The right content (or advertising) delivered to the right person in the right context. Mobile makes it possible, but a new study throws a discomforting variable back into this perfect equation. Digital Natives are multi-tasking to the max, making it harder than ever for content companies and brands owners to delight their customers for more than minutes at a stretch. Michelle Manafy explores this milestone study and offers advice on how to remain relevant to a demographic whose attention is being pulled in all directions by multiple devices.
Digital Natives (people in their 20s who grew up with the Internet and mobile devices) switch media, devices, and platforms about 27 times (!) per nonworking hour. This one statistic — the key takeaway from a new study entitled “A Biometric Day in the Life”, commissioned by Time, Inc. and conducted by Innerscope Research — is no doubt the most terrifying to content purveyors and advertisers. It brings to light their greatest fear and confronts them with their greatest challenge: how to cope with the ever-dwindling attention spans and ever-more distractions that are the norm for Digital Natives in the developed world.
While the study only surveyed 30 participants, it highlights the serious concerns faced by those seeking to engage, market and sell to this always-on generation. Anecdotally, other reports — and the observations my fellow contributors and I captured in the book Dancing With Digital Natives — suggest that generation lacks focus and suffers from information overload and an inability to filter quality from the quantity.
Fortunately, this new research does more than diagnose the problem. It is laudable that this research was undertaken in an effort to provide a rational foundation to develop engaging content for younger consumers. To accomplish this the researchers employed some impressive methods as well: Participants wore biometric belts that monitored their physical responses and glasses with embedded cameras that tracked which platforms they used and for how long.
Advertising To Address Digital Natives
Digital Natives are distracted by a dizzying array of media choices. Is this a problem or opportunity?
Ad Age looks at a few advertising approaches that seek to address this emerging propensity among Digital Natives to info-snack. (In my recent article for Social Media Marketing Magazine I also offer five key insights to help companies understand Digital Natives and ways they can leverage this generation’s connectedness to achieve their business objectives.)
Ad Age suggests marketers should use ads that follow consumers as they migrate from one channel to the next, migrating the marketing across all the screens people interact with (TV, PC, mobile) to reinforce the brand message. In line with this the article recommends the advertising messaging should take on a ‘snack-sized’ form as well.
Put another way, if this study’s results are even close to representative of the information consumption tendencies of this generation, hearty fare in bite-sized packages must be on the menu.
Consumability and Connectedness
The study also compared the habits of Digital Natives with those of Digital Immigrants and found that the later group are intuitively linear: They expect to see a beginning, middle, and end to stories. Digital Natives like the whole story, but they prefer to multi-task to get it.
According to the study, “Digital Natives are subconsciously switching between platforms and can pick up different pieces of a story from different mediums in any order.”
Read between the lines, and companies will have to accept that Digital Natives are comfortable switching across channels and get on with their business. As Dr. Carl Marci, CEO and Chief Scientist of Innerscope Research puts it: “Storytellers and marketers in this digital age will continue to face an increasingly complex environment with a higher bar for engaging an audience of consumers.”
This is certainly true. If your opportunity for engagement is brief, and content may be consumed in an unpredictable non-linear way, it is essential to rethink what and how you communicate. Your approach should focus on delivering high quality information in independent, yet interrelated chunks.
Size does matter, but so does quality, consumability and connectedness.
Content creators, marketers and companies that want to connect with Digital Natives need to rebuild their content construction strategy from the ground up. The days when content or advertising – audible, narrative, visual – could be delivered pre-packaged to a mass market audience are gone. The good news is this is a generation of voracious information consumers. Like stones skipping on the water and the potentially infinite ripple effect they produce, these consumers come at information from every angle and wants to follow it anywhere. The challenge, however, is to deliver Digital Natives bite-size content that is appealing and engaging (and importantly achieves the business objectives of the company offering it in the first place), while acknowledging their requirement for multi-screen multi-tasking. Content and advertising doesn’t exist in isolation; it must be interconnected and interrelated with the devices, platforms and contexts that now define our digital lives.