by Lani Carstens (@lani_carstens) It’s a commonly held, and fairly valid, belief that consumers are time-poor, inundated with messaging on multiple platforms and have limited attention spans. Whether marketing to CEOs or millennials, we anticipate that consumers probably give our content three or four seconds before moving on to a second or third screen. So, as marketers and content creators, surely we need to only serve up snackable content that is easy to digest? Not so.

Podcast consumption up

Research shows that collectively we are Generation Box-Set, Binge-Watch and Hour-long Podcasts. Podcast consumption, incidentally, is up 50% in South Africa, off a relatively low base. In the UK, 23% of the population are listening to podcasts at least once a month (source: Acast), while ad networks claim 90% completion rates.

However, while we will make the time to engage with what interests us, we do have a filter for anything that is intrusive and irrelevant. Poor content, or annoying ads that pop up when you have chosen to watch something on YouTube, are simply being ‘scanned out’, essentially rendering your advertising invisible. I know that when I see the prompt “Skip ad in six seconds….” I simply close my eyes and count to 10 before resuming what I was watching. Why should I engage with a product I’ve not chosen to see? How annoying to be interrupted.

Engaging with business decision makers

Like everyone else, today’s business decision-makers (BDMs) have extraordinary access to high-value information from a growing multitude of credible sources, but 71% reckon most branded content is boring, expected and repetitive. So, while they will try branded thought-leadership articles, if they’re not expertly written or are even remotely lacklustre, they won’t engage with that content again.

Recent TGI research in the UK (Q2 2018) shows that BDMs actually over-index on all media (print, social, video and podcasts) and are twice as likely than the average person to read for at least six hours a week.

Return of long-form content

Consumers do make time to engage with specialist content and are happy to exchange time for value, provided the content is worth the investment. According to Mintel (2018), time spent watching long-form content on mobile (more than 20 minutes) has skyrocketed. Despite the smaller screen, consumer engagement is double with longer stories (1 000 + words) compared to short-form stories.

Long-form content also gets more social shares —staggeringly so. Buzzsumo and MozHubspot studied a million pieces of content and saw the average number of shares for articles of 3 000 words or more is double that of articles with less than 1 000 words. Similarly, research shows that longer videos outperform short videos on YouTube, and 33% of total view time on YouTube may be attributed to long-form video.

Branded thought-leadership

Branded thought-leadership articles have also been seen to drive sales. When this content is of an extremely high standard, it provides a platform that truly engages, turning customers into advocates for your brand.

There will always be space for snackable content, appropriately placed, but it largely depends on the subject matter (beauty, food tutorials, etc) and the audience it is geared to… hence blanket statements about short content and gnat-like concentration spans are no longer relevant.

See also


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Lani Carstens (@lani_carstens) joined John Brown Media South Africa as group managing director in September 2010. Before that, she spent three years in Shanghai, China, on secondment by Naspers as group business director, where she helped launch a number of lifestyle titles. She oversees John Brown’s operations in SA and is an executive board member of the international John Brown Media Group. 

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