Marketers, we have a problem...
Do you know how long an effective Facebook post should be? If I told you forty characters, what would your reaction be? A tweet should be 100 characters (even though Twitter affords you 140 of them). It makes perfect sense, right? I know that people like Tom Webster over at Edison Research is, without a doubt, rolling his eyes. I'm with him. But, that was the latest headline from Fast Company in an article titled, The Proven Ideal Length Of Every Tweet, Facebook Post, And Headline Online. All over the world, junior brand and community managers are building PowerPoint decks with charts, graphs and quotes from this article in an effort to demonstrate both how "in the know" they are, and how antiquated the upper echelons of the marketing and communications are. Those silly dinosaurs running the show in their corner offices, don't even know how valueless most of what they do has become.
Don't be fooled by the numbers (even if they are small ones).
Length does not equate to quality, value or substance. It's an arbitrary number that is being allotted to a very crowded (and hyper-saturated) marketplace that hosts very finicky and tough to understand consumers who, in one instance, will "like" a picture of a dog licking itself and within the same brush of the finger also like a group denouncing human rights in Syria. Ahh, the human condition. So mystical. So difficult to pin down. The question is asked often, and in various ways:
- How long should a tweet be?
- How long should a Facebook post be?
- What is the right balance between content and images?
- How long should a podcast be?
- How long should a blog post be?
- How long should a business book be?
- How long should a movie be?
- How long should an article be?
- How long should a... you get the point?
What matters more than the mechanics?
We get caught up in the mechanics and completely forget about why we're creating anything in the first place. Ultimately, it should be twofold:
- Create value.
- Create awareness.
The answer to all of the questions above surrounding length is rather simple: content should be as long as it needs to be to create value. I've seen movies that have been three hours long and movies that have been thirty minutes long that have changed my life (and how I think about humanity). Research Brief posted a fascinating article - at just around the same time as the Fast Company one mentioned above - titled, Trusted Content Closes Vendor Selection. So, it's not about the content... it's about the quality of it and the level of trust that it inspires. It's true, we often ask the wrong questions about the content that we're creating and, in doing so, we wind up creating content that doesn't get traction. The net result being a perception that either content marketing doesn't work or that content marketing doesn't work for our brands. Both are misnomers. Putting aside any kind of viral effect that some are lucky enough to achieve (do you believe in unicorns?), we need to be asking more profound (and real) questions about the content that brands are putting out into the world. So, before you put finger to keypad in an effect to pump out an extra few free impressions to a saturated social media channel, sit down and ask yourself the following:
- How trusted as a source of information is our organization?
- Is there a third-party who might be better suited to help us with our content?
- What is point of this content and who is it educating?
- Is this content "me too" or unique and additive to the current flow of discourse?
- Who are we looking to speak to with this? Customers in discovery mode? Qualification mode? Final selection mode?
- Once this content is created how will it be distributed? Our own channels? Third-party channels or platforms?
- How will this piece of content help the decision makers be influenced?
- How will this content help our potential customer make the best decision (and yes, this may even mean buying from someone else)?
- Is our content broad and expansive or is it myopic and narcissistic?
- Are the people we are speaking to more interested in fresh research and data or editorial-like content?
- Is our content the type of work that the industry influencers would pay attention to and share or is it closer to a de-jargonated press release?
- Does our content allow for honest commentary between us and the community?
- Is our content both findable and shareable to everyone that it needs to be?
The path to purchase is complex.
That's the main thing that every brand needs to focus on. Content that understands and responds to the thirteen questions above will change the brand and help it add more value to the path to purchase. What this Research Brief article also illustrates is something that many digital marketing pundits (like myself) have been banging the drum about for some time: Yes, the path to purchase is complex, but "The Internet is the primary place where business buyers begin the path to purchase. 68% start their content sourcing at search engines and portals, 40% go to vendor websites, and 25% are activated by an email from a trusted source or peer."
If you read nothing else, go back and re-read that last sentence.
If there was ever a case for digital marketing to lead all marketing initiatives (B2B, B2C, a small impulse buy or a year-long sales cycle) this is it. The Internet is the primary place where business buyers begin the path to purchase. This is a critical and key message. So, if you thought that the thirteen questions above are going to make you bang your head against the wall, start asking yourself a whole new set of questions about what your brand is truly doing to to engage with those who are simply kicking tires, those who are looking for a preferred vendor and those who are trying to validate the choice of vendor that they have already made. Too many brands are churning out this chum of content without the focus, intensity and voracity that is truly required to qualify any/all of this content marketing as a "success."
Make no mistake about it... it starts with you. That being said, it all starts online.