Before you go any further in this article, I want you to count a couple things.
First, how many objects are currently within your reach or line of sight that could deliver a marketing message to you? If you’re multitasking in your office, commuting home, or sitting in your living room, the number is probably somewhere between two and five. Now, how many different “messaging” platforms have you checked in the past hour? From social media accounts to work and personal email to text messaging via phone and web, it’s likely you’ve checked a few—maybe without even thinking about it!
The average American adult today is digitally present for an enormous portion of their day, even if we aren’t actively engaged with a screen for every moment of it. Layer on top of this our increasing ability to switch between a handful of devices at once, and a regular person can effectively extend their waking day to the equivalent of 31 hours and 28 minutes. For advertisers, this sounds like an expanded opportunity to break into a user’s day. But for content marketers trying to figure how to reach an audience in a meaningful way, it brings up some fundamental questions about the changing way that people interact with content today.
Image attribution: Omar Prestwich
Pause for a moment and define for yourself what you think “multitasking” is. A common working definition might suggest the ability to keep focus on two or more tasks at once while maintaining the quality of each of the tasks in the process. But the reality of multitasking tends to be much different: Rather than actually engaging in two concurrent tasks, most people actually just rapidly switch between them, a process that can actually be harmful for productivity and focus.
Many of the spaces in which we multitask don’t suffer from this loss in productivity, and so it becomes easier for us to tell ourselves it’s an effective way to tackle the to-do list. For instance, I don’t really notice a 40 percent loss in my ability to read a text message while sauteing some vegetables for my dinner—60 percent efficacy for a few minutes doesn’t really harm either act.
But is the same true for your content?
I might tend to agree with the advertisers that this new multitasking dynamic makes ripe ground for interrupt advertising, where the desired effect is based more on impression and impulse than consideration. But this doesn’t mean there still isn’t a powerful place for content marketing in your digital mix.
Image attribution: Muhammad Raufan Yusup
At the same time that distracted browsing is affecting the way we reach our audiences, studies are also showing that our memories and perspectives might also be a bit more malleable thanks to better understanding of neuroplasticity. So while audiences bounce around between content more than we might like, this also means that those users who do opt to spend time with your content might be better equipped to be convinced of your brand’s perspective. Advertisers might have some influence over attention, but content marketers are ultimately the ones who have a corner on opinion.
For a lot of brands, this will mean that marketers continue to use a combination of advertising and content to draw in and then hook their audience. It’s a tried-and-true method, and one that is particularly useful for brands that need to drive some site lift in a short period. But to avoid becoming too dependent on advertising that presents a budgetary burden, here are some simple ways to better take advantage of your content in a distracted digital age.
A distracted reader is more likely to miss a piece of content in their everyday browsing. You can try to cut through the noise by serving them ads, but this gets costly (and annoying), particularly as you try to scale up. Alternatively, whenever you produce a new piece of content, try to think of a handful of additional formats that you could repurpose the material into: Why just promote a blog when you could be circulating a blog post, infographic, and some pared-down quote graphics? Repurposing content into multiple formats makes it easier to push your content over a wider range of channels over a longer time span without the content becoming stale, and it makes it harder for your audience to skip it entirely.
If you’re able to pull in a user to consider your content, there’s a small window of time where they’re more susceptible to having their long-held memories or ideas changed. Content creators often talk about the “hook” that interests readers and pulls them in, but you should also start considering your hook as the first and most powerful way that you can actually convince—and, hopefully, engage—your audience member to stay with your brand for an extended period.
It’s easy for marketers to place all of their focus on conversions at the bottom of the funnel. But segmenting out your audience effectively early on is the most powerful way to make the bottom of your funnel more efficient, and a distracted audience makes it much easier to find the leads who are actually highly engaged. Consider finding ways to segment out your audience that place a higher value on people who fully engage with your content, as opposed to someone who makes a rapid series of actions. For example, I may want to serve special opportunities or suggestions to readers who stay on one of my articles for more than five minutes, as opposed to a user who bounces though seven pages of my site for fifteen seconds each before exiting.
Ultimately, when it comes to figuring out how to reach an audience, content marketers don’t have to sacrifice the depth or quality of their work to meet the rapid pace of today’s digital space. Rather, we should welcome this growing behavior as a way to more easily recognize and reward customers who want to give us their valuable time and thought when they could just as easily be rewarded for bouncing around their social newsfeeds or churning through a couple hundred newsletters.
But this of course assumes that your brand has content that’s worth spending time on, which always has been—and will always be—the most important part of content marketing.
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Featured image attribution: Thomas Lefebvre