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Defying the law of brevity

Last week I saw a video, which, if I believe all the experts, is because I don’t read anything anymore. The video stated that all online customers today have ADHD. Hmm.

ADHD is a serious condition and I’d say it’s pretty frivolous (to be generous) to use this word to refer to the attention span of your own customers. Personally, I don’t believe people actually have a shorter attention span.

Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote about ‘the 10,000-hour rule’ in his best-selling book Outliers. The rule states that it takes about 10,000 hours to become competent at anything.

If no-one today has the ability to concentrate on anything, no-one would ever put in the 10,000 hours that are required just to become a competent, not brilliant, violinist/surgeon/furniture designer, and so on.

Yet, there is no shortage of violinists last time I checked. So, what’s going on?

Research shows that you’ve got about 7-10 seconds to be relevant for viewers watching your content, whether it’s a presentation, website, video, or article. If you take this at face value, you’d think the issue is that people today can’t concentrate on anything.

I’m not sure that is what’s going on; if you look at, you’ll find videos that are about 20 minutes long. By this ‘law’ of short attention spans, no-one would be watching – however, they get millions of views. So what’s happened?

People absorb more information today than ever before. With up to 62% of adults worldwide now using social media, and 71% getting their news and information from online sources, we are constantly offered more pathways than ever to find that information. Google, YouTube, Facebook, iPad apps, websites, magazines, billboards, advertising, shops – and the list goes on.

The average attention span in 2012 is only 8 seconds, a four second drop from 12 seconds in the year 2,000. On average we only watch a single internet video for up to 2.7 minutes and this is just one of the reasons why brevity in a modern business environment is so essential. 

Our target audience simply has become better at picking and choosing, and thus finding, their own pathway. Research can now be a combination of peer reviews on Facebook, a Wikipedia article, or a barcode scanning app on an iPhone, as well as your website.

Online and peer reviews also hold great importance today, with 92% of consumers declaring they are more confident in information found online than anything provided by a sales clerk or directly from the business. Nine out of ten of us trust people we know and a whopping 70% will trust the review of an unknown user, as opposed to information delivered through advertising or an expert. Peers are our first point of call.

So what am I supposed to do with that? As businesses, we need to deliver the chunks of information that allow our customers and prospects to get a good understanding of what we can offer. Filling your website with a long list of features and benefits doesn’t do the trick; we need to be quick and to the point.

This gives potential customers a pathway to follow in order to understand and ultimately decide upon your business.

So, how do we achieve brevity? There are three steps:

1. Have a clear message. A clear message isn’t simply telling the customer what you do, it’s about how you’re different.

2. Understand what your clients need. What is your main point of difference? How does what you do help your clients?

3. Be confident. Not everyone is going to like you: Not everyone likes Apple, but they’re currently the most valuable company in history.

Matthew Poiner from PDC Creative shared an interesting thought with me yesterday. His company’s approach around projects is that of ‘Ready, Aim, Shoot.’

Before you go off and execute a brand strategy, create a new website, or produce an online video, you need to step back and think about what sets the particular product or company apart. Establish the idea and then take action to make sure you get the outcomes you’re after.

It’s all about thinking things through and following the three steps: having clarity, understanding your clients, and being confident, all condensed into a 600-word blog post or neat, 50-second video. Not easy, but very necessary if you want to connect with others.

Robert Moorman is creative director at Hunting With Pixels, a strategic online video, and social media production company.

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