Use “Contextual Incremental Marketing” With the Distracted Consumer

Woman on phone, looking concerned.
Today’s average in-the-moment consumer exhibits a very short attention span, expects instant gratification and exhibits spontaneous buying behavior.

“I feel like I’m from a different planet”. This is how I feel today when I compare myself to the average modern day consumer (is there such a thing?), specifically, their impulse decision making, short attention span, and challenge in focusing. Is everyone distracted? Call me crazy, but when I consider an important purchase, investigate a brand, or generally try to write about something or solve a problem, I take a deliberate approach, use critical thinking skills, do in-depth research, triangulate sources, and plan ahead. One thing is certain: I know I’m from a different era.

There is a rising level of distraction in society that is also a real threat and opportunity for your brands. Today’s average in-the-moment consumer exhibits a very short attention span, expects instant gratification and exhibits spontaneous buying behavior. It’s no secret that the world we live in promotes and fosters this behavior.

  • Consumers are generally impatient and hyperactive. They get upset if they are in any line or have to wait for anything for more than a few seconds. They are upset if businesses don’t remember them.

  • Consumers can’t focus. They are constantly interrupted or busy with smartphones, multiple devices, packed schedules, and keeping connected with extensive networks. The average user checks a phone 150 times per day1.

  • Consumers live in the moment. They quickly forget their own loyalty history (or lack thereof), and often inflate their true propensity to do something in the future. They expect their present context to be understood, catered to, and appreciated.

Although you won’t change this conduct, you can still accomplish your goals by employing a best practice I’ll term “Contextual Incremental Marketing.” As a marketer, accept that there is very little patience, increasingly shorter message shelf lives, and a consumer that is less and less receptive to any outbound marketing, or any message for that matter that is too long or ordinary. Make no mistake, you can still build brand awareness and garner loyalty - however realize two things:

  • It can take years to build and establish loyalty, yet with one bad experience it can evaporate in seconds, since a consumer’s mindset is, “What have you done for me lately?”

  • You need to message in waves; in small compelling quickly digestible chunks available in any channel.

This means that even if you have a deeper, more complex, longer-term idea you need to explain or impression you want to make, break it up, and message it over a period of time. Contextual incremental marketing means both repeating and/or building upon your message, always using current consumer context to reinforce, sustain, adjust, and evolve it, with the end result being a better educated consumer, more likely to remember and to be impressed. This approach works for marketing a product, educating a consumer on your services, or surveying them for preferences. The stream of tactics used can be repetitive or additive depending on the goal.

For example, if your primary goal is brand awareness, a repetitive message is fine, but don’t repeat it in the same slots, at the same times, using the same channels. Mix it up. Make your points proactively to consumers in their preferred outbound channels, with the same messages available to them when they are in-channel.

If your goal is educating the consumer on retirement strategies, run a series of messages that build on each other, with each subsequent message summarizing key points from the latter, and then appending new ideas. Use current context to adjust the message, if for instance, the consumer has clearly become interested in college savings plans. The trick is for each message to be randomly incremental (without a predictable rhythm but still a sustained undertaking) and conversational. It needs to be strategically placed in varying media at a calculated (but somewhat random) cadence so you optimize its impact. Use storytelling and make it relatable in its tone. I learned the effectiveness of this method a few years back when I learned French.

As a firm, you need an approach, a systemic mindset, and technology stack that can react and adapt to this dynamic environment. Ironically, some of the same technologies that may be reinforcing this behavior can be used to combat it. Together, the total solution has to be customer focused, concise, real-time (responding in milliseconds since the consumer won’t wait), consistent, contextual, and unified. It must be unwavering in its ability to identify consumers with pinpoint accuracy, summon a photographic memory of their interests and preferences, factor in their current context and condition, and then act with predictive intelligence, rendering easily consumed yet compelling content, all while still delivering actions with a highly personalized touch.

We live in a fast paced world, with millions of micro blogs (less than 500 words), billions of videos (less than 3 minutes), and trillions of tweets (less than 140 characters). Accept what you can’t change and use the right methods to engage your time-crunched consumers.


1 Meeker, Mary and Wu, Liang. Internet Trends D11 Conference. Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (2013): 52