hopes to see on this service is podcasts – with the idea being that podcasters use Facebook Live Audio as a new distribution platform for their episodes. This would be attractive for many, being a free streaming format and having huge audience potential.
For businesses, podcasting is a great way to show that you know what you’re talking about and help to win business, so whilst it has a consumer focus, the potential of Facebook Live Audio as a platform for the corporate world is high. The power of the human voice lets you get your personality and expertise across and assure listeners that you’re someone they can trust and do business with. By developing discussions and Facebook Live sessions about industry topics and then promoting these events via social media and emails, you can draw in an audience to listen to your spokespeople using a highly accessible social media platform.
Facebook Live Audio is something that you should definitely keep on your radar should you have plans for boosting your thought leadership PR programme this year, providing an alternative way of reaching out to your target audience.
“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”
As a mother of three teens – all of whom are sadly too old for Harry Potter now – I I have learned to have very low expectations of any Christmas gifts. This way, I can never be disappointed.
It’s a realisation that I think every parent experiences: you are likely to be the buyer, wrapper and giver, for everyone and on behalf of everyone, even your own presents, as well as chief cook and washer upper!
At Christmas, I often get the cheap perfume or slippers, but every now and then, I am bowled over by something so very thoughtful and personal. The gift doesn’t need to be expensive, in fact I’d rather it wasn’t. It’s the wine bottle stopper (good intentions but rarely required!), the Gryffindor socks, the left-handed potato peeler, the pretty picture frame with my daughter’s photo already in it – these are the things that melt your heart because you know someone has thought about it and made an extra effort to make you feel special.
As CEO of Firefly Communications, taking a personal approach is always at the front of my mind. A scatter-gun or blanket approach to PR rarely works, unless you’re lucky enough to be one of the few mega-brands that can still hold a press conference and get every reporter to cover it. After all, PR is changing quickly. ‘Broadcast’ campaigns rarely work and it’s vital to be personalised to cut through the noise. Even the media, and especially bloggers and vloggers, want something tailored to them and their readers or followers.
So how can a PR team personalise its multichannel PR and communications campaigns so that it doesn’t feel like a gift that someone picked up at a service station on the way to see you?
The challenge of 1:1 marketing
A while ago, it was very fashionable to talk about one-to-one marketing. However, unless you deal in very high value, high margin goods, it’s rarely practical.
However, good personalisation is simultaneously time-intensive, difficult and tremendously beneficial. According to research, 52% of online marketers hold personalisation as a central theme in their strategy. Furthermore, 71% claim that it has an impact on ROI.
So, how do marketers accurately personalise communications? Many content marketing brands are keen to discuss personas, but without in-depth and intelligent research, these can simply represent stereotypes. These stereotypes are exactly the poor frameworks which lead people to believe that I enjoy cheap perfume and slippers. And as David Ogilvy famously said ‘the buyer is not a moron, she’s your wife!’ so if you do use personas, please take care.
However, there are several other ways that you can gather the data necessary for personalised marketing. Few of them are ‘quick fixes’, but as most experienced marketers know, there are no silver bullets in our industry.
1. Know your customer: This is where it helps to have a solid relationship with the sales and account management teams. If you have the chance to attend a sales meeting, customer summit or check-in, you can garner vital information about customer preferences, why people buy from your brand and so on.
After all, there’s no point marketing your brand as Lamborghini if your prospects are Volvo buyers. Failing that, interrogate the sales team on what makes customers tick. What do they read? What do they watch? What events to do they go to?
2. Big data or not-so-big data: If you’ve been doing any kind of campaign activity so far, you will already have some information on your prospects. Mailchimp, for example, gives subscribers a star rating and allows you to view individual activity on each subscriber, including opens, click throughs etc. This information represents a goldmine of activity allowing you to tailor communications – or to reserve your mailings for highly engaged prospects!
This data does take time to gather and you must expect to make a few mistakes, like buying chocolate for your dairy-intolerant daughter-in-law. It’s important to remember that the plural of anecdote is not data, and to gather enough information to make a reliable and valid decision.
3. Retain your staff: This may seem left-field, but when you are dealing with analytics and marketing to a very specific audience, it takes time to build the necessary familiarity with your brand, content, style and what works. Furthermore, when marketers must also understand their brand’s audience and their content consumption preferences in turn, it’s vital to retain staff who understand this, rather than replacing and re-educating, which can set brands back by months.
4. Understand the purchasing cycle – if there is one: Not all companies and organisations work to a set purchasing cycle, but many more do. We find that there are a lot of technology companies whose financial years run by calendar years or the traditional April – March financial year.
This means they are generally planning their new budgets in November or February to be signed off the following month before the new year begins. An ill-timed approach can result in a ‘near-miss’ and a long wait before the year starts again! This means that a good CRM, which allows you to note when staff within organisations are likely to buy or be thinking about buying, is a crucial investment.
So, as you start to deck the halls with boughs of holly and pick up your festive gifts, spare a thought for all your prospects who are also hoping for a personalised communication this Christmas.
After all, they may really want a nice pair of socks (or a Harry Potter DVD) and when it comes to marketing and PR, a little personalisation and thought goes a long way.
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