Anyone who has spotted an interesting billboard by the side of a superhighway probably knows the frustration of trying to read an advertisement while flying by at 65-plus miles per hour. In fact, I recall from my days working in marketing and advertising that the longest one can expect a motorist to stay focused on a billboard is about seven seconds—and that seems generous to me.
This dilemma, however, points to the importance of getting and holding a customer’s attention—at least doing so long enough to get a persuasive message across. And in this age of ultimate distraction, this becomes a seemingly insurmountable challenge.
This is born out by a recent study, reported on ScienceDaily, which demonstrated a seeming inability by subjects to stay focused on one medium when two are available. According to the study of media multitasking by Boston College researchers, subjects exposed to a television and a computer and given a half hour to use either device switched their eyes back and forth between TV and computer a staggering 120 times in 27.5 minutes, or nearly once every 14 seconds.
Interestingly, the subjects were not even aware of their own actions, the report notes. On average, participants in the study thought they had looked back and forth between the two devices about 15 times per half hour. In reality, they were looking nearly 10 times as often. Even when quick glances (less than 1.5 seconds) were removed from the equation, people were still switching over 70 times per half hour.
According to the report, understanding the physical behavior of multi-media multitaskers raises questions about the level of comprehension among people who switch their eyes between devices. It adds that for companies that rely on TV or the Internet to communicate with consumers, the findings raise questions about the effectiveness of the two channels as means to garner the attention of potential customers.
Of course, television has been a popular way to promote insurance products for decades, and now we are seeing a lot of attention paid to online marketing as well. Yet this factor of distractibility is a troubling one. Insurance is a product often needing an explanation before being sold, and if we can’t hold viewers’ attention for more than 14 seconds, we are probably not getting our wonderful sales messages across.
Even if a computer user isn’t swiveling his or her head back and forth between screens, the sheer number of distractions (highlighted links) on a single webpage is distracting enough. Multitasking may seem like a cool concept, but the fact is that if we have to divide our attention between competing links or media, we risk the possibility of missing something, or misunderstanding something. If you’ve ever sampled the musical quality of a so-called “one-man-band,” you’ll know just what I mean.
Overall, the deluge of distractions offered online and in modern life in general argues for simpler Web pages that cogently put forth a sales proposition, and have few, if any, links to non-sale-related sites. That means it probably isn’t wise to have Internet ads residing on such pages.
What marketers will have to overcome, however, is the idea that “more (stimulation) is better.” When it comes to the attention of potential customers, the only thing we want more of is their time.
Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.
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