Resources Hub » Blog » Email Marketing in the Era of 8-Second Attention Spans

This post has been updated as of May 2019

Did you know that the attention span of the average adult is less than a goldfish? That means adults typically pay attention to one task for about eight seconds.

It’s not that adults aren’t capable of paying attention. It’s simply that there are so many different factors continually vying for the mind’s spotlight that it’s difficult for anyone to pay attention to one thing for an extended period of time.

If you don’t easily believe that there’s a world of information competing for your attention, consider the following statistics:

These are just a few stats that represent how many messages the average adult has to process each day, and this is just in their work life.

What do short attention spans mean to your email marketing?

Even though people see an astronomical amount of marketing messages each day, you’ll be encouraged to know that email marketing is as strong as ever. In fact, the ROI for email marketing is about $38 per every $1 spent.

So how do you break through the noise and capture those vital eight seconds of attention span? You may have to make some changes to business as usual when it comes to your email marketing.

3 ways to improve your email marketing to capture attention

Make your content easy to scan

No one has time to read a lengthy email with a long and flowery introduction and/or a thesis statement. Marketing writing is a whole new ball game, and here’s how you should approach it.

Your content should be quick, to the point, and, most importantly, easy to scan. This means putting the most important information up front, outlining your content with numbers or bullet points so it’s easy to scan, and keeping it as concise as possible. When it comes to email marketing content, less really is more.

As an example, Rolling Stone gets it right by providing quickly scannable content in their email newsletter.

Rolling Stone Magazine email campaign

Within a few seconds, you know exactly what the hot new topics are at Rolling Stone. Additionally, Rolling Stone provides linked content so readers can click and read more in-depth content as desired.

It’s important to note that Rolling Stone’s email newsletter is not short, concise, and scannable because they don’t have a lot to say. In fact, Rolling Stone has a whole magazine worth of information they present each month. Their email newsletter is short and concise because they understand that subscribers only have a few seconds of attention to process their message.

When they present their content in a quick, condensed, and scannable way, it’s easier to draw in the people who are ready to read more.

When it comes to email marketing in the era of the eight-second attention span, the first rule of thumb is to present scannable content.

Mobile-friendly is a must

Mobile devices are gaining more and more traction each day as one of the most popular ways to consume information. Forty percent of online adults will sometimes begin an activity on one device and finish on another.

From 2010 to 2015, email opens on mobile devices increased by 30%. In addition, 67.2% of consumers use their smartphones to check email and 42.3% use their tablets to check email.

This means if your email content isn’t mobile-friendly, you could be missing out on reaching a huge portion of your target market.

Thankfully, this is something Campaign Monitor can helps you with. Our pre-designed email templates are mobile-optimized, so, no matter which type of device your subscribers use to view it, your email will look great.

Here’s a quick example of the same content from Rolling Stone’s email newsletter, but on a mobile device.

Rolling Stone Magazine email campaign

The same content loads perfectly and fits within the screen of any mobile device their subscribers may be using to view their content.

Mobile-friendly emails aren’t just nice to have. They’re a must-have. People simply don’t have enough time or energy to take extra steps to try and consume your content if it’s not convenient. Take the extra time to make sure your content converts well on smartphones and tablets. It’s worth it.

Leverage the power of visual content

Did you know that humans process an image in just 13 milliseconds? In other words, the brain processes images 60,000 times faster than it does text.

If you’re able to leverage the power of visual storytelling by using powerful images in your email messages, you can get your message across in mere seconds.

Take Pizza Hut, for example. In the following email campaign, they’re essentially saying you can get a steal on a weekend pizza deal that includes three different types of dippers, and it’ll be delivered right to your home in no time at all.

And all you have to do to order is click the green button on the email. However, they effectively communicate that idea not with sentences of copy, but with an engaging image and minimal copy:

pizza hut email campaign example

Whenever you can communicate your message with a compelling image that’s complemented by short copy, do it. It can help you get your message across much faster than if you’re relying solely on text.

How does the curiosity gap affect a short attention span?

In an era where the average person could have a low attention span and be easily distracted (and you have roughly eight seconds to keep them engaged), how do you master the fine art of keeping people interested in your content?

The average attention span could vary. Do you segment your list and try to find the average attention span by age, tailoring each piece of content accordingly? A much easier way to master email marketing and overcome the problem of a short attention span in your viewer is to understand the curiosity gap.

The curiosity gap could be defined as the space between what a person knows and what they want (or need) to know. Your job as a content creator is to fill this gap, but not too quickly. You want to keep your viewer engaged, but not to the point you create discomfort.

Let’s look at some examples of how the curiosity gap is used in content and why it works.

Search Engine Journal clickbait title example - how to email people with an 8 second attention span

Source: Search Engine Journal

This headline offers a double attempt at the gap. Users who know about the topic of SEO may be inclined to read to see the list, especially the fifth entry. Even those who may be put off by the style of the title may be curious about what the influencer did afterwards.

The idea behind the curiosity gap is that it taps into some knowledge a person already has. This could be previous insight, or even enough knowledge of the subject to make predictions. The thought of what could be waiting on the other side of that link is sometimes too good to move past.

What about the fear of “clickbait?” Clickbait is a term that’s often used incorrectly. There’s nothing wrong with building anticipation with a headline. That’s just good copywriting, in general. As long as the content delivers what the headline promised, you don’t need to worry about it.

Let’s move on to another example. This one gives away a little more in the headline, so it already tells you something from the beginning. However, this adds to the curiosity of the payoff.

Upworthy Facebook example - Eight-second attention span marketing tactics

Source: Upworthy

This is a classic setup, in a good sense of the term. It’s like a joke, a riddle, or a puzzle. The first part is given to the listener to get them thinking and speculating, making the payoff richer and helping them feel more connected to the content.

If you’re a marketer in an era where eight seconds may be all you have to hook your reader, this could be a good idea to try. You’re more likely to get people interested using content that sets them up for a payoff. Even a short attention span may not be able to resist clicking through and seeing the answer.

There’s always the question about how often you should use the curiosity gap. In some cases, it isn’t the best idea. For example, good SEO articles optimized for Google and other big search engines usually tell you all you need to know in the headline. Mix those in with your curiosity marketing for best results.

Wrap up

The most important thing to remember is that email marketing is an effective way to reach customers, but you have to give them what they want, when they want it, and in a format they can consume quickly and on the go. You can do this by adjusting your email marketing to ensure that:

  • Your content is scannable
  • Your content is mobile-friendly
  • You use visuals to your advantage
  • You keep it short

For more information, grab this guide to designing high-performing email campaigns.

This post was originally published in September 2015

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This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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