Goldfish Attention Span Myth

Why Your Audience Can’t Sit Still, and What You Can Do About It

In: Insights

Should we really be comparing ourselves to goldfish?

In 2015, Microsoft Canada released a study on people’s apparent shrinking attention spans. The study showed that due to technological advances, the average individual’s attention span was down from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to 8 seconds —one second shorter than the attention span of your average goldfish.


I’m sure you’ve heard that statistic before, along with the goldfish reference. But what are the ramifications of that? Has this research on lack of attention span largely become an excuse for poor marketing?

We all end up playing the content marketing game, because, Content is King after all. Don’t get me wrong, we’re huge advocates of content marketing, we wouldn’t be writing this blog if we weren’t. But when that content marketing becomes about pushing out a huge quantity, or trying to be louder or more flashy in hopes of simply getting noticed, it often ends up aimlessly adding to the noise.

We’ve been told we have to capture their attention in several seconds so we throw everything against the wall and hope something sticks.

cut through the noise

With a constant stream of noise and excitement jumping up and down for your customer’s attention, how do you get them to focus on you, your service, or your product? And then if you do get their attention on you, how do you hold onto it until they take action, or ‘convert’?

But wait, there’s more

There are differing opinions, though, that believe a shrinking attention span might not necessarily be the problem.

(Although it still is a problem.)

The issue of attention span, it seems, might actually just be a growing number of options to choose from. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

Take this, for example. It’s Friday night in the year 2000 and it’s time for your family to choose a movie for movie night. What do you do? You jump in the car and head to the local Blockbuster to see what they have. You take into account what’s age appropriate for your children, what you haven’t seen yet, and what’s left on the shelves and eventually a decision is made.

too many options

Fast forward to 2019 and the options are basically endless: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Vudu, HBO GO. They all have streaming options, not to mention that you can rent almost any movie on Apple Movies. Where do you even begin? How do you make a decision? Sometimes it seems like we take longer to choose a movie than the length of the movie itself!

Endless options and access creates new challenges and opportunities for marketing today.

It’s about accuracy and simplicity

It’s about getting your product in front of those who will find it useful, whose attention will be grabbed by it, whose focus will stay on it. It’s about reaching those who will find what you have to offer valuable.

(If you want to learn more about this, you can download our free ebook here.)

Once you have reached this audience, it’s your job to not let them slip away. One of the most common reasons your prospect doesn’t convert, is because you’ve distracted them with too many options. Think about the one thing you want your customer to do at the moment they’ve found you, and focus on that.

Moral of the story?

Whether our attention span is actually shrinking or we’re just overwhelmed with options, we can say these things for sure. Know your audience. Don’t make the mistake of distracting them with multiple goals, calls to action, or other products or services you think they might need down the road. Take a focused approach, cut through the noise and effectively grab your audience’s attention.