Matt Williams: why brands need to work harder to make you spend more time with them

Time has been of the essence in Cannes – literally. Without doubt one of the key issues so far, people are either calling for more of it, making products out of recognition that people have less of it, or simply encouraging others to speed up and get going.

Yesterday, for example, we had Sagmeister & Walsh founder Jessica Walsh on stage asking for the creative process to be slowed down so that people can take themselves away to experiment, have some fun and work on coming up with genuinely innovative ideas.

Yet she was then followed on stage by Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel, who has literally made a living catering for a market who want to live in the moment, who live a mile-a-minute and aren’t interested in anything that happened less than a few seconds ago, let alone a piece of content that requires a good portion of their day.

Lauren-LaverneBut perhaps the most interesting take on the issue of time came via Somethin’ Else’s panel forum, which featured a collection of wity, personable and genuinely insightful speakers from Radio One, The Economist and The Pool (a new venture by BBC 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne – left). In a festival full of egos and celebrities, you can imagine how rarely you find that.

All three speakers came from very different standpoints, but all seemed to recognise the same overriding issue – their jobs are to save people time. The Economist, for example, may be the anti-Snapchat with their in-depth articles and thoughtful prose, but deputy editor Tom Standage felt that what they asked of their audience was “an hour and a half or so” at the end of their week, which will enable the publication to curate the most important news and the very best comment to fulfill all their current affairs needs.

Laverne’s The Pool, meanwhile, was built on the insight that women don’t have all day to wade through a sea of content being thrown at them, so her job is to curate the best content that genuinely matters. The website’s strapline is ‘for women too busy to browse’, and offerings like an early morning newsletter and ‘lunchtime drop’, which can bring people up to speed with everything they need in one go, have proved wildly popular in the three months or so that the website has been live.

Indeed, I thought it interesting to note that every article or feature on the site has an estimated time frame, so that users can make a judgement call on whether they are going to invest a portion of their day in the content.

Because there’s the rub. I agree with Standage when he takes issue with the notion that attention spans are getting shorter – as he says, people wouldn’t be binge-watching TV box sets if so – but content is being thrown at consumers from so many directions, and smart phones and other mobile devices are giving people more opportunities to make content snackable.

The trick then is to not dumb down your content for the time-poor, but to create genuinely interesting and relevant work that consumers feel is worthy for them to invest their time in.

Time has always been the most precious of commodities – but that doesn’t mean people are less willing to afford you some. They just expect you to make it worth your while. It’s not a new insight, but one that’s never been more important. Brands would do well to remember that.

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