How to win the battle for attention - despite distractions that bring instant gratification

People say that your audience has the attention span of a goldfish. That's not true but it's important to understand what distracts us...

Last week, I heard it again: “your audience has an attention span that only lasts a few seconds!”

Let me put that into context for you with regards to the content that you create and want your audience to read, remember, and act upon.

Your ideal scenario is that your ideal clients, notice your post, read it with focus and intention, remember the points you are making, and then reflect and act upon your content.

For that, you need to draw their attention, keep them engaged, understand your message, process your message, remember your message, take an action or get a positive outcome from your content that carries into their future.

That’s a lot that you expect from your audience (and that your audience expects from your content).

In this post, I am going to look into what your content is competing with and how you can win that competition with better content that your audience finds valuable and desirable enough to consume with their full attention.

Battling for attention and focus - is a battle against internal AND external distractions

From an evolutionary standpoint, our survival depended on continually scanning our environment and processing what’s going on around us.

There was no point in being totally absorbed in weaving a beautiful basket and not hearing the bear that’s breaking through the bush to eat you.

Even when you are focusing on a task, all your senses are still engaged with your environment. They are running on “autopilot” in the background.

That makes you realise that you’re thirsty and stay hydrated throughout your day. It lets you hear your alerts on your phone pinging, smell the muffins that your daughter is baking, or suddenly remember that you had to make an appointment with your chiropractor…

When someone is telling you that your audience cannot focus for a longer period of time - then what they say - is that your audience is not intentionally focusing on your content and not intentionally managing distractions.

However, your audience is well able to focus on your content when they…

  • Understand that your content gives them valuable information that has a positive impact on their life (delayed gratification)
  • Are entertained by your content and consuming your content is giving them pleasure (instant gratification)
  • Consume your content with a specific intention because the consumption moves them closer to achieving their goals – and they either prevent or deal with distractions as they appear (because they are familiar with your content and know it’s good)
  • When they know how to notice when their mind is drifting and are able to refocus it on the task at hand (because they have learned how to work more productively and with more focus)

Let me assure you – it is totally normal that your mind is drifting away from the task you are performing at any given time. It is even desirable when you are working creatively – because that’s how new ideas pop up.

The important thing is, that you notice when your mind is drifting and bring it back to focus on the task that you had the intention to complete.

But that’s easier said than done because…

You are battling instant gratification…

Your brain is naturally attracted to novelty. It craves new input because that releases dopamine – and that makes you feel good.

Scrolling through your social media feeds that need. Scrolling makes you feel good. And it provides an infinite string of new impressions that make you feel good.

That’s why you often don’t notice how long you spend on social media. Before you notice, 30 minutes are gone without any useful output.

It goes as far as feeling a craving for your mobile phone whenever it’s not next to you and a need to pick it up to check messages and new posts in your feed etc.

Considering this – your content is up against a strong and addictive competitor. Your content must grab attention to stop your audience scrolling, and it must enable them to withstand the urge to seek more novelty elsewhere and stay focused on your content because what you share will either entertain them now or work in their favour later.

In other words – each point that you are making in your content must at least equal the novelty kick that your audience is getting out of scrolling further for other content.

But how can you successfully overcome those hurdles with your content?

Your content simply needs to be better to keep people focused

Here’s what I mean by better from a writing perspective:

  • It needs headlines that grab attention and give a strong “novelty kick”
  • It needs a strong intro paragraph that clearly states what’s in it for your audience so that they read it from headline to CTA
  • It needs to have interesting subheaders that make your content skimmable and your readers curious enough to read it word for word in its entirety
  • It needs a structure that leads them to your conclusion step by step or rather paragraph by paragraph
  • It needs sentences that allow your reader to understand and process the information you’re sharing with ease (short, easy-to-understand sentences)
  • It needs language that your audience is familiar with and that doesn’t contain words, jargon, or structures that make it tough to understand
  • It needs a summary section that points out the benefits of your content
  • It needs a call to action or trigger that lets your content stay on your reader’s mind after they’ve finished reading – and ideally compels them to take an action

Here’s what I mean from a reader experience perspective:

  • It needs to be enjoyable to read (either be entertaining or at least easy to read and interesting)
  • It needs to be visually stimulating and with enough white space between short paragraphs, images & graphics to break up the text and add to the message, and a large enough and easy to read font
  • Be uplifting - make them feel better after they’ve read your content because it either entertained them or they gained knowledge that takes them closer to their goals

Never forget that your audience invests time into reading your content and you need to make it worth their investment. Reading your content is like an opportunity cost – you need to ensure that reading your content gives them a better benefit than the alternative activities that they could have chosen instead.

How you can make your content better

Writing better content that is enjoyable and provides your audience with value after they’ve finished reading, takes a little more effort up front.

But considering that you might be writing content for years to come, it’s worth the effort.

Effort #1 - you need to understand your ideal customer’s content needs and the benefits and outcomes they desire.

That allows you to create content that they find valuable and worth reading.

Each piece of content should be like a small contribution to their greater goal or success.

Effort #2 – Writing more strategically allows you to create content that your audience wants and needs to read. Defining content pillars that are related to your value proposition and that let you create content that is always related to the outcomes your readers want to achieve, ensures that your content becomes a “must-read” for your audience.

Effort #3 - Become a better writer! Gather a decent amount of copywriting knowledge and writing practice. I.e. learn how to write better and write more – consistently!

Effort #4 Stay informed and tuned into environmental changes that have an impact on your clients so that you can write content that meets your audience’s current needs and priorities

Effort #5 Never stop learning and growing. Learning and personal development allow you to always be at your personal best and deliver cutting-edge content that challenges your audience to think, grow, and perform on a higher level. And that gives them a sense of achievement that definitely makes them feel good about reading your content.

Grabbing attention and keeping your audience focused – in a nutshell

Humans are super easy to distract because their brains are designed to be distracted and because they are forever seeking pleasure.

Understanding that your content is engaged in a super-tough battle for attention is the first step to becoming more intentional so that you create content more consistently to be more visible, impactful, and memorable.

However, you can stay on top of the game by creating bingeworthy and valuable content that your audience can’t wait to read.

For that, it helps to understand why your audience is so easily distracted and what you can do to write content that delivers more value that keeps them engaged.

The best way to ensure that is to simply write better.

Not everyone is able to become a better writer…

Simply because - not everyone is willing to put the effort in.

But everyone has the potential to become an amazing writer!

The first step is to gain clarity on the value that you deliver to your clients and the messages that you need to share to make your audience realise that you are the perfect person with the perfect solution to help them achieve their goals.

And then it’s about learning how to write better and making writing a habit that you can practise with ease and joy.

If you need more clarity about the messages and content that cuts through the noise and doesn’t let your audience’s attention stray from your content, then send me a message!

Categories: : Attention, Brand Messaging, businesskills, Clarity, Content Creation, Customer Avatar

Add your email to subscribe and get my FREE online training "Writing Content for Engagement"