sequence of cognition in marketing

Attention Triage | Being Relevant In A Digital Age

In 2015, Time Magazine published a story claiming that humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish. Nine seconds and Goldy is done and moving on.

When sucked into the black hole of social media, it sure feels like that could be true. Though it turns out there is no scientific study to support how long a goldfish can actually focus, you would think that humans have the capability to attend to something a little longer.

Godfish-Influenced Marketing

As a result of the elusive study, companies large and small drank the Goldfish Kool-Aid and changed their approach to marketing, implementing strategies including:

  • Make content scannable
  • Include visuals
  • Keep text short and concise
goldfish marketing image

Since we now understand that there is no real data behind the attention span study, do we continue down this path or change our strategy?

The fact of the matter is something has shifted in how we apply attention to information, and the catalyst for this evolution is our digital environment. Understanding this shift and how it applies to marketing is in building an effective marketing strategy.

attention spans have changed- but how?

The digital environment has played a pivotal role in why our minds may bounce from one thought to the next. Sataya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, has said, “We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it is now almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.” 


Human attention isn’t scarce because the brain is no longer able to function effectively. Instead, constant access to information and new content means there is more content presented than attention available. 


In response to this, your attention span isn’t shrinking. Instead, it has adapted to remain effective in its new digital environment. 


For example, Microsoft’s Attention Report found that 44% of those surveyed struggled to stay focused on a task over time, lowering their ability to sustain attention for long periods of time. However, their neuro readings also found that those with higher usage of social media had significantly more bursts of high concentration in digital environments. Meaning they were able to process and encode information to memory more efficiently. 


Thus, sustained attention isn’t needed to allow cognitive functions to operate effectively. In fact, the findings suggest that cognitive processes are adapting to the digital environment of constant content and distraction to function more efficiently. 

roadmap forming brain with different road signs
The new triage strategy of cognition
watercolor brain image

According to Prezi’s 2018 State of Attention Reportattention abilities are actually increasing. In their survey of over 2,000 respondents in the professional world, six out of ten noted that their ability to remain focused on a task without getting distracted improved from the year before. 


The reason for this improvement follows an evolution in tactics for digesting information. 


Nearly 50% of people have become more selective in what content they choose to focus on, and as much as 38% will bookmark content to give their focus to it later when they can afford to give it their full attention.

attention spans are adapting

We apply our attention more selectively, prioritizing what information to process as we’re bombarded with content.

It’s a cognitive triage. Our brains are prioritizing new information as it presents itself, deciding what’s relevant and valuable for our time.

Whether an auto manufacturer or a medical practice, your marketing strategy should ensure that your brand is coming out with what is most important for your target customer to focus on right now.

It’s not necessarily about being scannable, using visuals, and keeping it short. You want to be prioritized, processed, and remembered amongst the chaos.

From this perspective, your strategy should no longer be contingent with the misconstrued idea that there are less than ten seconds to establish a connection. Instead, utilizing strategies that make your content easy to cognitively process and backed up with value creates an effective strategy based on value rather than fear.

Interested in learning how Positraction can help your brand become more relevant to your target demographic? Contact us at [email protected] and learn more.

neurons in brain with pencil erasing


four pillars of empathy in marketing

It’s Business. It’s Personal.

In one of many iconic lines from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 The Godfather, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) rationalizes to his family that his plan for revenge against his father is “not personal. It’s strictly business.” Since then, this quote has been cited invariably as a critical path to professional success. 

Although there are many situations when emotion should be left out of business, significant technology changes in communication have transformed the way we interact. 

With the average adult spending 5.9 hours consuming digital media daily, the growing shift from personal interaction to digital requires a greater understanding of emotional intelligence and empathy to be effective in connecting with your target audience. Now’s the time to consider making your business personal.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio tells us “we are not thinking machines that feel, rather, we are feeling machines that think”. Nearly every decision made has an emotional component.

Empathy is the ability to connect; it gives us the ability to identify and feel the emotions of others. It’s an innate ability. Every person has the capability of being empathetic; whether it’s used or not depends on the individual. 

Empathy isn’t about being agreeable, but rather it’s about striving to understand – which allows for deeper, more impactful connections.

Start with “Who”

Before diving into how to practice empathy in marketing, it’s important to identify your target demographic. Who are you talking to?

Humans are complex beings. Gender, age, race, ethnicity, education, profession, occupation, income level, and marital status are all typical examples of demographics. To really peek behind the curtain, understanding your target’s psychological tendencies, interests, values, hobbies, and lifestyle can help. All of these factors will change the best methods to market to your customers. 

