Thought leadership in a world of goldfish brains


Our attention span is now less than that of a goldfish. According to a Microsoft study released earlier this year, the average human attention span has fallen to just eight seconds. The goldfish is believed to be able to maintain a solid nine1.

Much of what was presented at last week’s International Content Marketing Summit in London was clearly designed to make the most of these eight seconds. And from what I’ve seen it’s pretty successful in doing so: See, for example, Meagan Cignoli’s quirky videos on Instagram2, Google UK’s amusing use of data on Twitter3, or Facebook’s investment in spherical videos4.

But what do diminishing attention spans mean for thought leadership? Should you be figuring out how to distil your twenty page report on digital transformation into an eight second attention-grabbing video and suggesting your writers look for work elsewhere? Well, yes – and no – and yes.

Yes: If you’re promoting your thought leadership, there is a lot to be learnt from B2C marketing in terms of making best use of your chosen channel to grab attention quickly.  A three minute video opening with 30 seconds of pleasant music and titles isn’t going to cut it.

And no: We shouldn’t take these lessons too far. Senior executives want to know more. While my eleven-year-old may put a pair of trainers on his Christmas list on the back of an Instagram campaign; your senior executive wants to know about your point of view before adding you to her Christmas list. The average attention span may be eight seconds but people still subscribe to Harvard Business Review, watch TED videos for eighteen minutes, and buy and read business books. People do make time for quality content.

And yes: What we should be doing is applying the lessons learnt in engaging an easily distracted audience to improving the quality of thought leadership:

·         Know your audience. Who are you writing for? What do they know already? What answers are they searching for?

·         Make it relevant to them. Eleven year old boys aren’t interested in where their trainers were manufactured. (Based on my sample of one, they want to see shots of cool older boys wearing them.) Senior executives aren’t interested in everything you know about the insurance industry.

·         Engage your audience. A two page essay on why you thought it important to create a piece of thought leadership and how grateful you are to all those involved isn’t likely to be of much interest to your readers. Remember those eight seconds? Use them well. Does the cover scream ‘you have to read me now’? Have you captured your reader’s attention within the first few sentences?

·         Keep them engaged. Play with their imagination and their emotions. Help them visualise themselves leading dramatic change. And give them something to remember.






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