Content marketing pain: does your audience have a short attention span?

A major challenge currently confronting content marketing efforts by many brands is how to capture and hold the attention of an audience for the length of time it takes to consume editorial content.

We’re living in a fast moving, busy, time pressed age and the level of commitment required to read 500-word articles and blogs, or watch a 3-minute video, is pretty high. That’s why most of us prefer to skim headlines and graze only occasionally.

Content marketing positions itself as a relevant, useful and value-added alternative to advertising. But where advertising is short, punchy, sometimes entertaining and always ready to motivate with a call to action, good content might be long and time consuming, educational rather than entertaining, and inspirational rather than urgent.

So why do brands think they can succeed where media publishers – the people who create relevant, newsworthy stories about human drama, sex and politics – have struggled? Does this mean that articles, blogs, videos and other forms of content should be short and sweet?

The answer, I believe, is that content marketers can learn from the advertising form – visual, teaser, headline, copy and contact information – but the content itself must always be tailored to the relevant interest levels of the intended audience.

It is a mistake to stereotype people with the assumption that most people nowadays have a short attention span because we’re just too busy, cynical and time pressed to bother with long forms of content. The problem may just be that you’re failing to identify, segment and create content according to your audience, and their place in the consumer decision making cycle.

In other words, short and sweet isn’t better than long and detailed, because the level of engagement will depend on how engaged, qualified and interested the audience is. Don’t just write content for content sake. Instead, make sure you understand:

  • Who you are writing for;
  • What stage they are at in the decision making cycle; and
  • How interested they are in the topic.

Your audience dictates the shape and nature of your content. A well qualified audience who is actively in the ‘evaluation’ stage will be happy to consume more detailed information than somebody who is yet to recognise that they even have a need.

For example, selling medical insurance to people in their 20s may be challenging because they’re yet to recognise their need and probably haven’t even contemplated that medical insurance may be valuable to them. In this instance, keep it short, sweet, entertaining and succinct – quick enough to be consumed in an instant because your audience’s attention is fleeting.

However, somebody in an older demographic, is more aware of the value of medical insurance and may be trying to determine his or her risk of needing medical insurance, what product is most suitable for them and what the cost effective options are available for their age group.

Writing a lengthier educational piece on various types of medical insurance – pros, cons, pitfalls and comparisons – is more appropriate for the second audience.

It is not wise to presume that ‘nobody has time anymore’ and that ‘people just aren’t interested in being sucked into heavy paragraphs of text’ because it is more important to understand your audience and create content, long or short, to match their level of interest.

Let's Work Together