Media Brand Strategy Business Leadership

Size is everything: marketing experts on the cross-platform longform v shortform battle

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By Sam Anderson | Editor, The Drum Network

August 16, 2022 | 11 min read

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How long should a blog be? A marketing video? A podcast? As platforms rise and fall, they bring with them paradigm shifts in content length – just look at the universal scramble to emulate, copy or battle TikTok’s short videos. So, in 2022, how long should a piece of content be? We asked nine experts from The Drum Network.

A number of blue pencils standing upright

Experts love to debate optimum content length in every medium – but what’s the best approach right now? / Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Dan Rozier, group creative director, Laundry Service

I’ve watched a woman stock vending machines on TikTok and entire seasons of 90 Day Fiancé. I’ve devoured pillow mint-sized portions of Euphoria on Twitter and seen the funny ‘Becoming Your Parents’ Progressive ads between episodes of Atlanta. The sound of The Stinky & Dirty Show and the same three scenes of Toy Story 4 fill my living room, with my toddler son asking me to rewind it to the parts he likes.

I don’t know how long these things are or how long I watched, because I enjoyed them. Length is irrelevant if you have something to say. It doesn’t need to be profound or even authentic. It just has to be good.

Good is hard. In advertising, good often takes just as much time and effort as bad. There’s no formula for achieving it.

When we do find good, no one speaks of length – not because it isn’t important, but because the room is filled with questions of impact, laughter, sharing, honesty, attempts and failure instead. The room understands that ‘short’ and ‘long’ are not determined by us, but by the audience.

It’s a feeling as much as it’s a number.

Alex Wilkinson, director and head of creative services, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment

With so many conflicting opinions about the ideal length for digital content, and a huge array of media formats to grapple with, let’s tackle the question from a different angle: is the concept any good, and why is the viewer going to care?

While it’s crucial when developing content ideas to take length into consideration, our primary aim is to fill space and formats with the highest possible quality work.

Working with clients in sponsorship and partnerships gives us a head start. We connect brands to their audiences through their passions, giving an engaged audience of fans eager for content. That gives license to be flexible – and to create long-form pieces as well as shorter, more impactful work.

A great example is the regular livestreamed music events Ballantine’s Scotch Whisky produces with Boiler Room through its True Music platform. Millions of fans engage with branded video and audio content because they’re being provided with music and visual experiences firmly rooted in their passions.

Charli Edwards, creative director, LoveThat

Long enough to achieve the desired result, spark an interest, change an opinion, compel a buyer, drive an action. And no longer.

The duration of content should be driven by creators’ understanding of audiences, the desired result and the status of the brand. Consider Elon Musk on Twitter and the material impact he can have in 140 characters. Yet we’ve been glued to nine seasons of Game of Thrones. Cardi B made a million dollars in a single day when she launched on OnlyFans; Compare the Market has run the same campaign since January 5 2009, simples.

If we treat this as science, we’ll all end up creating the same thing. We need to base our content on what our customer needs to see, hear and feel. If we get that right, we can keep them engaged for as long as it takes to create an outcome. A second glance may be all they need.

It’s not about the optimum duration of content; it’s about the appropriate duration of that content for an audience.

Martin Rothwell, client relations lead, GottaBe Marketing: video

We need to remove ourselves from the idea of ‘long-form content is dead.’ It isn’t. Audiences are still engaging with two-hour Diary of a CEO Podcasts and Sidemen videos and long TV series such as Love Island.

The shift to platforms such as TikTok is not because consumers are spending less time in front of screens. It’s the opposite.

The ways consumers engage with media is changing. More now than ever before, consumers are looking to be interested and remain hooked.

Consumers don’t have a seven-second attention span; they have a seven-second interest span. We need to focus on how we can draw them in within seven seconds, keeping them hooked and coming back for more.

Don’t be afraid of the changing landscape; embrace it and adapt.

