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An 8-Second Attention Span? Not So Fast

By Ginger Conlon

One of the most popular stats shared the past few years to emphasize the importance of relevance in marketing is that humans now have a shorter

attention span than goldfish:


Goldfish = 9 seconds

Humans = 8 seconds


The Microsoft study that uncovered this popular data point noted that “heavy multi-screeners” are easily distracted by numerous media streams. Of course

they are. But we’re not all distracted all the time — even online. We’re a culture

of binge-watchers who will most certainly be engaged when the content is,

well, engaging.


A new study from Prezi finds that the likelihood of distraction online and in meetings directly correlates to the quality of the content being presented. And, that maintaining attention is nearly as precarious a walking a tightrope strung across a crevasse.


Prezi’s “State of Attention 2018” report reveals the findings of a survey of more than 2,000 business professionals on what content they deem attention-worthy today. Most notable considering the popularity of the goldfish stat: Sixty percent of respondents say their ability to give a piece of content their undivided attention has increased over past year. One potential reason for this concerns choice. Nearly half of respondents (49 percent) agree that they’ve become more selective about the content they consume, and 38 percent bookmark content to return to it, presumably, when they can give it their undivided attention.


“There’s never enough time and always a lot of content, and with people being more selective than ever, content quality needs to improve,” says Nadjya Ghausi, VP of marketing at Prezi. “Marketers have to grab attention using great stories—a strong narrative and captivating visuals—and do it when it’s most relevant to the audience they’re trying to reach.”


What do business professionals consider to be engaging content?


A captivating story: 55 percent of respondents say that a great story captures their attention and keeps them focused, and 90 percent says presentations especially need a strong narrative to be engaging

Conversation around the content: 41 percent of respondents note that stimulating dialog keeps them interested in the content being presented

Visuals: 33 percent of respondents say that visual stimulation is essential to maintain their engagement


Ghausi recommends that marketers create a cinematic experience that brings stories to life. “That’s how people want to consume information,” she says. Pages of dense text is yesterday’s way of sharing content, she adds; today’s stories are dynamic and visual and interactive.


One of the biggest obstacles that marketers face in engaging business professionals is overcoming their inclination to multitask. A staggering 95 percent of those polled for the study admit that they multitask during meetings. And, 52 percent of respondent say that as a result of trying to split their attention across two or more piece of content, they’ve watched, read, or listened to something multiple times.


Another challenge is that some business professionals limit their content intake. A full 63 percent of respondents say they don’t actively seek content; they let it find them. And 38 percent claim they consume all content via digital channels.


When it comes to marketing to this more selective audience, relevance is essential, Ghausi says. “Once you’ve captured their interest and are providing value, they’re willing to tune in. Don’t overlook that moment,” she advises. “How will you engage and keep people once you’ve got them?” Her answer: More content that’s contextually relevant and engaging; that’s as visually appealing as it is informative.


“It’s not that our attention spans are decreasing,” Ghausi says, “they’re evolving into selective moments of engagement. We’re being more selective about the content with engage with. So, as marketers, we need to think about attention as the new currency: Once you have someone’s attention don’t squander it.”

About the Author

Ginger Conlon, chief editor and marketing alchemist at MKTGinsight, catalyzes change in marketing organizations. She is a frequent speaker on marketing and customer experience, and serves in advisory or leadership roles for several industry organizations. Ginger was honored with a Silver Apple lifetime achievement award for her contributions to the marketing industry.

Find her at @customeralchemy and on LinkedIn.