Navigating the internet of (too many) things: contending with digital fatigue

By Michael Bartley, published in Transform Magazine, July 2023

A woman surrounded by digital media articles.

Why are consumers really turned off by your content - and how can you turn them back around? Michael Bartley, executive creative director at Indigo Slate, a Zensar company, explores how putting human authenticity and personality at the heart of your digital efforts can help cut through the immunity customers have built against digital-first content experiences.

In 1985, just shy of the turn of the century—and several decades before the internet, as we know it, came to be—Neil Postman took a guess at what the future might hold. The result was a book called, morbidly enough, Amusing Ourselves to Death, the crux of which was something Postman described as the “information-action ratio”, a kind of input-induced paralysis where we’re handed too much information to know what to do with it.

Whether it was prophecy or providence, it’s time to admit Postman was right. Today’s consumers are increasingly turned off by the overwhelming amount of digital content they encounter daily. This phenomenon, frequently called digital fatigue, not only poses a challenge for brands striving to engage their target audiences, but produces a tangible negative impact on bottom lines.

Some believe that this fatigue – or shift in consumer mindset – stems from the pandemic when brands emphasised immediate conversions. The findings in Deloitte’s recent Digital Consumer Trends survey back this up, showing a significant deceleration of smart device adoption and remorse among users regarding time spent on devices. While we’ve begun to put pandemic-era approaches to digital marketing behind us, we may have inadvertently neglected the importance of long-term thinking in the process, leading to budget cuts primarily affecting brand awareness initiatives and a heightened emphasis on short-term sales activation, especially prevalent in the B2B sector.

Les Binet and Peter Field’s latest research, Effectiveness in Context - in which they dub short-term activation campaigns and sales programmes ‘short-termism’ - demonstrates that, although often highly profitable and efficient in the short-term, over a longer period of time, this tactic rapidly deteriorates the overall impact of marketing, limiting brands’ ability to capture consumers’ imaginations and maintain their attention.

There are pros and cons to each mindset, and, as with most strategies, it’s all about striking the appropriate balance between them. However, prioritising short-termism—especially when it’s coupled with extreme content overload, as it so often is today— could push consumers to tune out the noise, inoculate themselves against overstimulation, and actively avoid engaging with digital media. This means that, despite brands’ investments in their digital-first advertising and content efforts, it may fall on deaf ears.

Read more from Michael Bartley in the full article on Transform Magazine.


Jeremy Bonner

Transform Magazine

strategy, technology

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