Memory, Information Overload, and 3 Ways Marketers Can Maximize Content

by contributor on March 5, 2014 in Content Marketing

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes courtesy of Joe Cardillo, who  works for design marketplace startup Visually, assisting with key client and partner collaborations, marketing, scaling process/workflow, and creating & presenting education focused webinars and content strategy for brands, agencies, and non-profit / policy organizations. When he’s not buried in emails, you can find him thinking out loud on Twitter about journalism, tech/startups, data, copyright, open access, and how the brain works. 

I was talking with my dad the other day about memory. At 73 years old he’s not moving as fast as he used to, but his mind is sharp and he has an almost limitless supply of dad jokes (if he really likes you he’ll even tell you a slightly dirty one).

It got me thinking about just how much information the brain is capable of holding. Our long-term memory of visuals, for example, is massive – a Duke University study from 2008 found that we remember specific details about an object, even after viewing thousands of images of other objects in the same time period.

In contrast, short-term memory is limited, but it’s valuable territory for marketers – in part because it contains what’s called “working memory,” which a good deal of research suggests is responsible for decision-making.

Massive expansion of the web has put all of us in a state of information overload. IBM estimated in 2012 that every two days we create as much data as was generated in all of human history up to 2003.

As the amount of information is increasing, we’re also seeing a corresponding decrease in our ability to pay attention. In 2000 the average adult’s attention span was 12 seconds. Last year this was reduced to 8 seconds, putting us just below the average attention span of a goldfish at 9 seconds.

What might this mean for marketers? One thing to keep in mind when putting together a content strategy is to differentiate between short and long form content. The first applies to what’s known as focused attention span, and is about catching people’s attention in 8 seconds or less, versus content that is more research oriented, how-to, etc.

Here are a few other practical ways for marketers to account for attention spans, memory, and the brain’s decision-making framework:

1. Be more visual- Even without an overall strategy, there’s evidence that simply using more visual content provides an advantage for marketers.

The brain simply processes visual content faster. Researchers believe that somewhere between 80-90% of all information that goes into the brain is visual, and that we process visuals thousands of times faster than text.

2. Provide abstracts or previews for content- People that are ready to engage with it on a deeper level likely won’t be bothered, and people that need to quickly discern if it’s worth coming back to can make that decision more smoothly.

3. Tell (and share) more stories- Recent research suggests that both visuals and stories are a key part of the brain’s decision-making process. Instead of accessing a general category (known as the prototype model) we are more likely to access specific memories (known as the exemplar model). This means that sharing stories can help us be present when audiences (prospect + client) are making important decisions.

It’s important to note that although these can all be individual, tactical advantages, they function best within an overall marketing and content strategy. They’re a starting point to make sure your brand is accessing people where and when it matters.

Looking for more engaging content marketing tips? Check out our Engagement Guide.

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