Neuroplasticity + Diminished Attention Spans: Why Messaging is Now More Important Than Ever
Why is Messaging More Important Today?
Two common questions that people often ask us are “Why messaging?” and “Why now?” Why are chatbots useful now as a marketing tactic, when the first iterations (e.g. Clippy) were not? Firstly, there are huge differences in technology when comparing 1997 (when Clippy was first introduced) and today. We can point to a few obvious things, such as processing power and the enhancement of machine learning and NLP. However, in truth, those technologies are still in their infancy and the chatbots of today have a similar decision-tree based structure and multiple choice answers. So one might wonder, “What has changed?”
The answer lies less in technology, and more in the understanding that your users have changed…and are continually changing—making bots and messaging that much more powerful. Let me explain more.
What is Neuroplasticity?
Currently, I am reading the 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. The book discusses the topic of neuroplasticity and its impacts in depth.
Scientists used to think, that as people age, their brains stop learning and growing. However, in a somewhat recent past, scientists have learned that our brains are quite flexible; neurons are breaking old connections and forming new ones—making them very “plastic”. Our brains constantly adapt to our environment and our needs, which means that parts of our brain that are heavily used are strengthened, and those that are not used, can wither and die. (You can see a more in-depth explanation here.)
For example, in the 1990s, British researchers scanned the brains of London cab drivers who had between 2 and 42 years of experience. When they compared the scans of the cab drivers’ brains to that of a control group, they found that the posterior hippocampus, a part of the brain that stores and manipulates spatial representations of a person’s surroundings (skills required of a driver), was much larger than normal. Moreover, that the longer the driver had been on the job, the larger the driver’s posterior hippocampus.
Memorization: How Neuroplasticity and Technology Affect Us
Neuroplasticity affects us in that as our environment shapes our brain, we become different humans. Currently in a highly-tech world, our brains are changing to the technologies around us.
This starts with our memory and how we process information. Since the dawn of man, we have used different methods of memory storage which started with books, and moved to audio and videotapes. The internet became the best replacement of artificial memory in that it can keep a vast amount of data, leaving humans to know much less and memorization to become almost obsolete.
Evidence suggests that as we build up our personal memories, our brains become sharper. The act of remembering allows you to learn ideas and skills in the future. More importantly, memory consolidation requires the skill of attentiveness. As we rely on the Internet more and more, and stop leveraging our memory less and less, our brain reconfigures. Unfortunately, the effect of this is that our brains are shaping to be less and less attentive.
Microsoft + The Attention Span of a Goldfish
This is underscored by two relatively recent studies.
First, a 2014 study by the British unit of advertising buyer OMD that found the average person shifts their attention between their smartphone, tablet and laptop 21 times in an hour. This suggests the human attention span is shorter due to the growing presence of these gadgets. The desire to constantly be connected can compromise attention, but this is in exchange for being better at multitasking.
Secondly 2015, Microsoft released a 54-page study (presented here) to better understand the impact of technology on a human’s attention span. The results found, that the human attention span fell from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015; this was noted as less than goldfish’s attention span of 9 seconds.
How Attention Spans Affect User Journey + Funnels
Currently the way that people purchase B2B products (and most B2C products as well) is first through research. Generally research is layered in credibility of the source. First person and known customers will be valued the highest, followed by reputable third-parties and then the company itself. The most likely scenario (since most people cannot find first-person sources), is starting at the company website.
The issue with decreased attention spans is that users are less likely to read through a website as they would have in the past. The longer form content which may be helpful in cases of SEO, is just not as impactful anymore.
As soon as users try to find an answer that is not available in a quick glance, they reach a friction point in the process. As they continue to see friction points, they become less and less likely to move to the next stage in the purchase funnel.
Why Messaging Helps This Process
Messaging removes this friction point in two different steps in the funnel. In the first step of research in the funnel, chatbots perform an excellent job of providing information without putting any pressure on the user to move to the next step (which creates website abandonment).
As people are looking at your website, chatbots can answer common questions in a decision tree format, or you can train your bot with natural language processing to answer questions in a more organic and dynamic way. In this way, people do not have to read through the site or learn the UI to navigate the site, they can just request and get the needs fulfilled.
Messaging also improves closer toward the end of the funnel, once their research has been done and they feel ready to move to a conversion point (e.g. demo, trial, sale). In this case, they feel more confident about your product or service, but either a.) still have a few outstanding or niche questions, or b.) want to request a demo or trial. In both these cases, live chat messaging is especially helpful.
With shorter attention spans, people need information quickly. If you can provide this on-demand and get them what they need, and/or set them up on a demo or trial immediately, you help to shorten the sales cycle and convert faster.
Our brains are amazing machines that are designed to adapt to the environment around us (in order to be more successful). Increased access to the internet, social media, and using other technologies is slowly re-wiring our brain so that attention spans are drastically reducing, making marketing content on websites less effective. In order to combat this, leveraging messaging to provide information quickly will reduce friction and shorten the sales process.
The trick is, if the information stated above is true, you likely didn’t read the whole post. If we’re lucky, you’ve probably looked at the headlines and if interested, read the first couple lines underneath. And that only further proves my point.
If you’re interested in getting information more directly on this topic, let’s chat. You can reach out to us at email@example.com.