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"Oh, look there's a butterfly" - Marketing in the Age of Distraction®

If you're trying to market something, anything at all, and you feel like what you're doing is a whole lot less effective than it used to be, you're not alone.

All the talk seems to be about fragmentation and digital. And, while that’s important, we may be overlooking a more fundamental issue: Our customers have changed. And I’m not talking about millennials here. Okay, they’re part of it, but I am so tired of hearing how “different” they are—it’s like marketers think they’re a newly evolved species.

What I’m talking about is a change in the environment, and therefore the behavior of almost everyone. It really doesn’t matter if you’re targeting a B2B audience, moms or, yes, millennials; they all represent a different animal from the folks we marketed to a decade ago. They are constantly moving from one content environment to another, chasing butterflies.

Here at Slingshot we call it “Marketing in the Age of Distraction®.” It sort of summarizes how we view the world and why we’ve made some (if not all) the decisions we’ve made during the past decade or so. We think it’s important. And while much of what drives this approach is not new or unique to Slingshot, we believe the implications for how brands go to market (B2B or B2C) are significant and long lasting. In that spirit, I thought I would share some thoughts.

As I mentioned, successful marketing has changed dramatically in the past 10 to 15 years. It’s tempting to say the biggest differences have been the fragmentation of media and the advancement of digital technologies. And certainly there have been major changes.

The following chart, put together by Carat, the world’s leading independent media planning and buying group, is an excellent graphic illustration of the media world, how much more fragmented it is today and how much more time your customers are spending wading through it.

Keynote slides, Creating the Future of Arab Media

In addition:

  • Time spent with digital per day in the United States has increased from three hours 11 minutes in 2010 to five hours 46 minutes in 2014.1
  • Between 87.5 percent and 95.6 percent of individuals ages 12 to 64 will use a mobile phone this year.2
  • In 2015, for the first time, the majority of sales in stores will be influenced by digital media, according to Forrester Research.3

Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that along with the changes in media during the past 15 years, potential customers have themselves changed dramatically. Their behaviors, their orientation, how they spend their time—all have become fractured into bite-size chunks, with advertising surrounding them constantly, whether they see it—or acknowledge it—or not. They’ve changed their approach to staying in touch, finding information and even how they view “friendship.”

The result is that we are trying to get the attention of increasingly distracted individuals.

In fact, I read recently that the average attention span of a human being has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2013. Apparently a goldfish has a nine-second attention span.4 So we’re trying to sell to goldfish. No wonder it seems difficult.

In the coming weeks I will make an effort to convince you that, while digitally driven programs are critical, mass media is not going away. There’s a burning need for you as a marketer to not just find customers, but to find customers where they are paying attention. It’s not about volume, regardless of price; it’s about impact, placement over reach and generating engagement.

The title of this post references a joke about people with Attention Deficit Disorder, which runs through my family like water through a main, and how they are easily distracted, especially by pretty things that move and, well, you know.

The serious question related to this particular idiom is, if my customers are constantly chasing butterflies, how can my advertising be their next butterfly? Something they will look up and pay attention to?

There are three primary ways to be that butterfly:

First, reach them where they have already found their butterfly, in environments where they’re actively listening or engaging with the media, their passion points. In that environment, it’s a lot more likely they’ll pay attention to what we’re saying. This includes spaces related to their interests and social activities.

Second, reach them in new, unexpected ways to interrupt the normal flow of media consumption and surprise them. In other words, make them look up at your butterfly.

And third, understand that everyone’s butterfly is different. Use creative that speaks to them, personalizing the message as much as possible and using approaches that speak to them where they’re living their lives and moving them incrementally along their journey to conversion.

I will dive into each of these points more deeply in the coming weeks, and I look forward to any comments you may have.


1 (eMarketer, Sept. 14)

2 eMarketer_US_Internet_and_Mobile_Users-Midyear_2014_Complete_Forecast

3 eMarketer_Omnichannel_Trends_2015-Mobile_Is_the_New_Retail_Hub

4 (Statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics)

In the last two decades our culture, and therefore our behaviors, have gone through a sea change. This is largely due to the impact of the Digital Age on how your customers are living their lives. It calls for a seismic shift in how we think about marketing, not just a tweak of our tactics.

Over the course of Slingshot’s 20th anniversary year we will examine this shift with a deep look at the new lenses through which all marketing and advertising decisions must be made. We will help you learn how to "be the butterfly" that captures attention in the age of distraction.

– Owen Hannay, Founder and CEO, Slingshot

Posted Tue, Feb 10, 2015 by Owen Hannay in Marketing in the Age of Distraction®