Your Attention Span Is Less Than That of a Bloody GOLDFISH (And So Is Your Customer’s)

IN: Marketing, Writing

I remember my exact thought the first time I ever saw a sales letter: What a crock.

I was working with an outside marketing consultant who was brought on board to work one-on-one with me on a long-term campaign designed to expand the company from one location to three over the course of an aggressively short period of time.

We performed all sorts of fancy SWOT analyses, re-envisioned the company’s core messaging, devised our plan of attack, and began rolling it out…when it happened.

I was instructed to develop a direct mail letter campaign.

A direct mail letter campaign that followed a very old school, archaic, formulaic approach, including an opening line that began with, “Did you know that ________________________?”

I choked on my Lean Cuisine. (It was 2006, after all.)

Judging by the name of this blog, you can probably tell that “old school, “archaic,” and “formulaic” are three of my longest-standing arch nemeses.

How could I write such a thing in good faith!?
Didn’t they know what they were asking me to do!?
BETRAY the scared saint of expansive creativity in the name of….tried and true?
How would I explain my actions to the good people of…
…okay, well, there were no good people to explain my actions to. But, whatever. I was on a roll.

Alas, my creative genes came accompanied by a set of obedient ones, and so, I had no choice but to obey. BUT—not before I convinced the team to let me perform a series of split tests, where I would rewrite a second variation of the same letter, essentially saying the same thing, but in a new way. An Ashified way. (As it would later become known).

I had a theory: Data should inform what you say, not necessarily how you say it.

It seemed that many of my marketing peers were falling into the trap of thinking that they were getting results from the specific words used, rather than what those words communicated. And so their work became constrained. Limited. Stunted. And so did their results. (This is still an issue in the copywriting industry. “Tried and true” has taken up residency right next to your grandpa.)

Turns out – *fans self* – my variations beat the pants off of the tried and true. And ever since, this theory – that the data should inform what you say, not necessarily how you say it – has underlined my work as a whole, where fresh & original is the #1 requirement of anything that leaves my desk.

Most recently, I had the honor of developing the creative for a series of high-level email marketing campaigns for a national company whose target market was brides. They had purchased email lists from places like David’s Bridal and The Knot, and were previously relying on certain tried & true key phrasing to guide their email content. But guess whose variations came out on top?

You know why?

Because people are bored little shits, that’s why.

I feel like this is a good time to mention that the average person’s attention span is now down to a not-so-respectable eight seconds—or one second less than that OF A GOLDFISH.

Forget the Chinese—we have way bigger fish to fry. (Fish pun for the win?)

Back when I began my crusade to freshen up the direct mail industry, the world’s eyes were glazing over with yet another piece of exactly identical, sales hypey piece of horse shit being flung in their face from every which way. Driveway mail boxes jammed full of horse shit. And yet, so many companies aspired to fling some more horse shit. Everybody’s flinging horse shit—this must be what you do! Let’s fling some horse shit, everybody!

But, of course, here’s the thing: When everybody’s flinging horse shit, you start identifying everything that looks like horse shit & smells like horse shit…as horse shit. Even when it’s a perfectly delicious chocolate mousse. (For the record, I actually think chocolate mousse is disgusting, but for the sake of example.

So now what?

Well, now the problem has expanded and evolved. Now, we don’t just have horse shit being flung into our drive way mailboxes – it’s being flung into our digital ones, too!

And into our news feeds!

And into our Twitter feeds!

And into our faces via pop ups and opt-ins and free downloads and hype, hype, hype!

If the people in charge of marketing were scratching their heads before, now they’re really in for a treat. Now, there’s more horse shit than ever. And with an attention span less than a goldfish, marketers need to figure out how to innovate, or go get a job at Target. (I worked at Target myself for a month back in college. Discovered red is not my best color.)

Innovate is a funny word, isn’t it? Everyone says they’re innovating. No one’s actually innovating.

And I can only help but think it’s because most people think that “best practices” are actually the best, and that is that.

But by those standards, we should still be giving lobotomies. Who’s got a drill? (Oh who are we kidding, I can’t even cork a wine bottle.)

Remember: People will pay attention when there’s something worth paying attention to.

Everything else?

Is mental spam.

And just like all spam –

It gets filtered out.


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