If it’s good enough, it’s long enough

‘People today have attention spans that can only be measured in nano seconds.’

Ted Denslow, BASEketball (1998)

Ask five marketing people if their eBooks, blogs, reports and decks should be shorter, and I’ll bet four will say yes (the fifth will have become distracted halfway through the question). Push them for a reason why and they’ll probably tell you one of the following…

  1. People’s attention spans are getting shorter
  2. Customers are time poor and don’t have time to read, watch or consume their stuff
  3. They’re plugging their stuff to busy people who just want the important information, right away

And sure, some of that might be true. A few experts say that attention spans are narrowing. People are generally busy (not exactly a new trend). And some of them do want important information slapped in front of their face like a wet fish, and context be damned.

All of which contributes to a growing marketing-wide misnomer that we should shy away from anything that could be seen to be a long read, or that requires a lot of attention. Focusing instead on short, pithy, ‘bite size’ content that marketers think will be easier to consume on a phone/the move.

The problem with that approach is that it focuses on the wrong issue. Because the reason people don’t get to the end of a piece of content is not that it’s too long, it’s that it’s not worth their time.

Don’t let the bastards grind it down

I suspect that most content creators know that long is fine, if done well enough. But the challenge they’re up against is a mindset that tells them to be super quick, even if super quick isn’t right.

The thing to avoid isn’t length, it’s being boring. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a tweet or a treatise, if you bore people, they’ll switch off. (I hope to God you’re still here.)

So, take some lessons from long form that works. Think about that next piece of content you’re creating. How will you give yourself enough room to tell your story? And give your audience a reason to get through it?

The first thing is to discard the notion that it’s got to be super short. Yes, people love GIFs. We at OG love GIFs. Sometimes we have entire conversations in GIFs. And if you want us to make some GIFs we’ll be all like…

Remake Dynamite GIF

But people have not lost their capacity to watch the entire films that our beloved GIFs came from. So, y’know, don’t underestimate your audience. Credit them with the smarts and attention spans to comprehend (even enjoy) something that’s more challenging and takes a bigger time investment (worth noting the optimum length of a YouTube video is four minutes – two and a half more than many marketers are comfortable with).

While you’re at it, don’t think content first, message second. Figure out what you want to say and what saying it well looks like. If it’s interesting and complex enough to be a 5000 word eBook, that’s what you should produce. If you know you won’t be engaging enough to go that long, don’t try and string it out because that’s what you’ve sold in.

The worst content comes from when marketers get the horse and cart the wrong way round. And as a reader it’s really easy to see when a writer is struggling to say a lot in too short a space, or vice versa.

Lastly, be brave. It takes more pluck to confidently tell a client that they should abandon their notion that people don’t have time to consume long content than it does to cram a lot of info and insight into 200 words. And if you need proof to back yourself up, well here it is:

Long read content can be more shareable than short pieces, defying the notion that snappy is easy to share.

Celebrate the long read

It’s bad enough that people now use the word ‘snackable’ to describe anything that’s not quite literally a snack. It’s worse that brands shy away from long form because they think that people won’t get through it.

As content creators we should celebrate the long read that holds the reader’s attention across pages, the video that doesn’t cut off at 90 seconds when there’s more to say, and the podcast that’s bold enough to top an hour.

Our audience haven’t lost the capacity to get involved in content. So neither should we.

Want to know what our writers like to read? Check out our latest Reading List.