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The battle for customer attention

Fig. — 
October 14, 2020
I think my attention span is broken. Oh, and I might be addicted. I spend about 4 hours a day on my phone — a quarter of my waking hours. During these hours, I scroll through 180 meters worth of content (!). And if your web page doesn’t convince me within 10 seconds I’m already off to the next one.

Now, you might think: “Wow, she has a problem.” But these numbers aren’t MINE. They’re averages pulled from research on consumer behavior. Which means, they’re YOUR numbers too.

The data paints a clear picture, our global attention span is dwindling. This makes me wonder…

Yesterday, I watched Harry Potter 7 (part 1 and part 2) for 4 hours and 36 minutes straight without getting distracted. It seems an impossible accomplishment.
I mean, 4,5 hours of full focus— no checking Instagram, reading up on email, or messaging friends. How did this happen?! It’s simple:

The power of a good story is undeniable. Think about it: when’s the last time you binged-watched a season on Netflix or couldn’t drag yourself away from that new book? Exactly, we’re drawn to stories. Big time.

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash (this is basically me while watching HP)

The strategic advantage of stories.

If you're in the business of selling something, anything really, you need to tap into this marketing superpower of storytelling.

Seth Godin, author of 18 international best-sellers, puts it nicely:

"You're not going to win by being the maker of stuff. You're going to win by being the creator of stories."

This isn’t just one man’s opinion. It’s based on facts grounded in evolutionary biology. Lisa Cron, author of “Wired for Story”, wrote about the science behind storytelling.

Put simply, back when we still lived in caves, stories were a means of survival. They allowed us to share wisdom such as: don’t pet the tiger, and don’t eat the poisonous berries. You know, the basics. When stories were told, we paid attention.

We remembered them. We used them to decide if something was important. We used them to guide our actions and decisions. The same mechanism is still active in our brains today.

Take it from the big brands.

Big brands have known about the power of story for quite some time. They use it to get noticed, build strong customer ties, and move people to action — which keeps the money rolling in. There are some great storytelling examples out there:

  • Dove
    Sells soap. A product that doesn’t inspire the next great narrative at first sight. But Dove taps into relatable and shared human experiences to tell their brand story. Their #beautybias campaign is about how beauty standards affect every aspect of our lives, professionally and socially. They get you to care about something bigger than soap.

  • Beardbrand
    Another great example. They want to change how society looks at men with beards. So, they built a community for beardsmen. Their “Urban Beardsman” blog offers great stories about beards. Their own beard care products hardly ever feature on the blog. They understand that the best stories lead TO your product and not WITH your product.

  • Airbnb
    Let’s their customers do the talking. With their “belong anywhere” campaign they tap into the human desire to belong. Authentic short stories told by hosts give you a glimpse into what it’s like if you book a stay with them. Airbnb moved away from the business of renting property and into the sphere of experiencing a place like a local.

Stand out in order to sell.

Every minute more content is squeezed into less time. Multi-tasking and multi-screening are the new norm. So how do you stand out in this world of information overload?
It all comes down to 2 different types of attention: divided attention and sustained attention.

  • Sustained attention is when you focus on one thing without getting distracted by other stimuli. Like when I watched 2 Harry Potter movies straight without any interruptions whatsoever.
  • Divided attention is when you spread your focus over more than one thing. For instance, when you’re scrolling through social media while you’re having dinner with friends…

Essentially, attention is all about choice. People choose to focus on the content that draws them in, reflects their values, and makes them feel. Good stories do all of this.

You can help your customers choose to focus on you by using the power of story when you communicate with them. It’s much easier to get your point across if people are paying attention to you, just you.

Photo by Ross Sokoloviski on Unsplash

"Sustained attention is the ultimate sweet spot to focus your marketing efforts on. Think sugar coated, vanilla glazed, honey dusted, chocolate ice cream kind of sweet."

The 3-step guide to storytelling awesomeness.

If you haven’t figure it out yet, storytelling should be an important part of your brand’s marketing strategy!

It may be a bit daunting if you’ve never done this before. Where to start? Well, follow these 3 simple steps to get going. Don’t be afraid to fail. Be eager to improve.

Step 1. Genuinely try to understand your customer.

Go beyond the simple buyer persona. Storytelling is a human experience. You need to understand what your customer cares about before you can craft a good story.

Remember that Dove campaign I mentioned earlier, #beautybias is all about the value of “real beauty” and how pervasive our beauty biases are. It doesn’t mention the different scents or benefits of soap at all. That’s because Dove understand that in order to make you “buy” they need to make you “feel” first.

Step 2. Be specific when you write your story.

After you know what your customers care about and how your brand supports this, you can create your story. The rule here? Be specific. Add depth to your story. Make it relatable. Make it relevant. Make it (don’t fake it being) authentic. And don’t forget to write it all down.

For instance, if you’re selling e-bikes:

  • Don’t write about John who wants to buy an e-bike that’s fast and affordable.
  • Write about John, a father of 2 young girls. He lives in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. He usually spends more than 3 hours a day stuck in traffic on his way to work. But now, with his fast and affordable e-bike, he saves an hour on his commute. He’s outside more, gets more exercise, and has some quality “me time” before he comes home to his loving family.

Step 3. Make it visual

After you’re done writing, make it visual. 75% percent of our sensory neurons are visual neurons. As humans, we respond to what we see more than to anything else.

Our brains process visual information at astonishing speed — some 60,000 times faster than it does text! Using visual stories allows us to take in, comprehend, and assess more information.
Think about how you can visualize your story. Use images, video, hand drawn figures — go bananas and get creative. You don’t always need a fancy remote location or professional studio to make something authentic and relatable.

Getting started is half the battle.

You made it to the end of this article — AWESOME!

That means you’re rocking the whole sustained attention thing. Re-apply some of that focus to start writing stories (yes, right now!) that help your business thrive.

  • Step 1:
    Get some real perspective on what your customers care about. Figure out how your product helps them get this.
  • Step 2: Make the outcomes that your product delivers come to life. Create an authentic story that’s relevant and evokes emotion.
  • Step 3:
    ‍Turn your written story into a visual one. People respond strongest to what they see.

"Use stories to give yourself a massive competitive advantage as the battle for customer attention continues."

Written by:

Jessica Endert

Creative Strategist
All Blog Posts

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