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Peoples attention spans are dwindling, but its not all bad news for marketers.

Tech-savvy consumers are getting better at processing information and encoding

that information to memory, according to a new study from Microsoft Canada.
To understand what impact todays digital lives are having on attention spans,
Microsoft conducted a gamified online survey of 2,000 Canadians in December
2014. The company also did a deeper dive with neurological research on 112
participants. Their brain activity was recorded using EEGs and their behaviour was
filmed as they interacted with different media and performed various activities
across devices.
When it comes to sustained attention, or the ability to maintain prolonged focus,
the study found Canadians struggle. In the survey, 44% of Canadians agreed they
really have to concentrate to stay focused on tasks. This is higher among early tech
adopters (68%), heavy social media users (67%) 18-24-year-olds (67%) and heavy
multi-screeners (57%).
While peoples attention levels are dropping, thats only true in the long term. The
study found early tech adopters and heavy social media users have more
intermittent bursts of high attention. Theyre better at identifying what they
want/dont want and need less to process and commit things to memory.
While overall our long-term focus does erode with increased digital consumption
and digital behaviours, we see that its actually changing the way that we process
information, said Alyson Gausby, consumer insights lead at Microsoft Canada.
We see that consumers who have more digital lives are actually getting better at
processing information and then encoding that to memory. So that is good news for
marketers overall. It changes the way we market to them.
To get consumers attention, tactics like branded content, native advertising and
useful, entertaining and shareable content work best, according to the report. Its
really important that marketers be very clear, to the point, very personal and
relevant anything that will lead consumers to want to engage with the content,
said Gausby. Today, we dont always necessarily have the luxury of building a
story, so sometimes we need to craft headlines that can say it all and pare down our
message so its as clear and concise as possible.
The study also looked at selective attention, or the ability to filter out distractions
that arent related to what a person is doing. Selective attention isnt affected by
social media usage, media consumption or device usage. But it is affected by

multi-screening: heavy multi-screeners find it difficult to filter out irrelevant

But since consumers turn to their secondary screens to fill in those in-between
moments when they might otherwise drop off completely, theyre more engaged
overall and primed for immersive experiences, according to the report.
To reach multi-screeners, Microsoft suggests harnessing the power of peripheral
motion. Rich media ads, for example, can help capture attention. Whether were
on the plains of Africa or on a busy street in New York, I think were sort of trained
to notice whats moving, said Gausby. So that plays into why engagement levels
are so much higher for rich media, for example.
One result that Gausby found surprising was that there arent significant
differences across age or gender with regards to attention spans. What we do has a
much bigger impact than who we are, she said. Our digital behaviours are
correlated with attention spans and demographics are not.