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Marketing and information overload: a cry for attention

Don't go over the attention limit as marketer

Marketing and information overload:
a cry for attention

There’s something odd going on with us. More and more people are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. These attention disorders seem to be a symptom of a much larger problem. What’s wrong with our ability to focus? And how should we as marketers deal with it?

Attention Problems

According to a Canadian study, between the years 2000 and 2015 our average attention span dropped from 12 to 8 seconds. Brain scans have also shown that information penetrates less deeply in our brains than it used to, including those of us without a medical illness or attention disorders.

This apparent shift in how (and to what extent), we process information is actually not that strange. The world around us has developed very rapidly in recent decades. The pace of life is getting faster, we have more and more audio-visual stimuli around us, and we have to take an increasing number of decisions and choices about anything and everything. Our brains develop a lot slower because evolution hasn’t been able to keep up with the development of technology and information around us. For many people the result is an overload of the brain.

The retreating man

You now see that more and more people have become aware that a certain limit has been reached. There is an unprecedented popularity of relaxation methods like yoga, meditation and mindfulness to deal with the increase of mental or physical stress associated with these developments. You also see a real backlash from people who deliberately avoid social media, or even try to stay away from the Internet. The reason for all this is to get more peace of mind and gain more control over your own attention.

Unconsciously our brain helps us to prevent overloading. At a certain point it actually just stops processing information because we have a focus filter in our brain. This filter ensures that the limited brain power we have available for conscious attention and information is given to important issues. The rest is simply filtered out. And that is not useful when you have a product to promote.

What now?

Traditionally, marketing tends to want to break the attention filter by screaming louder for attention. We are now at a point where it ends up as counterproductive. So we face the challenge of how to adapt and focus on getting attention for our business without shouting, and to make sure that our product or brand will also be remembered later on.

To achieve this it is important to realize how attention and memory works. Firstly it’s important to know that conscious attention leads directly to the storing of a memory. The novelty effect therefore is of great importance. Think of children who are fully immersed in new experiences, creating vivid memories for themselves. Mindfulness is based on this principle. The practitioner focuses all his attention on one thing, for example an apple. By consciously generating great enthusiasm and sensual aspects such as colour, smell, and taste, the apple is ‘experienced’. Now there are numerous tips in this area for people who want to train their attention in this way. But how you generate this as a third person, as a marketer, is a major challenge. Of course you have to keep your campaigns innovative and interesting, but that really speaks for itself.

Organizing information

There are still some details that you should keep in mind when designing your marketing strategy. The way information is processed and stored in the brain depends on efficient organization. The brain mainly works on the basis of categories. That is why we are so good at associating different characteristics with different things. So it may be that when you think of the colour red, you may automatically think of a fire engine. Or maybe even a tasty juicy apple falls into the category of ‘red’ for you.

To meet the desire of our brain to create order, you need to keep your communications consistent and clear. And the simpler the better: Minimalist advertising without unnecessary stimuli might be the key to effective marketing that is not too demanding on the attention.

Timely communications, such as newsletters or commercials may have the highest efficacy when they are distributed in the morning, when the minds of our audience are still fresh and not overloaded.


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