Last week I attended a seminar on digital media trends presented by Gannett at the Business Council of Westchester’s Mega Mixer. This annual event is geared towards business owners, and most people who make the effort to attend are taking precious time away from their businesses to network and learn. Just as the seminar started, a woman rushed in and sat next to me in the front row. She was on her iPhone (naturally); checking her email and texting urgent responses. I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I get it. I’m a small business owner too, and it’s probably reeeeallllllly important. I’ll cut her some slack.’
The speaker was interesting, with slides jam-packed with complex content mined from Google insights. The data effectively highlighted what a tough road businesses have getting and holding their customers attention due to the availability of multiple screens (smartphones, iPads, laptops, desktop monitors, etc.) and the variety of channels they have to search and engage with brands (Facebook, Google, Foursquare, Twitter, Youtube, et al), on top of mega multi-tasking habits AND short attention spans. Throughout this very relevant presentation, the woman next to me continued to obsessively check her email every 30 seconds, even though I could see — THERE WERE NO NEW EMAILS!
What’s most compelling and ironic about this story is that the seminar was focused on how difficult it is to reach our target audience because of all the distractions, and here the presenter had a living, breathing example of someone multi-tasking and not paying attention right in the first row! If ever someone was itching to be called out and made an example of, she was the poster girl. Back in the day, if you didn’t want to pay attention, you sat in the back. Now this type of behavior is so prevalent (and tolerated) that professionals who should know better, feel entitled to carry on with their business right in front of your face.
So what’s my point, you ask? (Other than bitching about rude behavior)
The job of communicating is tougher than ever, no matter what we are trying to say or sell. Whatever our industry or position, we can’t assume that anyone is paying attention to what we have to say at any given moment. The phrase “breaking through the clutter” gets thrown around a lot these days. Well, how do you do that when each of us is getting 200-300 emails and texts, and hyper-niched media outlets are SCREAMING for our attention?
There’s no easy answer. Right now I’m advocating for awareness of the problem. Once we understand what we are all up against, we can do five things:
Limit our own multi-tasking, multi-screen culpability in social and professional settings.
Accept the fact that not everybody will be paying attention to our message the exact moment we want them to hear or see it.
Develop a strategy that accommodates the new “consumer habits” and figure out creative ways to communicate accordingly.
Spend time identifying and getting to know your target audience and the best way to reach them.
Stay on top of your marketing budget and make sure you’re using measurement metrics to avoid missteps.
There’s no blanket strategy for creating brand awareness and brand loyalty. The good old days of mass media are gone, and we’ve entered uncharted territory. Now you’ve gotta catch ‘em when you can, even when they’re sitting in the front row!