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The 'Critical 7 Seconds': Starting the customer conversation, or ending it?

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In the first seven seconds, your customer makes the first critical decision. Whether to keep listening, enter into a conversation with you, or end it right now.

For marketers, seven seconds mark the first moment of truth. It's the size of our smallest attention window. You only have 7 seconds to get attention and answer customers' key question, "What's in it for me?"

Not by accident, seven seconds is the length of the average sound bite in news media. On TV or radio, seven seconds is how long your spokesperson will probably get to make a point. Are your media spokespersons ready for that?

Do your Web pages get to the point in 7 seconds? Does a headline on your blog, on your website, in your newsletter or magazine gets 7 seconds to do the job? In online and print media, does seven seconds translate into 23 words or less—a headline and a subhead, or a headline and two bullets?

Many of us receive hundreds of emails a day. An email gets the briefest attention as your customer decides whether to open it, trash it or banish you to junk mail jail.

That's why your email subject line needs to be short and sweet. It needs to be about the benefits to your customer, not the features of your company or product.

Perhaps you can intrigue your customers in seven seconds. Or provoke them. Consider this: A seven-second question, asked in the words your customer really uses, may gain attention better than your seven-second answer.

Seven seconds make a good tweet. While Twitter permits you up to 140 characters, shorter tweets get retweeted much more.

Vine built a video network around six-second videos. To me, that's a tiny bit too short. Perhaps that's why Vine's rivals countered with longer videos.

Your audience starts out the same way every day—skeptical, overcommunicated, and distracted by the many barking dogs of media. I contend: if you can't tell your story in seven seconds, you can't tell your story to most people.

Once you've won seven seconds of attention with the right story, you may win another two minutes, five minutes or even 20 minutes. But remember—the first seconds will make or break your story.

George Stenitzer is VP-corporate and marketing communications at Tellabs (www.tellabs.com),, which provides equipment to help customers power the smart mobile Internet. He can be reached at george.stenitzer@tellabs.com.

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