This marketer’s comment about customers annoyed me…

I’m sure the marketer didn’t mean anything by it, but I recently heard a speaker at an large event for senior B2B marketers remark that, in the age of social media, customers have an attention span close to that of a goldfish. The throwaway remark upset me a little bit. My immediate thought was ‘utter codswallop’ (or, in the words of my ever-charming Irish Aunties, ‘utter bollocks’). So I thought I’d write a quick post about it, and draw a semi-silly chart, to make a point…

It’s our fault

It’s undeniable that we live in an always-on society, with lots and lots of distractions. But, in my experience, B2B customers always have had, and always will have, considerable attention spans. I repeat, B2B customers always have had, and always will have, considerable attention spans. If (and probably only if) they’re focused on something important to them. Like hitting their objectives, or motivating their team, or dealing with a crappy problem that just wrecked their week.

If customers aren’t paying attention to our marketing communications, then it’s our fault as marketers – not the customers’ powers of concentration. It’s our fault that our designs and copywriting and hook didn’t stop them in their tracks. It’s our fault that we didn’t evoke a sense of urgency. Or it’s our fault that we couldn’t relate our products and services to something really important to them.

I saw this quote from a Creative Director at a major brand agency, which I think sums up the problem we face as marketers:

“If a brand wants me to stop watching Breaking Bad, it had better offer me something good – and that doesn’t mean product features. It means something I really care about”

I’ve expressed that same challenge in the symbolic chart below, which tracks three separate emails landing in your customer’s inbox. (In real life we all know there’d probably be 50, or perhaps 250 emails to contend with – so this chart is your best-case, not your worst-case scenario). With this chart comes the gazillion dollar question – how do you elevate your email or other marketing communication from the bottom left of the chart to the top right?

Graph about customer attention spans


A powerful motivation

I’ve always found the likelihood that people aren’t paying the slightest attention to my communications – or the likelihood that my communications aren’t anywhere near the top of their agenda – a sobering and powerful motivation. Enough of a motivation to always think really hard about what is it that my brand, products and services can do for customers that is so useful and so compelling that it will go straight to the top of their to-read / to-do list. To always think really hard whether the marketing communication I’m working on is sufficiently impactful, helpful or/and entertaining, to cut through the noise of my customer’s world. And if my marketing communications don’t meet a ‘useful-enough or compelling-enough’ benchmark, then I’ll probably re-do it or kill it.

Closing messages

Referencing my chart above, I see that a role of marketing communications is to ‘out-do your customer’s boss’ (and ideally also ‘hot Sam’). Or at the very least drag them away from a charming conversation with their Irish Aunties 😉

I hope it helps you to think of those things when you’re creating your next B2B marketing communication.

All that said, and going to off piste for a moment, I just wanted to say two final things…

  1. Love to my Irish Aunties – Kathleen, Brenda, Oonagh, Colette, Pauline, Geraldine, Bronagh and Michelle
  2. Referring back to my fellow marketer’s comments referring to goldfish, what say we all give our shiny, gilled friends a break? Life’s probably tough for them…

Looking at the world from a goldfish perspective

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