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Why Attention Spans Are Dwindling & What This Means For Marketers

Information Overload Vector Art

According to the Centre for Mental Health at Schools, the capacity for attention appears to be shrinking in response to exponential increases in technological innovations and acceleration.

The “attention economy” is a term used to understand attention as a scarce resource, whereby economic theory may be used to understand the various problems that derive from attention scarcity constraints.

There are many definitions of attention, but most narrowly define it as a cognitive resource with limited quantity, which may be depleted through expenditures of attention during information processing.

From a psychological perspective, attention is often defined as focused mental engagement on an item of information or perceptual experience.

As stimuli come into our awareness, we attend to them and decide whether we will act on them or not. From an economists’ perspective, attention is often defined differently, as a limited resource that a person has only so much of. Psychologists also see attention as a limited resource; limited not so much in quantity as in distribution. Preferential processing of some items must occur to the detriment of others.

Many psychologists and behavioural economists have long been aware of the problem of limited attention. As Herbert Simon pointed out in the early 1970’s, we live in an information-rich world, where a new scarcity arises, namely, the scarcity of the resource that information consumes, attention. Information consumes the attention of its recipients. Further, living in societies of ever increasing information, we are likely to produce poverties of attention.

Thinking of attention as an economy of supply and demand allows us to understand that supply constraints create new problems to market choices. If scarcity exists in attention within a market segment, or if there are massive amounts of competition in a segment – exploding information demands and options for choice – then new approaches need to be considered by brands.

The availability of attention as a limited resource is a fundamental question in market research, brand execution strategies, and communications. From a psychological perspective, attention precedes and underpins other cognitive and affective processes in consumers’ responses to products and brands. Without adequately understanding whether an individual is attending to a target stimulus, researchers cannot determine the extent to which emotional and cognitive responses are activated in a meaningful way.

From an economic perspective, conceptualising attention as an increasingly scarce resource in high demand by competing brands requires consumer neuroscience practitioners to understand attention as more than a brain mechanism in cognitive functioning, but also as a requisite resource essential for decision making and an essential component of brand equity. Incorporating this perspective enables brands to have a better understanding of how to maximise their strategies for capturing and holding this key resource of their consumers.

When examining attention as an economic resource, however, one must see the brand and its associated messaging as embedded in a whole matrix of competing brand messages and communications, all vying for the same attention resources. When taking this into consideration, consumer neuroscience practitioners can begin to present their findings within this broader context, providing clients with deeper and more impactful understandings of the role of attention within their brand.

You can read the full article at the Neuromarketing Science and Business Association (NMSBA).

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