The New Rules of Copywriting for the Digital Age 

The infamous goldfish. 

Hard as we try, we can’t escape it.

As marketers, we’ve found ourselves increasingly challenged with engaging an audience we’ve been repeatedly told has an attention span shorter than a goldfish

As seems to be the case with most issues permeating today’s society, the purported decrease in our attention spans (from 12 seconds to eight; a goldfish’s is nine) is largely attributed to the invention of the smartphone and the rise of the digital age. Needless to say, the internet had a fiasco with this one. Type “goldfish attention” into your search bar and you’ll see what I mean.

Fortunately, the goldfish claims were proven to be unsubstantiated. Unfortunately, reaching readers and keeping them interested remains an ever-challenging task for marketers and copywriters across virtually all industries and platforms.

Technology certainly plays a part in this challenge, but not necessarily in the ways we might think. A report published by the Global Wellness Institute states, “On a sheer biological level, we cannot possibly adapt quickly enough to the pace of change we are seeing in the world. The problem with technology is not that it’s bad, it’s that it’s too good.”

The unlimited access to information and content that the majority of consumers holds in the palm of their hand weighs in at roughly five ounces, and most of them won’t leave a room without it.

It’s not that our attention spans are decreasing. It’s that the number of things asking for our attention is increasing.

And it’s increasing exponentially.

Amidst every piece of engaging copy laboring to hold a reader’s attention are a plethora of cat memes, cinnamon challenge videos, native advertisements, and — yes — bad copy. Consumers are reacting as they always have, attempting to sort through the stimuli and information as efficiently and effectively as possible, but it’s quite literally multiplying by the second. All content, not just bad content, is getting drowned out by the noise.

So, how can copywriters consistently produce the content that is selected by consumers?

And, more importantly, by consumers who are constantly in a state of information and sensory overload? In other words, how can they command a reader’s already over-commanded attention?

A recent research study conducted by Prezi examined this very issue. Aware of the way that consumer attention spans are becoming increasingly selective, the 2018 State of Attention Report surveyed over two thousand American business professionals and measured the effectiveness of various content and presentations. The surveyed demographics included millennials, Generation Xers, and baby boomers.

While nearly half of the survey’s respondents admitted that they are more selective about the content they choose to consume, 59% reported that compared to a year ago, they felt they could better give a piece of content their full attention without getting distracted. This, is the marketer’s key.

Furthermore, how can brands re-examine and restructure their language and their content to capitalize on this window of opportunity?

Overwhelmingly, results showed that the most important factors in engaging content are: (1) a compelling narrative or story, and (2) stimulating visuals.

Neatly summed up by a Martechseries article, “Nearly 9 in 10 respondents said a strong narrative (88%) or the story (87%) behind what’s being presented is critical in maintaining the engagement of their audience.” The study also found that over one-third of millennials say they only engage with content that they feel has a great story or theme.

So, tell a story.

Humanize your brand, ground it in a narrative, and give it a history. Give it a personality. Give it a dream. Maybe even give it characters. Your target audiences are actively searching for engaging, in-depth, and attention-deserving stories — they just can’t keep up. Do yourselves both a favor and save them the effort of having to sort through everything else.

Offer them multiple perspectives, present them with complex questions, and deliver them rich stories that challenge their beliefs, their intellect, and their emotions. 

Give them some credit.

Don’t sell your readers short because you’ve been told they’re inferior to goldfish. 

Need help? Get in touch with MarketSmiths today for high-quality copy and content that cuts through the digital noise.



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