Messaging for people who don’t read

By Katy Penrod, Minerva Strategies —

Today’s information-consumer has access to information anywhere, at any time. With an internet connection, one can check the weather forecast in Barcelona, watch the latest viral cat video, or read about the Iran-U.S. nuclear deal with just a click.

This instantaneous and far-reaching access to information has changed the way people consume material and has significant implications for making sure your message reaches your target audience.

Dwindling Attention Spans

In an entertaining article published at Slate, Farhad Manjoo illustrates one of the biggest issues presented by the buffet-style structure of internet media – attention span. His analyst at Chartbeat found that only about 50 percent of readers make it past the first few sentences of content published on the site and most of the other 50 percent don’t make it past the half-way mark. Only a select few make it to the end.

This study is part of a larger body of work that shows, overall, consumers are accessing and taking in a lot of content but engaging with it for a short period of time with a minimal level of comprehension.

Why We Care

In the communications field, we frequently put out content that seeks to communicate ideas, often in a storytelling or theme-driven format. In order to effectively communicate to an audience in an environment of unprecedented competition for attention, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Keep things concise. As the Slate article evidences, many people do not make it more than a few lines into a piece. As such, it is important to communicate your message clearly and in simple (but not dumbed down) terms as quickly as possible.
  1. Grab their attention Ideally, that first bit will be so engaging that the consumer will want to know more about you and your message. Why is what you are communicating important? Why should the consumer care? What will they get out of reading? Once you have the consumer’s interest, you can flesh out the message.
  1. Know your audience. It is important to know what audience you are trying to reach and to understand what information and format will be most appealing to them. Senior citizens aren’t checking out Instagram and teenagers aren’t reading print advertisements. Smart communicators know and respect these audience divides.


Long Story Short

Developments in technology have changed the way consumers take in information. While the plethora of material available has connected the world in ways we would never have thought possible even decades ago, it has also made each piece of information less visible and (at least superficially) less valuable. In order to stand out from the rest, your message must be concise, engaging, and relevant.