Gavin Lai
Jul 7, 2019

Don't blame short attention spans for unengaging content

FWD Insurance's Gavin Lai says if more brands simplified their content, made it clear, relatable and trustworthy, they wouldn't need to worry about millennials' supposed fickleness.

Don't blame short attention spans for unengaging content

It’s said that a successful article is one that’s read rather than scanned. And if you do read word for word, you’re in a small minority.

Apparently, this is the result of our increasingly deficient attention spans.

And it’s millennials who are widely assumed to be the most distracted of all. In fact, a recent study reveals that when it comes to content,  less than half of millennials are able to hold their attention spans for long periods of time. Clearly the goldfish effect is to blame.

Or is it?

Because on closer inspection, it seems that millennials are trapped by their own stereotypes.
In fact, recent work of my own has revealed that millennials simply engage with content in a very different way – and just as they have evolved, so must brands.

Because yes, millennials surf prolifically. But this isn’t because they have low attention spans (well, no more than anyone else). It’s because as digital natives, they’ve evolved to cope with multi-screening. Millennials are actually world-class multi-taskers, fully adept at streaming their favourite show while following a YouTube tutorial while responding to their best friend on Snapchat. And the content that does hold their attention is content that’s presented in a particular way.

In other words, this is less about their attention spans and more about how we communicate.
Case in point, the same study reveals that around half of us have become more selective about the content we engage with.

So, what are millennials selective about? Well, pretty much everything. From your new brand campaign through to your brand’s personality. Are you making them laugh? Enriching the experience with a sense of purpose?

And there’s one other crucial aspect and that’s their desire for simplicity. In short, our millennial multi-taskers have a low tolerance for anything that’s not user-friendly. Which is why at FWD we launched 'Project Clarity', an initiative I spearheaded with one singular mission: to simplify our customer communications. And we started with our contracts. Because in the end, ‘wall of print’ jargon-heavy contracts, the kind that are synonymous with the insurance industry, are not in the least bit synonymous with our brand values.

And during this project I learned a lot, including the fact that simplification is about much more than tone and language. Here are some take-aways:

Make your content scannable

Information architecture is essential. Bolded subheads, bullet points, images, infographics. It must be easy to scan your content and get an overview of what it’s about without fully reading it. Subheads also create an alternative point of entry into the main body of text which is a useful tactic.

Keep it *short

Sure, you have a lot to say. But you need to learn to say it in just a few short sentences. The upside of this is it cuts back on clutter, giving you more space to highlight your call-to-action. If the likes of Netflix can do it, so can you.

*But understand that less isn’t always more

Interestingly however, when it comes to explaining more complex concepts or ideas, people are surprisingly forgiving if you allow yourself a few extra words - in which case clever use of white space is essential.

Speak like a human being

Something happens to people when they start writing work-related copy. They create a whole new personality for themselves. And yet we all know that to sell, we need to use emotion to connect. I love this quote from the writer William Zinsser:

If you’re not a human who says ‘indeed’ or ‘moreover’ or who calls someone an individual…please don’t write it.

Basically, make it an easy reading experience: ditch the jargon and use words that your customers use.

Give your customers reasons to trust you

I know. Coming from someone who works in insurance. But hear me out.

Simplicity goes hand in hand with its cousin, transparency. And most of us in insurance know full well that our industry still has a way to go in bridging the trust deficit. This is one of the reasons we launched 'Project Exclusion', an ongoing piece of work that represents a complete rethink of how we sell to customers.

Through Project Exclusion we decided to directly address one of the most prevalent negative perceptions in insurance: traps hidden in the small print. And consumer caution has perhaps been understandable; we identified a number of exclusions that appear to have never been questioned – some based on out-of-date medical research; some based on little more than moral judgment; all of which our industry seems afraid to let go of.

So we went for the chop.

Project Exclusion has now seen a 50-70% reduction of exclusions, and as a result, FWD customers can feel more confident about their coverage.

Because in the end pretty much every customer in pretty much every industry wants their brand interactions to be simple and low effort. In fact, the Simplicity Index by Siegel+Gale reveals that customers are not only more loyal to brands with a simple user experience but more willing to pay for it.

So, how did I do? Did you make it to the end by scanning, or reading?

Gavin Lai is group product propositions director at FWD Group

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