The content marketing debate revolving around length makes me think of a story. A curious little girl is said to have asked Abraham Lincoln how long one’s legs should be. After a moment’s reflection, the tall and lanky president responded wisely, “just long enough to touch the ground.”
He certainly could not have realized that he was creating an unassailable template used endlessly ever since to provide dimensions for just how short or long any form of communication should be. Thorin McGee, Target Marketing editor-in-chief, recently explored how to find the right length for your content here and concluded — rightly, I would suggest — that the right length was as long as you can keep your audience engaged. Because when they become bored, they leave.
“Think like a reality TV editor,” he writes, referencing popular media for couch potatoes. He might have found a better frame of reference in the novels of Dickens or Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’, originally published in weekly installments in the popular press. To be certain readers would come back and buy the next installment, each had to end with a cliffhanger — would the hero/heroine fall off of the proverbial cliff or be saved, just in the nick of time, to continue the story?
There is no question that if the copy is engaging or compelling, if it makes promises and poses questions you feel you must have the answers to, length isn’t a primary consideration. Guru Frank Johnson’s classic rule is:
Tell them what you are going to tell them.
Tell them what you told them and what to do about it.
It never fails. And whether you do that in 100 or thousands of words depends only on the type of product, the medium but — most of all — on the ability of the writer to increase the attention and interest of the reader as the narrative continues, never letting him get bored. Johnson liked to remind us that great copy “tracks” — like a train going to the next station, it has to stay on the track or you have a fatal derailment.
Try this from TheDogTrainingSecret.com:
It gets me every time …
You see a homeless guy on the streets, a dog cuddled at his side.
Life has clearly not been kind to the gentleman, he’s wearing the rattiest, dirtiest jacket you’ve ever seen and shoes so old, there’s no way his feet could be dry.
His life’s belongings are gathered at his side, in a small duffle bag and maybe a weathered grocery bag.
He’s collecting change in a paper coffee cup.
Maybe $1.25 so far today.
And as a result of hard living, he’s painfully thin. Much too thin, for a man living on the streets. And life is bleak.
Except for the one obvious ray of sunshine in his life:
That misfit dog, cuddled up at his side.
A dog with nothing but love, admiration and adoration for his master, pouring from his heart and eyes.
Has YOUR dog ever looked at you like that?
Like you’re the center of his world, the only thing that matters, the only person he trusts, his rock and the one person who’s worth 100% of his love and attention?
I don’t know about you …
… But that look of love you get from a dog?
I tell you, it’s a gut check for me every time.
And it’s this feeling that inspired the next designer T-shirt in our line-up:
Be The Person Your Dog Thinks You Are.
Because wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all stepped up and lived this way? And loved this way?
This T-shirt comes in 3 styles … kids, women’s and unisex.
In a variety of stylish colors.
Check them out …
It’s just 275 words. Is it too long, too short or just right? Can you possibly get bored as the story unfolds?
OK, not everyone loves dogs or will buy the T-shirt, but I’d bet many do. (Disclaimer: I bought one.)
So what is the bottom line of the long or short content length issue?
To this maverick marketer, it is simply that every commercial communication must have an objective supported by a narrative engaging and compelling enough to take you by the hand and lead you to the call to action and to the action itself. All of the theorizing about generational differences in attention spans and similar research pales against one simple thing: Does the story accomplish the objective; is it the right length to touch the ground?