Please keep going!
“Please keep moving! There is nothing to see here!”
Do you know this statement? It happens every now and then in detective stories when the police cordon off a crime scene. Onlookers crowd around the cordon because there is something to see after all. An accident. A burglary. A homicide. In some crime novels, the clever inspector asks a police photographer to take unobserved pictures of the curious onlookers, because perpetrators like to return to the scene of the crime (especially in the films where police photographers take pictures of onlookers).
And what does this have to do with companies, with you and us?
If you work in marketing and have the “pleasure” of regularly receiving suggestions from service providers about what you absolutely need to change on your company website, you may know some of the following statements from your own experience:
- “The average attention span is 8 seconds.”
- “Benefits communication and call-to-action need to be placed above the fold.”
- “95 percent of your website visitors don’t come back: here’s how to fix it.”
Brief explanation of marketing-speak:
- A benefits communication explains the advantages (benefits) of a product or service to potential customers or users.
- A call-to-action is a direct invitation to interested parties (e.g. website visitors or advertising readers) to perform a certain action (a download, a newsletter entry, a contact, etc.).
- Above the fold refers to the area of a website that is visible to website visitors at first glance without them having to scroll.
And now for the frequently used expressions of various service providers:
8 seconds and a goldfish
“The average attention span is 8 seconds.”
8 seconds isn’t very much, is it? There are 86,400 seconds in a day, 8 seconds is practically nothing. To this day, no human being manages to run 100 metres in 8 seconds. And that is supposed to be the average attention span of humans? Where does this statement come from?
“In mid-2015, a study by Microsoft Canada received worldwide media attention. The study made the claim that humans now have a shorter attention span (8 seconds) than a goldfish (9 seconds)….
Chapeau goldfish, you win!
Comparing us to goldfish is quite funny and attention-grabbing….
The problem with the Microsoft study is that it lacks a definition of the word ‘attention span’, which plays an important role in the entire study. Furthermore, it is difficult to understand where the data on goldfish come from…
The problem is not the Microsoft study itself. The supposed research results were adopted by renowned publishers from TIME to the New York Times without questioning them even once. The study’s infographic on dwindling human attention spans, for example, comes from an external source called Statistics Brain. If one searches for the origin of the source, one does not find anything…
Besides, the goldfish comparison is not mentioned at all in the Microsoft study, except on the infographic. At no point does the study recommend basing marketing on this 8-second span, nor does it refer to the 8 seconds or goldfish. So the much-discussed study result among marketers is based on a single graph … and is nothing more than an assertion. In post-factual times, we seem to be quicker to believe what we are told”.¹
Note: By the way, this does not mean that you should ignore attention span, but it may have a different meaning than is often communicated. One measure of attention span could be, for example, the time spent on your website; I’m sure that on average it is significantly longer than 8 seconds. I will come back to this idea. And, of course, to the question of what the whole thing has to do with “Please keep going!”.
Now and not in 5 minutes
“Benefits communication and the call-to-action must be placed above the fold.”
Of course, benefits communication is important for companies and potential customers. Very important, in fact. It is often the basis for a purchase or sale.³ From my point of view, benefits positioning may be relevant when downloading a whitepaper, registering for a webinar and perhaps also when marketing product or company videos. Such things are often found on landing pages and figuratively represent a defined intermediate destination on a journey. Most travellers aka visitors land on these pages because they have been guided accordingly. Consequently, it is obvious to enable downloads, registrations or contacting without long scrolling (and also without forced entry of fax number or shoe size).
However, the positioning of benefits and calls to action is otherwise secondary. For three reasons:
1. Many prospects don’t even know who you are.
Do you know what Audi does? And Coca Cola? And t2informatik? If website visitors don’t know who you are, what you develop or serve, and how you do it, why should they contact you? Feel free to place your call-to-action above the fold, but don’t be surprised if virtually no one contacts you using this way. In order for contact or any other form of action to occur, there must be a need and a certain level of trust. Maybe prospects have received referrals from third parties, maybe you provide information in a meaningful way, without a certain level of trust (and a concrete need) there will be no action. In my view, benefits communication above the fold doesn’t help there either.
2 Many people have loss aversion.
Jonah Berger, a US professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, explains in his great book The Catalyst – How to change anyone’s mind², many important points in the context of benefits, including loss aversion:
Many people buy products and services because they value the benefits they receive from the purchase more highly than the expenses they have to incur to get them. Significantly higher, in fact. Good value for money is not the goal, but the successful search for a bargain. According to a study by Prof. Berger, the fear of losses is overcome from a possible profit with a factor of 2.6. If a product costs 100 euros, for example, it should correspond to a perceived value of 260 euros. Regardless of whether one follows this study in its entirety, it can be deduced from this that benefits must be really large before a purchase (and thus the final desired action) is made. The position of the benefits is not the challenge, the quality is.
3. Many people don’t like to be told what to do, so they often do the opposite.
“Download now”, “Sign up now” or “Contact us now” – these are typical call-to-action texts. Have you ever wondered what happens if you don’t press a button now, but only in five minutes? Or tomorrow. Or not at all. Of course nothing happens. At worst, you will miss a webinar, which will then be repeated at another time. You might also be told that there are only 2 places left; apart from the fact that such notices are usually cheap tricks, perhaps the company misses out on winning you as a customer.
As a provider of products or services, there are different approaches how you can deal with the reactance of prospective customers. At this point I would like to recommend once again the book by Jonah Berger, which in my view is also suitable for all those who are dealing with the topic of change. When formulating calls to action, for example, the emphasis on the advantages of an action could replace the presentation of an apparent urgency.
95 percent who keep going
“95 percent of your website visitors don’t come back: here’s how to fix it.”
95 percent? Wow, that sounds bad. You almost want to shout “Stop! Freeze!” and we’re back to the detective story in which the inspector recognises the crime suspect among the curious crime scene spectators and wants to stop him from moving on. In contrast to the detective story, a returning visitor is of course not a perpetrator, but an interested party, a friend, perhaps a customer, a partner or possibly even a competitor.
What can you do “against” the 95 percent? You could
- see how many visitors actually come back to your site; the number will be better, but since it cannot really be validly collected and compared, this is also a form of self-preoccupation.
- observe yourself and ask why you are on websites; for example, I am often on other websites out of professional interest and will with 99.9 percent certainty not become a customer of the respective providers.
- offer chats as a communication channel – many of the marketing service providers promote their chat bot solutions in connection with the 95 percent statement. No, you’d better not do that!
Or: you could simply ignore this statement!
I have no idea how long your average attention span is. If you’ve read this far, it’s longer than 8 seconds, which is probably longer than a goldfish. Chapeau! 😉
I’m happy if you find suitable information with us. And it’s perfectly fine if you have no need for our services and dive back into the vastness of the internet. In fact, I believe that “Please keep going!” is metaphorically the rule rather than the exception. Very many companies offer products or services that are not made and meant for all and anyone. It would be nice if the 5 percent for whom you have an offer would come back and not go on.
 Die Mär von 8 Sekunden: Warum wir eine höhere Aufmerksamkeitsspanne als Goldfische haben
 The Catalyst, Jonah Berger, Verlag: Simon & Schuster
 A sale without benefit communication is quite possible for products of daily use or on a mass market.
Michael Schenkel has published further articles in the t2informatik Blog, including
Head of Marketing, t2informatik GmbH
Michael Schenkel holds a degree in business administration (BA) and is passionate about marketing. He likes to blog about project management, requirements engineering and marketing. And he is happy to meet you for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake.