Gone in 30 seconds: Marketing in an increasingly distracted world

Adapt your marketing strategy to win the battle for your audience's attention in the face of constant distraction.

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In the movie “Gone in 90 Seconds,” Nicolas Cage and his crew have to steal 50 cars in a night. The goal is to steal the car in less than a minute and a half to reduce the chances of getting caught. The car is there one minute and literally gone the next. 

It’s eerily similar to visitors on your website. They’re there, and then they’re gone. You just have to look no further than your Google Analytics report to see it. 

The dwindling attention span in the digital age

We intuitively know that social media, in particular scrolling, impacts attention spans. We also know that our consumer habits will soon become our business habits. That means the speed at which audiences move through content and digital is accelerating every day. The question is how much, and how does that impact our efforts as marketers?

Gloria Mark, professor emerita at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the book “Attention Span,” tells us that it’s not a pretty story.

From 2004 to 2020, the last year the data was collected, time on screen has shrunk to a third of what it had been, and it’s not a stretch to assume it is now under 30 seconds.

Attention span by year

Additionally, according to research from Emplifi, you now have 26 seconds to keep someone engaged with video. 

Key considerations to keep your audience engaged

Given visitors’ need for speed, you should examine the following areas and ask the following questions. 

  • Mobile: With mobile viewing growing, how fast can your audience move through your content? Consider ways to lighten the cognitive load through the use of images and video. Research has shown that social media can impair deep focus and make visitors more susceptible to cognitive overload. 
  • Video: Reexamine those videos you created a couple of years ago. The rule used to be under two minutes for an explainer video. They now probably need to be under a minute.  How long are your videos, and how visually engaging are they?
  • Website: Our research has shown that you typically lose 50% of your visitors below the first two folds of your website. So, consider where you position your CTA. How fast can visitors find what they are looking for, and how easy is it for them to digest and understand your services?
  • Blogs: Microblogs are the new blogs. Blogs used to be 800 to 1,200 words or longer in length. Now, they need to be between 400 to 600 words with at least two images. Why images? Because they allow the brain to “rest” enabling it to process the information it just read. Think of it as a palate cleanser. 
  • Social media: How are you grabbing the attention of your audience, given their need for speed? How eye-catching/stopping is your creativity? Can you catch their attention when they are scrolling? 
  • Brand: All this leads us to the impact of branding. In the past, we sought consistency in our branding. The “brand police” ensured that our website looked like our sales presentation, product slicks, trade booth, etc. Brand consistency now works against us in the digital world.

Oh, and don’t forget, by next year, time on screen will shrink again. Time on screen is shrinking constantly in all channels. 

Dig deeper: Customer engagement: Moving from value creation to value expansion

Winning the battle for mindshare

It’s not just about attention spans, as the bullet points above point out. It’s also the effect digital social habits are having on our brains and our behaviors. 

We’re more likely to multitask while viewing social feeds. Our attention jumps from small to large screen and then back again. This impacts information retention, and heavy cognitive lifts are skipped altogether. 

Now add this to the equation: We are getting more content to view, not less. With generative AI, more content is and will be produced. The primary channel or “pipe” is getting smaller because email is no longer effective. 

LinkedIn (i.e., the primary pipe) is highly crowded and will get more crowded, and the end audience’s capacity and desire to take all of this in is — well, you know the answer. It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy.   

Our audience’s only option for dealing with the proliferation of information is to move faster and skim the surface. So, if you haven’t considered or evaluated the areas I mentioned, you need to do planning for your audience a year out. 

Ask yourself and your team: How will our brand stand out? How will we win what little mindshare is available? Keep these insights in mind as you create social posts, content and campaigns.

That is if you made it all the way through this post without bailing. How many seconds do I have left?! Is there anyone there, and where is my car? 

Dig deeper: How B2B marketers can win the battle for attention


Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Scott Gillum
Scott is the Founder and CEO of Carbon Design. Prior to founding Carbon Design, he was the President of the Washington, DC office for Merkle (a Dentsu agency), the world’s largest B2B agency.

His career follows the pipeline. Starting at the bottom closing deals as a sales rep. Then as a management consultant after graduate school, helping clients build sales and marketing channels. Advertising broadened his knowledge and experience in building brands and creating awareness.

Along the way, he’s been the head of marketing for an Inc. 500 company, and an interim CMO for a Fortune 500 company. Today, Scott helps clients improve the effectiveness of their marketing efforts up and down the funnel. From transitioning to digital to finding new ways to communicate, connect, and motivate audiences.

Scott has been a member of the Gartner for Marketing Leaders Council and he writes a monthly column for several publications on business marketing.  In the past, he has been a regular contributor to publications such as Forbes, Fortune, Adage, the Huffington Post and he has contributed to various books on marketing. Additionally, his work on sales and marketing integration was made into a Harvard Business School Case Study and is taught at leading business schools across the nation.

Fuel for your marketing strategy.