4 reasons you should not market to goldfish brains | Cindy Hodnett

You’ve heard it all before.

For years, the accepted strategy in marketing has been to keep your customer communications short and simple; think quick-hitting, click-bait content that can attract a critical mass of individuals with goldfish-brain attention spans. Nothing too complicated, nothing very lengthy; just KISS and keep it simple, stupid.

But there are reasons to question this decades-old philosophy and if you need incentive to try a fresh marketing approach sans goldfish influence, here are four things to consider:

  • It might not be true.

In a 2020 article published in Inspire, a newsletter created by Ceros, a content creation platform company, author Andrew Littlefield debunks the goldfish-brain assertion in a column that dismantles the research cited to prove the validity of the claim.

According to Littlefield, the idea that human attention spans are now only eight seconds long due to the influence of the Internet and social media is one that grew without solid research to prove the point.

“This claim, which can be found in reputable publications all over the Internet, is built on evidence that is at best shaky and at worst completely fabricated. It relies on assumptions that cannot be safely made and falls apart under the most basic observation.”

  • Who do you think is binge-watching Bridgerton or Ozark?

An interesting statement in Littlefield’s column calls out the fact that while many companies have dumbed down their marketing messaging in response to goldfish brain theory, the consumers attributed with short attention spans are the same ones who are binge-watching series on Netflix and Hulu and playing video games like Dungeons and Dragons for hours on end.

Clearly attention spans can rise to the occasion if given a compelling reason.

  • The gold beyond goldfish

When consumers are not categorized as a one-size-fits-all, short-attention-span aggregate, new opportunities emerge.

Case in point, a 2022 National Retail Federation research brief reports on “aspirational independents,” a group of individuals representing 15% of the U.S. voting population, who have “a unique set of overlapping attitudes toward shopping and important policy issues that makes them highly valued to retailers and politicians alike.”

NRF describes members of this group as sophisticated and complex retail consumers who enjoy a variety of shopping destinations including brick-and-mortar stores, e-commerce and shopping apps, and 47% of the respondents report that they are planning to increase their spending this year. Further, the survey states that aspirational independents “are disproportionately middle-class and upper middle-class households with discretionary income” who state that “fun is their No. 1 attribute in shopping.”

Consider Mattress Mack, aka Top 100 retailer Gallery Furniture’s owner Jim McIngvale. In the wind up to this year’s World Series, McIngvale created a promotion that will refund double the amount purchased to customers who buy qualifying product if the Astros win. In addition to extensive press exposure, Mack and his team continue to build on Gallery Furniture’s image as a fun and whimsical place to shop, also while also offering customers the potential for the deal of a lifetime.

The NRF research would suggest that McIngvale hit a homerun with the aspirational independent crowd, matching the goals of the respondents who said they are looking for a good deal, fun, quality, trends, speed of delivery and friendliness.

  • Goodbye, simple. Hello, sincere.

Post-COVID, a new way of life is emerging, and anyone who claims to have it all figured out is likely to make a goldfish-brain mistake that could negatively impact bottom-line results.

As consumers continue to define their “new normal,” NRF recommends that retailers focus on imparting a sense of fun into their marketing messages, along with a voice that is “original, honest, free of jargon and empty promises.”

For some retailers, this might translate into supporting the local community with in-store promotions or neighborhood events. For others, it might involve illustrating a commitment to sustainability through product availability and curation. Or maybe it’s taking a page from Mattress Mack and betting on a horse who might not win the race but sets the stage for a memorable victory all the same.

Not exactly your average goldfish brain.

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