Calculating Long-Term Customer Value in the Age of Short Attention Spans

Posted on by Hamish McCollester

These days, no one has to watch ads for more than a few seconds. Sure, we still sit through TV commercials and radio jingles, but most of our content comes from the web. There, we can usually skip a YouTube commercial after five seconds and scroll right past Facebook advertising posts.

long-term customer relationships
Brands often want to be all things to all people, and in our age of fractured attention, vague messaging is easy to scroll past without a second thought.

A few seconds isn’t an exaggeration: Desktop Facebook users see pieces of content for an average of 2.5 seconds; on mobile, the average drops to 1.7 seconds. Attention spans are getting shorter, and that’s worrying marketers.

However, it’s still possible to make a lot out of a little, because a few seconds is all it takes to make an impact. Research from Nielsen shows that video impressions shorter than two seconds still have the power to increase brand awareness, brand recall and purchase intent. While attention has gotten shorter, it hasn’t vanished.

For brands, this presents a worthwhile challenge: Their messages need to be perfectly distilled. Brands often want to be all things to all people, and in our age of fractured attention, vague messaging is easy to scroll past without a second thought. This means that great creative is more important than ever, as it takes skill and ingenuity to articulate a brand’s story and tell it compellingly in the blink of an eye.

Why long beats short

Beyond sharper ads, there’s another way to win in the era of short attention spans: fostering long-term customer relationships. Brands have access to ever-increasing amounts of personalized consumer data, which gives them an opportunity to look beyond the traditional sales funnel.

The breakneck pace of modern media scares sales teams into scrambling around for scraps of attention. Instead, they should relax and focus on cultivating a web of long-term customer connections. Rather than solitary blips, sales should be thought of as flowing into several circuitously connected funnels, feeding into one another. An ad might not make an immediate sale in its two-second window, but it might be an important part of communications programs that can lead to several purchases over the span of years.


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The consumer’s overall journey is what matters most—starting with awareness and consideration, leading to the sale, and following through to customer satisfaction and a relationship with the product that lasts. Of course, in most instances, the cycle will eventually begin all over again as the loyal customer returns for repeat sales.

Loyal customers are gold for any industry. A shampoo brand, for example, might make only a dollar off each purchase. But shampoo is a product that almost everyone buys regularly, so getting frequent repeat customers is crucial. A car company has a different situation: A customer might make a purchase only every five to 10 years. The immediate profit for the brand will be much higher, but the company will also want to make sure its customer comes back to buy his next vehicle a decade from now.

There are several ways to nurture long-term customer relationships. Offering coupons on conditioner is one way; providing excellent car servicing is another. When a company can look at customer data over several years, it becomes much easier to justify these types of investments.

Brands also need to remember that no consumer is always ready to purchase and that customers don’t like to be treated like they should be buying now. But if a company stays on the customers’ minds—with relevant ads, great service, etc.—there’s only one brand they’ll think about when the time comes to make a purchase.

Amazon Prime’s unique path to long-term customers

Companies selling toiletries and transportation have figured out how to keep customers coming back. But a company like Amazon, which basically created its own industry, had to figure it out on its own. And as an integral part of its efforts, it has used an old, forgotten advertising technique to do it.

Back in the days of just a few black-and-white channels on TV, a single brand—Colgate toothpaste, for example—would sponsor an entire show. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a lasting remnant of that era. With its Prime subscription offering, Amazon has taken a page from that old playbook and turned it upside down for the modern era.

Rather than sponsoring outside content, the retailer now produces its own movies and shows for subscribers to its Prime shopping service. Of course, as with the TV sponsorships of old, this strategy comes with a cost. Amazon has made substantial investments to ensure that its content is incredibly rich and engaging. The production value on a show like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” for example, is huge.

It’s also paying off. Amazon realizes that there aren’t many customers willing to a commit to a year-long payment for faster, cheaper delivery alone. It’s hard to predict how many things you’ll buy from Amazon in a year, so it’s complicated to calculate whether a Prime subscription is worth it for that alone. Throw in some addictive content, though, and customers will pay just to keep watching.

Like most tech giants, Amazon has the data to know what it’s doing. Prime Video isn’t some harebrained scheme. Amazon knows what customers are worth in the long haul, and it has invested wisely to keep them.

Media has changed, but customers haven’t. Faster, flashier ads might spark some sales, but when it comes to making a real impact, long always beats short. Don’t fret over shorter attention spans. Rather, commit to using great, sharp creative to build those long-term relationships that customers crave. Their loyalty will last a lifetime.
Hamish McCollester is svp, group creative director for RAPP LA.

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