How a Goldfish Is Relevant to Your Marketing Efforts

By John R. Aberle | Small Business Management

Nov 09

Despite how short a time email has been around, Internet marketers are already reminiscing about the “good old days” of high open rates, retention, and conversions.  It’s no wonder you have a hard time capturing their attention. Their inboxes are filled with hundreds of emails a day while their social media sites overwhelm them with even more content.

Screen capture of image illustrating "Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad," article about 5,000 ad messages per day

To appreciate the level of overwhelm, look at this figure from nine years ago. Louise Story, in her article on January 15, 2007, “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad,” cited a study by market research firm Yankelovich. They estimate a person living in a city today is exposed to 5000 daily ad messages. The figure I used twenty years ago from the marketing experts then was 3000 daily messages.

The result, of course, is that attention spans are at an all-time low. Goldfish can focus longer than the average person now.

Screen capture of image illustrating "Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad," article about 5,000 ad messages per day

Consumer Insights, Microsoft Canada. “Attention Spans.” Spring 2015.


Goldfish Have Longer Attention Spans than People

Here is an amazing, relatively recent statistic. Thanks to digital devices and the Internet, goldfish now have longer attention spans than people.

According to a Spring 2015 research report by Consumer Insights, Microsoft Canada, human attention spans have dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013, 1 second less that a goldfish which has a 9 second attention span. There are a lot more fascinating results of Microsoft’s study for marketers.

But the main concern here is that with so much information available on the Internet, searchers often decide within less than a second if something fits their needs. If not, they jump to another site.

How to Quickly Grab and Hold Your Prospect’s Interest

Because you must grab attention, fast, the headline becomes crucial. Its role is to get your visitor to slow down long enough to read the next paragraph and that paragraph must sell the next one. Key to that headline grabbing attention is the benefit statement.

In other words, like all relationship selling and marketing, you must speak to your prospect’s concerns. Answering the prospect’s question, “What’s in it for me?” is more important than ever. This implies that you understand your idea customer’s issues.

In addition to the headline, you can use other elements to capture their interest:

  • Images or videos
  • Color
  • Font sizes (especially on mobile, you will probably need to use larger font sizes)
  • Amount of content – usually short is better for initial efforts to capture attention.
  • Bullet points

The conclusions the Microsoft Canada report had reinforce those points and stress:

    • “Defy expectations, leverage rich media and movement to grab attention
    • “Embed calls to action, be interactive, use sequential messaging, and build cohesive, immersive experiences across screens”

Consumer Insights, Microsoft Canada. “Attention Spans.”  Spring 2015.

The good news out of the Microsoft Canada study is that people are becoming more adept at multitasking, at least those called multi-screeners. So, while they have a more difficult time focusing for a length of time, they excel at recognizing something they consider more important or more interesting. Just be aware that once you have their attention, you must work hard to keep them interested.

After all, you can’t sell to a goldfish so you that means use headlines that speak to their concerns, images or videos, color font sizes, only as much content as you really need, and bullet points. Further, leverage rich media and motion then use calls-to-action and strive for interactivity, use sequential messaging and cohesive, immersive experiences designed to work well with a variety of devices.

Open your heart in selling,

John's digital signature written with mouse






John R. Aberle

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About the Author

I have a strong love for small businesses, especially brick and mortar companies. After an 18-year career in sales and marketing, I started my own service company, which I grew in both sales and profits for the first five years. In my sixth year, the bottom dropped out of the printer market such that it made more sense to sell my assets and return to Southern California. There I went to work for an international small business consulting company. I spent over three years on the road with them helping small businesses to become more profitable and better managed. I then started my own company specializing in sales and marketing consulting, coaching and training. My emphasis is on heart-centered, relationship selling that empowers prospects to make their own choices.