A popular question we hear at the agency is: “What’s your opinion about the future of long-form content?”

It’s a great topic to consider because a big part of marketing these days is creating “stuff” for people to read, listen, watch or otherwise consume. Understanding the popularity and viability of different lengths and formats of “stuff” is important to our success.

Historically, much of the stuff marketers created was short-form content — TV or radio commercials, magazine and newspaper ads, billboards, etc. It was mass media content that we hoped would reach the right people.

Then, the Internet appeared and gave consumers access to much more information and resources. Marketers quickly discovered the value of creating long-form content — company websites, full-length articles for magazines or newspapers, e-newsletters, in-depth case studies, white papers, video series, catalogs, 1,200-word articles for websites, one-hour webinars, etc.

Long-form content really seemed to catch on. Companies realized they could become the publisher and create their own content. It was a popular and smart idea.

Goldfish Superiority
Then researchers began sharing a lot of depressing facts about information overload and shrinking attention spans. They even announced that goldfish now have longer attention spans than humans — the fish can concentrate on a task for 9 seconds without becoming distracted, while humans can only make it 8 seconds.

It’s no wonder that people have started to question the value of creating long-form content.

But there’s no cause for alarm yet. Yes, people get distracted very easily these days; however, most of us are still capable of making it through an entire movie, TV show, and even a book without spacing off. Long-form content clearly has a role in our personal lives, but also in our shopper/consumer lives.

Two Rivers Marketing included long-form content recommendations in every content strategy plan we created in 2014 because the audiences we researched and interviewed told us that’s what they wanted. Anecdotally and statistically, there’s proof that consumers want longer blog posts. They’re willing to watch a 30-minute product demonstration video and download 50-page white papers and ebooks.

There’s a place in our marketing plans for both long- and short-form content.

When to Use Long-Form Content
There’s never a perfect rule for anything in marketing, but here are examples of when it may be appropriate to give your audience longer content. Long-form content works to:

• Educate your audience about a complex/new idea or topic
• Give your audience actionable tips and how-to guidance
• Tell a really amazing story
• Create a long-term relationship with your audience so they keep returning for more
• Share your company’s expertise and establish yourself as a thought leader
• Express an exciting idea or decision in a meaningful way
• Thoroughly compare your products/services/benefits to that of your competitors

When to Use Short-Form Content
Short-form content works to:

• Get attention from new audiences
• Casually engage with your fans
• Entertain people! Stop selling for a while and just make people smile
• Drive traffic to your long-form content
• Curate valuable tips shared by customers and fans
• Showcase great testimonials or product reviews
• Build brand awareness about your company
• Publish time-sensitive information or updates

The question is not whether long-form content has a future, but understanding its place in your future marketing efforts. Which of your audiences want more in-depth information? How and where do they want to receive it? How will your company create it?

Creating a content strategy plan can help you answer these questions. Start with audience personas. No one has a budget for blind guesses. Talk to your audiences — interview them, survey them, test different types and lengths of content. You’ll start to see patterns for their likes and dislikes that can guide your future marketing efforts.

Give your writers and designers the freedom to try new ideas and experiment. Investing in one or two long-form content projects each quarter, like a video series or white paper series, can fuel your nurture efforts and provide content for social channels, customer emails/e-newsletters and blogs. That’s also a great way to sell-in a long-form content project — show exactly how you will repurpose it in other channels and with different audiences. Don’t forget to include goals of the project and define how you will measure results.

Long-form content is not dead. Just be smart about how you use it. And stop worrying about the goldfish…

About Keesia Wirt

Keesia, content strategist at Two Rivers Marketing, is a self-proclaimed content nerd. Her favorite tools include audience personas, crotchet hooks, whisks, and duct tape. If you want to talk content, email her at keesiaw@2rm.com.