James Ball, content account director, Croud: on-site content

Is long-form dead? Not if you want organic traffic from search. In many cases, we’re looking at 800+ words – up to the 2000-3000 range for some keywords.

When it comes to on-site content designed to pull in organic traffic – articles and blogs specifically – short and snappy doesn’t cut it. Now, for Google’s algorithm, expertise and authority are the biggest indicators of quality. Without deep knowledge of a subject, and a fairly long article, you can’t communicate that expertise effectively.

There are ways to package this to satisfy short-form search engine results page (SERP) features, such as ‘people also ask’ and ‘featured snippets,’ with clear question-and-answer sections; headings; concise paragraphs; and the correct schema markup. Make sure you get straight to the point early on, so your readers aren’t frustrated and go elsewhere.

Rose Skews, copywriter and marketing project manager, Favoured: email

For many, long gone are the days of reading newspapers and magazine articles, and social media content is getting shorter and shorter. If we can’t get the message across in a few lines, we get bored. Is this the same for email?

Well, testing is key. Test to see what your audience will engage with more. Gen Z will look to hooks and tag lines, whereas millennials enjoy more lengthy reads.

Ask yourself: what’s the purpose?

For a monthly newsletter, longer formats can be more productive. Have a refer-a-friend scheme? Get to the discount ASAP if you’re looking to push sales.

Always add value. If you have a longer-form email, make sure you don’t waffle. Interesting and concise copy is the way forward. Engage your reader and create an unavoidable call-to-action for a juicy click-through rate.

Sam Colebrook, content strategy director, iCrossing UK: content marketing

While content length can impact digestibility and engagement, word counts can be a red herring. If you’re trying to decide how long a piece should be, it’s far better to focus on breadth and depth.

Planning the breadth of a topic will help you understand how many subtopics or sections you need to cover; looking at depth can show you how much detail to go into. Content offering advice and guidance on a complex topic would require more detail; content answering a straightforward question needs less.

A simple first step is to look at Google’s search results for your topic to understand what level of detail people are looking for, and how broadly the topic is covered by competitors.

Breadth and depth are especially important if you’re offering advice that could impact the reader’s health, happiness or financial stability. Google pays close attention to this content, devaluing pages that don’t cover the topic in enough detail.

Consider the tone of voice too. Clear guidance around when to be playful with your language v when to cut to the chase will help you see the ideal length for your content.

Jonathan Izzard, strategy director, Wonder (part of Amplify): B2B comms

How to be concise without being reductive? How to focus on facts without losing color?

B2B content has reduced in length and density over the past few years, reflecting our use of technology and the broader cultural context. While few critical business comms are delivered through TikTok, the platform’s very existence as a short-form medium has shifted expectations for content delivery, even among less-connected audience groups.

It’s less about the optimal and more about the options; providing different content approaches considerate of relative audience need states. Need an event attendee to absorb a pre-read on the go? Endlessly scrolling on a smartphone or pinch-zooming on a static PDF just won’t pass muster.

By contrast, a longer-form LinkedIn post from a respected source, alive with comments, plays to a totally different mindset.

Tapered content and messaging, spanning increments from ‘TLDR’ (too long; didn’t read) to ‘elevator pitch’ to ‘deep dive,’ integrating visual economy best practices and interactive elements, provides more accommodating and effective communications based on how people really work, live, think and behave.

Lisa Merlotti, account strategist, Coegi: blogs

As marketers, we tend to complicate simple matters. This is most evident with the written word, especially blogs.

With 8.25 seconds to capture your audience’s attention, my rule of thumb is to keep content clear, concise and compelling: generally under 1,200 words.

But content digestibility should always trump word count.

If you’re providing genuine value to your reader, you should not limit that value simply to hit a target word count. To be valuable, content must be relevant, engaging, easy to digest and searchable. If your content checks all those boxes but you find your word count running long, consider turning words into visuals, splitting it into a series or expanding into a longer-form asset.

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Media Brand Strategy Business Leadership

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