It’s vital that your target audiences be fairly specific. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. 

Evaluate your current customer base for trends and check out your competition. It’s best to start with the audience you’re confident you want to reach and then test and expand.

Effective Empathy 

Once you’ve identified your customer base, “the how” in creating empathy is developed through thoughtful development in the tone of communication. This includes everything from word choice to visual messages, both denotation and connotation. Keep in mind that 3.04 billion people have active social media accounts, and 90% of users use social media to reach out to brands. It’s important to get it right.

However, sometimes it can be difficult to pin down an empathetic tone, and that’s because empathy is developed through multiple channels. 

We like to call these channels the Pillars of Empathy. By focusing on these pillars in your branding and communication, you will develop empathy in your tone and action organically. Which in turn means building a loyal customer base and growth potential for your business.

The Four Pillars of Empathy Are:

authenticity in marketing

In Stackla’s Bridging the Gap consumer report, surveying the perspective of consumers on brand content in the digital age, 90% of consumers noted that authenticity was a critical factor when deciding which brands they will support and invest in. Of those same consumers surveyed, 51% said that less than half of brands are publishing content that “resonates as authentic.”

Authenticity is the cornerstone of marketing; a brand can only succeed over the long term if what you’re presenting is genuine from start to end. 

This is especially true in our digital age in which modern-day consumers are constantly inundated with information. What’s more is upcoming consumer generations have never known the world without a smartphone in their pocket with access to nearly anything they could want. 

Today’s consumer is not a Buddy the Elf who’ll read a sign declaring you have the “the world’s best cup of coffee,” and assume it’s true.

Elf- world's best cup of coffee scene

“You did it! Congratulations. World’s best cup of coffee. Great job everybody.” – Buddy, Elf (2003)

Unlike Buddy the Elf who just “passed through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly-twirly gumdrops, and then …walked through the Lincoln Tunnel,” most consumers are savvy to the concept of branding and how that translates to their experience.  

There is a line, however, between the liberties of a brand identity (world’s best cup of coffee) and false or inaccurate presentations. What Stackla’s report reveals is that consumers have high expectations of brand authenticity and that many brands are failing that standard. 

Brand authenticity is the same as personal authenticity. Just like people, brands take on a personality. It’s clear when either is not being true to themselves or those with whom they interact. 

It’s important for words and actions to equal one another. 

Pay attention to your company’s mission statement and reflect on how you can make that mission statement actionable. By doing your mission statement, you will be able to demonstrate your authenticity and build trust with customers.  

The more genuinely you connect business operations, brand identity, and the conversation with customers, the easier it will be to develop customer loyalty. 

Authenticity facilitates empathy with your target customers because it not only attracts customers, but it’s able to maintain them as authenticity garners trust. 

Knowing what will resonate with your ideal consumer as authentic requires a level of understanding that feels insightful on a personal level for your customer. It’s here that authenticity both reveals and builds empathy.

Relatability in marketing

Whether it is with a client or a consumer, your connection is the fundamental element of the relationship. The easiest way to be relatable is through visuals, word choice, and tone.

Working with medical clients can be an interesting challenge, as the messaging to target physicians is vastly different than the same company messaging to patients.

As an example, with the aging Baby Boomer generation and people living longer, joint replacements are on the rise. There are more than 1 million total joint replacement surgeries performed in the United States annually. Because of technology, these once complicated surgeries can now be done in a surgery center versus a hospital for many healthy patients.

The goal of the marketing campaign is two-fold:

  1. To work with surgeons and their orthopaedic practices to move qualified cases to outpatient surgery centers (ASCs)
  2. To educate qualified patients can on the benefits of having their surgery in an outpatient surgery center, which can be less expensive, provides less chance of infection than the same procedure in a hospital and allows for the patient to recover at home.
Ambulatory Surgery Center Article with medical jargon
Achieve joint success

The tone of the communication developed for surgeons intends to connect through intelligent content featuring a research study to establish credibility. It features an image that is familiar (operating room) and uses industry jargon such as “ASC” and “Readmission Rates.” 

In contrast, the messaging to potential patients (target demographic 45-65) is nostalgic and tongue in cheek. The concept plays off of the popular 70s TV show, The Six Million Dollar Man. 

