The Eight-Second Countdown
According to Joe McCormack, author of Brief: Make a Big Impact by Saying Less, the attention span of the average American has dropped, over the past decade or so, from 12 seconds to just 8 seconds. Because of the boom in electronic technology, people are assailed nearly every minute of every day with information — some of it highly relevant, some of it not.
Think about it. With smart phones and tablets and iPods, most of us are under constant bombardment by all types of input: text messages, emails, Instagrams, updates, Tweets, memes, even cat videos. Most of us have responded to this onslaught by learning to quickly scan incoming data and then, just as quickly, dismiss it.
What does this mean for businesses? It means your website, ad, or marketing email has just eight little seconds to grab the attention of potential customers before you’ve lost them forever. If you haven’t caught their interest in that tiny eight-second window, they’ve already moved on to something else. As Mr. McCormack said in a March 2014 interview on CBS This Morning, for businesses today, the art of brevity has become an “essential skill.”
Here’s what everyone in marketing, including American copywriters, needs to know about keeping it brief.
- Get to the point – This seems fairly obvious, but it’s not intuitive; it’s a learned skill. Many businesses make the mistake of presenting reams of data and expecting their customers to connect the dots. They won’t. They don’t have time. Do it for them. In clear, concise, compelling language, come right out and say what you want your audience to take away. “We’re the best.” “Buy now.” “You need this product.” Whatever your essential business message, come right out and say it before your potential customers tune you out.
- Be prepared – That may sound like a Boy Scout motto, but in the business world, it’s a live or die maxim. If you are not quite sure exactly what information you’re trying to impart with your marketing campaign, or don’t know just what direction you’re hoping to send potential customers, your message will be messy and unclear. Before you try to design your new web page, or compose that Tweet or Facebook post, be sure you know exactly what you need to say. If you bloat your verbiage with rambling content or unnecessary introductory material, your reader will be long gone before you ever get to the most important part of your message.
- Avoid over-explaining – You know all the ends and outs of your products or services. You are probably quite proud of them and want to showcase them in all their glory. Refrain. Especially in your initial contact with potential customers. In your ads or social media marketing, your only goal is to stand out in the crowd and grab that ever illusive attention. Once that’s achieved, there are other, more suitable outlets for more detailed presentations of your products. Those customers intrigued enough by your initial offering will make time later to come to your website and search out the more detailed information they crave.
Kate C is a teacher, freelance writer, and organic gardening enthusiast. She lives in the desert, but loves the mountains. She shares her home with her husband of 27 years and a fat, sassy Boston terrier named Tess.