The more things die, the more they stay alive.
The media seem to be constantly predicting the imminent death of a technology or medium.
- TV was supposed to mean the end of radio.
- Cable was supposed to mean the end of network TV.
- Online video was supposed to kill cable TV.
- PDFs were supposed to mean the end of print.
- Emails were supposed to mean the end of direct (postal) mail.
- Social media and text messaging were supposed to mean the end of email.
- Webinars and online meetings were supposed to be the end of trade shows.
And, one of our favorites, “Long form copy is dead.”
However, like all the other “dead” items listed above, long form copy is actually alive and well.
First, what is long form copy?
Quite simply, it is copy that is…long. It has lots of words. Lots of sentences. Lots of paragraphs. It takes a while to read. It requires an attention span beyond fifteen seconds…and typically, beyond two minutes.
It is the polar opposite of a Twitter post, which is just 140 characters.
Long form is the kind of copy that advertising legend David Ogilvy loved.
And, it’s the kind of copy most modern marketers hate.
Why marketers hate long form copy:
Because, nobody has the attention span to read long form copy anymore, many marketers say. Their reasoning: we live in a rapid-fire, media-overload, 140-characters-max world now. Nobody has the time or interest to read anything longer than a few short bullet points. Keep it short; get in and get out.
In reality, however, it’s not the length of the copy that affects reader interest. It’s how the copy is written, and its appropriateness to the topic and to the reader’s wants and needs.
Readers hate bad copy, not long copy.
What people don’t have attention span for is bad copy – copy that is off point, poorly written, poorly organized, is more about praising a company than addressing a customer problem or desire, or just plain boring.
Of course there are many times when short copy is far better than long copy, such as when promoting a very simple product – like a candy bar, or a bar of soap. “Yum.” may be all you need on a billboard for the Dove chocolate bar, or “silky smooth skin” on a full-page ad for Dove soap.
On the other hand, when it comes to making a purchase decision about something complex and/or expensive, people are hungry for information that will help them make the right decision. Examples include everything from buying a car or an expensive camera to evaluating corporate enterprise IT platforms. People will consume countless online articles and reviews, white papers, and even whole books to make sure they feel informed enough to make the best purchase decision. This is just human nature.
So, how long your copy should be depends on the information requirements of your customers. Those people who are in your target market – that is, have a real need for your product or service – will be happy to read your long copy if it gives them the information they seek.
You’ve also got to be a good storyteller.
How many times have you picked up a good, 300+ page novel and read it from start to finish because it was so good, you just couldn’t put it down? Or “binged watched” all the episodes of a season of “Breaking Bad” in one night? Or sat riveted through a three-hour movie? These are all examples of long-form consumption, and people do this all the time.
If the content is engaging – that is, relevant, credible, interesting, entertaining, informative, or some combination of these – you’ll keep the interest of your audience. In other words, be a good storyteller. If you can effectively do that in five words, great. If you need five thousand words to adequately tell the story, also great.
The same goes for your online videos by the way. The prevailing wisdom these days is that if your video is longer than 30 seconds, your viewers will stop watching. More accurately, your viewers will tune out after 30 seconds if your content is irrelevant or boring. On the other hand, a well-produced video can keep your viewers’ attention for minutes or even over an hour. Examples: a compelling, documentary-style video or a relevant, detailed how-to video. In either case, you’ve got to tell the story well. Everyone loves a good story.
Not dead. Just more specific.
At the beginning of this blog post, we gave several examples of “dead” media. None of these are dead. Their uses have just become more specific.
For instance, at one point, radio was the sole broadcast medium, so it had to fulfill every use of broadcast. Then TV came along, and broadcasters started using both radio and TV for their specific strengths (for instance, it isn’t practical to watch TV while driving).
Print used to be the only way to read things. The Internet and iPads are making it much easier to consume written media on the go, but sometimes you need (or prefer) a medium that doesn’t require batteries and is easier on the eyes – a print magazine, book or newspaper.
Direct mail (i.e. postal or “snail” mail) used to be the sole direct-response medium. Then came infomercials, and then email marketing. Emails offer instant, low cost delivery of marketing messages and very accurate tracking – but also can get lost in a sea of spam. Direct mail has maintained its place in a multichannel campaign for its ability to stand out, provide tactile sensations, and to reach older generations of customers.
Text messaging and social media can be very convenient alternatives for getting a quick message to someone without having to stop what you are doing, but sometimes you need more space to communicate – so a longer form medium like email or even picking up the phone is necessary.
Similarly, long form copy is not dead at all. It just has its specific uses, just as short form copy does. The keys are knowing when to use which, and then executing well – that is, writing good copy – copy that is well organized, grammatically correct, stylistically compelling, easy to read, avoids jargon for jargon’s sake (the same goes for acronyms), and ultimately, gives your readers what they want and need.
In other words, write copy that compellingly tells a story that is relevant to your intended audience. Make your copy as long as it needs to be to accomplish this.
Here’s to the Marketing Champion in all of us. See you in the next post.