As most joint replacement candidates will attest, pain and suffering leading up to the decision for surgery can be debilitating – that’s likely the last thing they want to be reminded. The visuals and copy focus on the positives…the idea that one potentially saves money at a surgery center and will be “bionic” after. 

Even though the objective is similar, these two examples illustrate how the content should be crafted completely different based on the target audience. The choice of tone, created both through imagery and word choice, should match the ideal consumer you’re hoping to attract. By doing so, you’re making your brand more relatable.

belonging in marketing

The sense of belonging is what keeps people loyal to the things they love most.

In 1984, Toyota was launching its fifth-generation truck in the US and had hoped to be a serious contender in the mid-size pickup truck segment. Its competition was the likes of Ford, GM, and Chrysler. Moving the needle for purchase consideration away from the American manufacturers was a significant challenge.

To establish credibility, Toyota partnered with PPI Motorsports to create a factory-backed off-road racing team with Ivan “Ironman” Stewart as one of its main drivers. In addition to his genuine talent, he was “good guy” tough in a John Wayne, Wild Wild West sort of way. Stewart was uniquely known for driving races solo, never wearing gloves and driving with an open-faced helmet.

In addition to helping to get Toyota several racing victories, Stewart’s fans began to associate him with the brand. By purchasing Toyota trucks, those same fans felt like they were like him and a part of his team.

Collage of off road images of Ivan

Toyota’s Ivan “Ironman” Stewart and a number of his winning off-road race vehicles.

As a competitor on and off the course, Stewart always wanted to win over his fans and help his sponsor in any way he could. He took Dale Carnegie classes to better understand how to communicate effectively.

During autograph sessions, he strove to have the longest line compared to his competitors. Not only would he ask questions of his fans and genuinely be interested in their stories by simply adding a date to his autographs, he learned that people would come back year after year to get the newest autograph. By genuinely engaging with his fans, his fans were able to feel that sense of being “part of the team”.

Though he retired in 2000, he still has one of the longest-running manufacturer relationships, and in 2020, he will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame. To this day, he still dates his autographs and many of his fans post on his social media pages that they continue to purchase Toyota Trucks because of him.

Similar to relatability, empathy can create a sense of belonging, which means your audience belongs with you and you belong with them.

Accessibility in marketing

One might wonder how a brand’s accessibility can play into empathy.

Imagine that there is a scale where on one end, brands are very accessible, and on the other end, a brand is almost impossible to attain. Based on the level of accessibility, a brand can evoke emotion and create empathy with its consumers. This accessibility can be created through the ease of acquisition, supply, price point or other intended brand barriers.

Positraction Brand Accessibility Scale measuring how easy or difficult it is to experience a brand

For example, Amazon would be considered very accessible on our scale because of its ease of acquisition. Want to purchase a new set of pans for your kitchen? Or maybe a new flatscreen TV? In just a couple of clicks on Amazon’s website, you have almost instant gratification. That sense of gratification evokes a sense of happiness, which is then associated with the brand experience of shopping on Amazon.

A mid-spectrum example might be Kayne West’s shoe brand “Yeezy” which is partnered with Adidas. Historically, the limited distribution of the shoes far exceeded the demand. Yeezys are extremely exclusive causing prices and popularity to go up, making the shoes coveted. The brand plays on this limited access to create a sense of aspiration for those who want them, and a sense of joy and feeling special to those who have purchased them. The brand becomes an extension of a person’s identity.

The most extreme end of accessibility plays into delayed gratification. According to neurologist Sigmund Freud, most adults have a complicated relationship with pleasure. Studies show that people who learn how to manage their need for instant satisfaction tend to be more successful and thrive in their careers, relationships, health, and finances.

Virgin Galactic would be considered almost impossible to attain on our scale. For a mere $250,000, one can get in line for an opportunity to go on a 90-minute commercial flight into space (only after flight testing and FAA approval are complete). With 600 tickets already sold, the price point and the supply both play into the lack of accessibility. Delayed gratification … creates a sense of exclusive community for those who have a place in line.

Beyond the price and the wait time, Virgin Galactic created an “intended brand barrier” by partnering with Land Rover to produce a limited Astronaut Edition Range Rover. This vehicle is only available for purchase to those who are on the Virgin Galactic list to take a flight into space.

Making it Personal

While we would never want to get in a heated debate with Michael Corleone about who is correct on the business vs personal front – in this technological era, the four pillars of empathy could be the difference between swiping and clicking for your brand.

Interested in learning how Positraction can help your brand incorporate empathy into your marketing campaign?