The long and short of content

Engage with your content before engaging with people.

Marketers live in perilous times. Clients want quick results, while prospects don`t want to be bothered. There`s just too much of everything everywhere. Too many products, a variety of services, in fact, the same service in different forms; too much information, too many choices, too many people, and too many businesses trying to sell to them. Believe me, it`s not a marketer`s delight.

As a digital marketer, I get this often - people`s attention spans are shrinking. (There have been extensive studies on this, but I shall skip the details here.) Suffice to say, they say currently an average person can give your content about 8 seconds of his time. That`s the median value derived from these studies. So all content has to be such that it has to get the message across in those 8 seconds, they say.

I say it is hogwash.

If it were so, I would have 0 subscribers for this newsletter. Each edition of my newsletter averages about 3 minutes. I shall not tell you the number of subscribers that I`ve garnered in the last 8 weeks since launch, but it`s a decent figure. Certainly not 0.

There you have it. A spot survey.

So why the fuss over people`s attention span then? Sounds like a lame excuse.

With these kind of surveys being bandied about, writing short copy is the first thing a marketer must do, right? Wrong.

I believe the focus, instead, should be on how, where and when to get the message out. The “what” remains as important as ever.

What such surveys seem to indicate is that you need to get your content right. If text is your messaging platform, you need to write right, not short. If it is video, your footage must be shot technically correct, editing must be crisp and to the point, graphics must be interwoven to buttress the main point, and the visuals and script must complement each other.

When you write right, and present your content in an engaging manner, neither length nor time matters.

You started off reading this newsletter knowing fully well that it is about content, that it is approx a 4 minute read. In fact, most of you didn`t even bother with the last nugget of information, am sure.

Midway through it, if I am unable to retain your interest, you will switch off and move on. It`s the same for ALL content.

Here`s a parallel: compare your shopping trips for groceries from 20 years ago and now (if you shopped so long ago.) In 2000, there were X number of brands you had to choose from. Today, there are X+50.

Now just think about how you buy your groceries today (the methodology). When you walk down that supermarket aisle, and gaze upon the choices for a particular produce, here`s how your attention is sought:

(in no particular order)

  • Price

  • Branding/color/presentation

  • Positioning

  • Offer

  • Loyalty

But here`s the thing - you do not bother to go through ALL the grocery aisles or look at ALL the rows to search for the thing you want, right? You may walk down two aisles, max, or glance at two rows of shelves.

Now hark back to 2000. Yes, there were lesser rows, lesser aisles, lesser produce, and lesser displays. Yet, your methodology was the same.

So, let`s say in 2019, you give about 8 minutes to buying X item, in 2000, it was about 15.

Now, let`s go back even more to say, 1965. (random, the year is of no particular significance.)

It was the same even then. The number of players in the grocery field that year were definitely less compared to 2000 and 2019. Yet, certainly, there were competing companies. But even in 1965, the methodology deployed by a grocery shopper was the same. The time devoted may perhaps have been 30 minutes.

Today, they say, online has changed that methodology. I say no. There`s only so many emails and digital flyers you will open before buying a Tee.

What`s becoming clear to you is - nobody expects you to go through ALL those aisles and rows. Ever. Not in 1965, 2000 nor in 2019. That`s why brands engage marketers like me. It`s my job to ensure: (a) your brand is in the front rows (b) that it manages to capture a consumer`s attention from there. No consumer, prospect or lead ever wants to know, or will ever know of ALL the players in a particular segment.

It’s the same with content.

So, people`s attention span has not reduced, it`s divided (even more today) because the number of players vying for the same eyeballs has increased. Attention span remains unaffected, the trick today is how to “hook” it.

Which means instead of the 60 seconds you, the customer, could devote to examining a produce earlier, you now have 15. Which means a marketer has 45 seconds less today to hook you. The hook.

Once he has your attention, he needs to ensure the content keeps you engaged for the duration. Hook & engage, hook & engage…the twin allies of today`s marketing.

Marketing and its principles, and people`s psychology remain the same even in today`s millennial era, although delivery vehicles and formats may have changed.

Smart and short do not mean the same, neither are attention hooks and attention spans. Attention should also not be confused with interest.

Consumers may have not got smarter but neither have marketers. Best then to drop the “cut the content length” play, right?

Here`s one more thing equally crucial to content. You may give the most-engaging content ever, but people may still not consume it. Because they will only read or watch what interests them. You just can`t sell ball bearings to someone who wants shoes, unless perhaps, they are attached to a pair of shoes.

So understanding your target audience is THE most important thing. This is also the first step where many businesses falter.

Also, because competition is so intense today, it can`t be a random one-size-fits-all marketing - the “scattershot” variety. If you are selling sports shoes for example, you can no longer afford to send out generic shoe related content to EVERYONE, because everyone in the world wears shoes. Assumptions can be dangerous in marketing.

First, not everyone in the world wears shoes. Some go about naked feet either by choice or because they can`t afford it. Others wear clogs...I can go on.

If your brand is into manufacturing sports shoes, you need to narrow down the target, so to speak. In the good old days a random flyer to EVERYONE wearing shoes would have got you the clients. Not today.

People`s interests, likes, dislikes, have all started to matter much more than before. To sell your sports shoes, you will need to understand out of EVERYONE, how many:

  • Are into sports

  • Love wearing sports shoes even though they are not into any kind of sport

  • Are about to replace their old pair

  • Want to buy a pair for their children or spouses

…and so on and so forth.

But, I am digressing into marketing now. And this newsletter is about content.

So here are today`s takeaways:

  • Hook and engage are the twin mantras of digital marketing.

  • The length of the content is not decided arbitrarily but by the target audience and its interest.

  • Both, to hook and engage, packaging of content is important.

If you`ve managed to read uptil here, I need a pat on my back for having kept you engaged.

Also, do subscribe.

Coming up next week: content packaging.

All views, especially counters, are welcome.