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Digital distraction disorder - a problem for consumers, a bigger problem for marketers

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher December 10, 2015
We all suffer from DDD - otherwise known as digital distraction disorder. The question is: as a marketer. how do you deal with it?

Last week I spent some time at the Gilbane Conference in Boston and moderated a few sessions. One that I found interesting dealt with the struggle to get attention amidst the sea of content and data floating around the Internet today.

Consumers are inundated with information from brands wanting them to buy something, from friends and family, offering their opinions, from experts and analysts, and the list goes on. Making a decision to purchase a product or service has become easier - and harder. This challenge is for the consumer AND the brand.

In his Gilbane presentation, “The Digital Brain: How we developed ADD and what to do about it”, Jesse Kalfel, Senior Director, Creative Services Studio  at SAP, talked about how much the Internet has changed in the last 25 years, and how we have changed with it.

Dealing with digital distraction disorder

Kalfel says we have been rewired, and suffer from what he calls DDD - Digital distraction disorder. Think about how much time you spend on the Internet when you aren’t at work. Think about your smartphone and how much time you spend reading email, checking tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn, instant messaging and so on. We have this huge fear of missing out (FOMO), so we are always connecting. But we don’t read every little thing. Instead we look for instant gratification, and move on if we don’t find it.

Kalfel pointed out that more people can read now than ever before, but the amount we read has decreased significantly. We, as consumers, have become scanners, scrollers, and skimmers. We also don’t write much anymore - we text, we email. Some schools don’t care if kids can spell or write cursive, as long as there’s a computer or an iPad.

Even Google is a double-edged search engine, says Kalfel. Google makes us smarter because we can quickly and easily find the information we need. But it also makes us dumber because we don’t worry about remembering details when we know we can find it online quickly.

This is how Kalfel summarized it:

  • Our plastic brains have adapted to information overload in our always-on digital world.
  • People have developed ADD when it comes to how content is delivered and how they encounter their Web experience.
  • Distraction bombardment is the new norm.
  • Our attention span is down.
  • Our impatience is up.
  • We read less, skim more.

As a marketer, this poses a huge challenge. You have minutes, if not seconds, to get a consumer’s attention before they jump to something else. You have to deal with patience killers carefully - slow loading websites, copy clutter, poor navigation, no interactivity.

Addressing the DDD challenge

There are many ways marketers can deal with digital distraction disorder, and Kalfel offered a few suggestions, many of which are visual and interactive: gamification, data-driven infographics, infographics used for social media (he called these tweet cards), less copy and cleaner, slimmed down web pages.

Kevin Lindsay, Director of Conversion Product Marketing at Adobe, also offered his perspective into the digital brain and how marketers can deal with it. Lindsay focused on conversion optimization and personalization. and told us that marketers need to think harder about content and design.

Lindsay’s presentation was snappy, and attention getting - he wasted no time taking us through what marketers need to do to get attention and keep it:

  1. Play with emotions - make sure your content and design are attention grabbing, shareable and memorable.
  2. Encourage commitment or belonging - how can you get people to want to take the next step?
  3. Leverage trust and authority - show the data; numbers have power. Lindsay said that studies showed when we part with money the experience activates the brain’s pain centers. His advice: remove the $$ for emotional purchases, keep the $$ for rational purchases.

Lindsay told us that it’s less about what you say than it is about how you say it. Visual design plays a critical role in how you say it. It’s about storytelling - and there are so many ways to tell a good story.

My take

I am both a consumer and a marketer. As a consumer, I understand the digital brain challenge. I rarely read entire articles and my books miss me (they cry every time I walk past them). I check my email almost as many times a day as I breath (slight exaggeration, but my husband might be inclined to agree). I am always looking for information quickly and easily, and then moving on.

I understand DDD. I think it would be hard to find anyone these days that didn’t.

As a marketer, this is a challenge that grows more difficult every day. Not only do we need to create content that grabs attention; it needs to speak to each of us on a personal level. And that’s not easy to do. Marketers need to be creative, but they also need to deeply understand their customers and the journey to purchase. We have to find a way to show, what Lindsay called the “single, selfish benefit.”

Image credit: Annoying noise © olly -

Disclosure: SAP is a diginomica premier partner.

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