47 years ago, in 1971, computer engineer Ray Tomlinson invented internet based email and, for those who wonder – email is very much alive and is going strong.
According to eMarketer (quoted here) 93% of online consumers have subscribed to receive permission-based email at least once a day. 83% check their email at least once per day, while 70% say that they always open emails from their favourite companies. Up to 30% of email is opened on mobile devices.
The email carrot is that, whichever way email is delivered, it is an extraordinarily powerful form of communication, while the stick of email-based marketing is that it risks death-by-click: 91% of respondents on the eMarketer study unsubscribed from at least one mailing list recently. Is there a way to avoid the drop?
When sending out email campaigns, marketers should consider recipients, and the type of relationship recipients are expected to form with the brand. The problem is that recipients are inundated with messages that overrun their mail boxes.
According to computer and telecom market research firm Radicati Group, an average person sends out 8 emails per day and receives 31 back – that’s a yearly turnover of 14235 solicited (non-spam) messages per person. Assuming that – as stated in the eMarketer study mentioned earlier – recipients of these wanted missives open the message and read it – they will find that each of these messages wants them to take some sort of action: click a link, fill in a form, take part in a poll, share with a friend or forward-on, buy something, “Like” on Facebook or “Follow” on Twitter.
Recipients’ limited attention-span is challenging marketers
Facing this info-clutter, marketers should strive to ensure that their brand has access to two major aspects of their customers’ attention span. The first aspect is customers’ Share of Mind. According to the Brandchannel.com Glossary, Share of Mind (sometimes known as ‘Top of Mind’) “measures how often consumers think about a particular brand as a percentage of all the times they think about all the brands in its category.” Market researchers ascertain a brand’s Share of Mind by asking a question like “what is the first brand name that comes to mind when I say ‘toothpaste’?” Share of Mind points to the brand’s popularity and indicates the extent to which customers are aware of the brand.
The second aspect of customers’ attention is known as Share of Time. Late last year, global measurement and information specialists Nielsen set out to addresspeople’s share of time. This is how they defined their task: “If all […] Internet time were condensed into one hour, how much time would be spent in the most heavily used sectors?” The top five players were social networks/blogs with 13 minutes and 36 seconds, games – occupying 6 minutes and 6 seconds, email – taking up 5 minutes, search, using 2 minutes and 36 seconds, and portals (and other non-blog websites) with 2 minutes and 26 seconds of people’s Internet hour.
The need to gain access to customers’ Share of Mind and Share of Time challenges marketers to find innovative ways for their brand to stand out amongst other brands, and to do it within tasking time constraints.
Limited access is better than none
A possible way to respond to customer attention-span challenges is to consider the multi-channel approach. Marketers can consider four of the top five channels (social networks, email, search and websites) as different avenues for a comprehensive marketing and communication strategy. Firstly, this approach offers a time-window of about 30 minutes, within which marketers can access customers across channels. Secondly, exposing the brand in various ways across several channels helps to increase brand-awareness and contribute to brand presence within customer’s Share of Mind.
It is important to remember that activities within the ‘time window’ discussed here are not necessarily arranged in a consecutive order – a customer may check her email, come back to her computer an hour later to search for something, and visit a website a few hours later. This lends importance to the use of multi-channel digital signals that are based on behaviour, conversation and engagement, in order to gain access to customers’ attention.
Time is a priceless commodity. Customers’ time should therefore be seen as a crucial factor when planning and executing a brand communication strategy. Providers of financial services, such as short term insurance and loans, have made time their best USP by assuring customers that they can be fully insured or receive a loan in a just a few minutes. The same principle is used when marketers want customers to take action, for instance, following a link, answering a few questions, and ‘Like’ or “follow’ a brand. The advert strapline and email subject line can offer a reward within a set period of time (“Receive a 30% discount on your next [brand] purchase in just two minutes!”).
Lastly – time is a form of currency. Just as retailers have learned that 998 is perceived as attractively cheaper than 1000, customer may consider 1 minute to be an insufficient amount of time to complete the task and consider 3 minutes to be – literally – a waste of time. Here, too, marketers can use behavioural clues to gauge the optimal amount of time to ask for.
British historian E. P. Thompson argued that time is a precious commodity and that one needs to see to it is not wasted – “not the task but the value of time when reduced to money is dominant. Time is currency: it is not passed it is spent.” Marketers would do well to help their customers to make good use of their precious time in the hope that, in return, customers will allow them access to their precious attention span.