How can visitor-serving organizations secure attention in today’s noisy world?
Goldfish have a notoriously short attention span of only nine seconds. But according to a study by Microsoft, there’s a creature today with an even shorter attention span of only eight seconds! That creature?
That’s the topic of this week’s Know Your Own Bone – Fast Facts Video. The average human attention span has dropped from twelve seconds to eight seconds since 2000. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this decrease in attention span correlates with an increase in mobile web and digital technology usage. Aside from being alarming, what does this mean for entities aiming to be worthy of attention in today’s noisy environment?
How can we get the attention of human goldfish?
Rather read than watch? No problem. Visitor-serving organizations may benefit by keeping these three items in mind regardless of their preferred method of taking in industry information. So with that in mind…
1) Use fish food
Use messages that matter to your audiences to cut through the water.
This means knowing who your organization is trying to attract, and making sure the organization is deploying strategies and messages that are relevant to those people. Remember: Your organization may declare importance, but the market determines relevance. In other words, if a message doesn’t matter to the audiences who you are aiming to educate and inspire, then it will not be considered important.
Other industry professionals are generally not the primary, target audiences of cultural organizations. Forgetting this can skew perspectives. “Using fish food” means being an organization that considers what matters to audiences (fish, in this metaphor) rather than messages that matter to industry professionals. Perhaps understandably, it’s already difficult to overcome insider biases already. That may make this point even more important to keep in mind.
It sounds obvious, perhaps, but it can be easy to forget that a potential guest may not understand that innate meaning of a Grant Wood painting, a Tosca aria, or an eighteenth century soup tureen in the same way that these items may have meaning to musicians and curators. Indeed, our task is to convey the meaning in a way that motivates the desired behavior of visitation, endorsement, membership, or support. To do that, it helps to create messages from the perspective of what matters and may secure the attention of these folks.
2) Make the first bite it taste great
Make every second count.
Eight seconds isn’t much time. Not every message will work for every audience, but for those messages that need to “go broad,” organizations may benefit by understanding what is most important to communicate regarding their brands and experiences.
Here’s a hint: It’s probably not how your organization fills out its tax forms.
Some organizations will use precious time communicating their nonprofit status instead of their mission. The market is increasingly sector agnostic. This means that, to many, why you are nonprofit – and the great experiences you provide – may be more relevant than an organization’s tax status. Corporate social responsibility is touted as a business requirement for for-profit entities today, so social missions no longer “belong” to nonprofits. And having a social mission doesn’t necessarily mean that an entity is successful in carrying out that mission.
Not only that, most visitors to cultural organizations do not know that they are nonprofit entities. And maybe that’s okay, because believing that an entity is nonprofit or government run may lower visitor satisfaction.
For-profit visitor-serving entities may better understand the need to prioritize messaging. As a glib example that I’ve shared before, consider how an entity like Disney might approach their most important messages: “We are Walt Disney World. We create magical, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Buy a ticket.”
More common in the cultural industry may still be a message that goes something like this: “We are a museum! We are a nonprofit organization. Buy a ticket.”
Indeed, the “nonprofit” message is an important one for potential donors. That said, we do not live in a one-size-fits all world. Certain channels allow organizations to more effectively personalize their messages for target audience sub-sets.
3) Serve that fish food in the water
Meet audiences where they are – not where you’d like them to be.
Much of the population, and particularly those who profile as likely visitors to cultural organizations, get their information primarily from online sources, such as the web and social media. Data suggest that, increasingly, fewer and fewer fish are on dry land reading brochures.
An entity may have the right message that evokes meaning, but if that message is promulgated on a channel where target audiences aren’t spending time, then target audiences won’t hear it. Indeed, it may be more convenient for industry professionals if likely visitors were consulting their direct mail for information to inform their visit. “We know that channel!” However, that’s not the case.
Social media, web, and mobile web are not only the go-to sources of information for likely visitors. Cultural organizations not meeting expectations for using offsite technology is an actual barrier to visitation.
This isn’t to say that television and radio don’t have their place. These channels are part of an effective overall communication strategy. The point is that we don’t get to pick the best channel to reach audiences – they do. Cultural organizations then get to decide if they’d like to speak into that room full of people, or shout into an emptier one.
Meet audiences where they are.
Putting the fish metaphor aside, consider that the following sentence read aloud is only eight seconds long:
Targeting the right people, with the right message, in the right place may be more important than ever before.
Ours is an industry of educated learners with stories to tell and meaningful lessons to impart. We know how to talk. Today, however, we live in a noisy world in which having the opportunity to tell these stories first requires getting the attention of people with eight-second attention spans. If we cannot capture their attention thoughtfully within this timeframe, then it stands to reason that we not be able to further engage them at all.
To catch today’s fish, let’s make sure we have the best hook and line ready in the water.