Debunking the short-form content myths

Human attention spans are getting shorter, says almost everybody. So why are people spending more and more time with long-form content? 

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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2, the 2nd highest-grossing movie of the year so far, clocks in at 2:21 hours.

We’ve all heard the cliches, too often presented as “facts”: humans can only absorb content in short bursts, vying for attention on your Facebook news feed. Our attention spans are now at the same level as the poor, maligned goldfish. We are told by experts at marketing conferences that the “ideal” length for video content is 30 seconds because “Millennials” can’t handle anything longer than a minute or so. Even the President of the United States now sums up complex foreign policy in less than 140 characters. (Sad!)

For everyone who accepts all of this at face value, step back for a minute and think again. If we really had the attention span of a goldfish, would any one of us be able to leave a room? Wouldn’t we forget how we got there or where the door was or how a doorknob worked? Or for that matter, how could humans drive a car, fly a plane or file a tax return? Are we really so unfocused or easily distracted?

Think of your own content consumption as a consumer. How much time are you willing to spend with a movie or your favorite TV show?

The second most popular film of 2017 (so far), Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2, which made over USD 800 million at the box office, has a running time of 141 minutes. The #1 movie with over a billion dollars, Beauty and the Beast, clocks in at two hours and nine minutes. Arguably the hottest show on television today, Game of Thrones, is already running at around 67 hours! (Thereabouts, anyways. I can’t remember how many two-hour episodes there were.) And there’s still one more season to go!

It may surprise you to learn that, according to research by video technology company Ooyala, long-form video is now the most popular form of content consumed online. Long-form content (defined as greater than 20 minutes in length) now represents the majority of time spent watching video across all screen sizes: desktop, mobile, tablet and connected TVs.

The magical formula that dictates your video must only be 90-120 seconds  is a myth propagated by companies who want to sell you 90-120 sec videos (and the platforms that carry them).  I was recently reminded of how this misconception is propagated when I found myself quoted (out of context) in an article that argues short-form video is the “next big thing.”

It’s not true that people today will only watch short videos. What most consumers are unwilling to watch for longer than a couple of minutes is bad content: content that’s poorly conceived, with a thinly-veiled yet obvious commercial message, designed to interrupt you as you’re trying to get to the actual content you wanted to see in the first place.

The fact is that if the content is good, as the entertain industry demonstrates, consumers are willing to watch for hours and hours non-stop. The challenge for brands is how to develop content that is interesting enough, offers true value and features characters and a narrative that compels the viewer to follow all the way to the end.

If your brand has an amazing story to tell, breaking the 90-second video mold is the way to stand out. VISA’s delightful Thai-language #TokyoUnexpected mini movie clocks in at nearly 15 minutes and has already over 10 million views on Facebook (mostly organic).

Even a B2B player like industry giant GE regularly shares its many technical innovations through a series of videos, from cool things they do with drone technology to power plants, each clocking in at over five minutes each.

That’s not to say short-form content doesn’t have its place. Marketers need to think of short videos in the way that Hollywood uses trailers or preview clips: easy entry points leading to the main event. Or how comedians like John Oliver have used short clips to build a YouTube audience as large as his HBO audience. The problem is that many marketers confuse one medium with the other, treating the short form route as if it was the main content. And just as Hollywood has learned to do, marketers must also learn to convey a brand story with a Transmedia mindset, across multiple platforms and formats.

Whatever approach you decide, make sure to avoid that other great video content myth: that the content you produce, in order to be considered successful, has to go “viral.”

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What Brands must consider when selecting an influencer

loot-crate

With the rapid growth in social media and content marketing, there is greater interest than ever among brands to embark on “influencer” campaigns. Recently, I participated in a panel discussion at Content 360 in Singapore where this topic was discussed.

Here are a few things for brands to consider before working with influencers:

  1. Look beyond the numbers

Very often influencers are shortlisted by brands purely because of their follower numbers. But the value of an influencer isn’t strictly a numbers game. Take a look at who I follow on Instagram: There’s @PatLaw, a personal friend and founder of social media agency Goodstuph, by many measures a prominent figure in the Singapore media & marketing scene. She has over 7,000 followers. And then there’s @dreamerthepeskywestie with nearly 15,000 followers. Dreamer is a dog.

Brands should look into the demographic makeup of an influencer’s audience as well as their geographic origins. A Singapore-based brand might find an influencer with over 20,000 followers exciting, without realizing that half of her followers might be from other countries. Unfortunately, platforms like Instagram don’t always natively offer such analytics capabilities. Consider using an analytics tool such as that offered by a company like Popular Chips.*

  1. Influencers are also brands

One way to evaluate an influencer is to think of them as a brand in their own right. In which case, the influencer is evaluated in the same way a brand manager considers a partnership with another brand. Does your brand benefit from being associated with that brand? Does that brand’s reputation bring benefits or risks to your brand? Does that brand have sway over an audience that you consider valuable yet currently has  no interest in your brand?

GujiThe strongest brand partnerships are when two brands bring distinct audiences together. For example, when LEGO partnered with Star Wars, this bridged generations of both parents and children. Now parents (who were probably kids themselves when Star Wars first opened in 1977) can relive their childhood with their children, forming a stronger bond than ever through LEGO. That’s the kind of value an influencer should be able to lend your brand.

That’s not to say you need to spend millions of dollars in a partnership of the LEGO-Star Wars scale. Recently Caltex partnered with Mediacorp’s Channel 8 by simply having their mascot Caltex Boy appear next to Channel 8’s family-friendly mascot Guji-Guji in a Facebook post.

  1. Define the influencer’s role in the marketing funnel

Wowed by numbers, many marketers simply look at influencers as a way to get cheap reach. This kind of thinking is naïve and just plain sloppy. A good marketer knows his budget needs to cover the whole marketing funnel, from awareness to consideration to conversion, and knows the role each channel plays within.

Is your influencer marketing really just about expanding your reach into new markets? The value could also come from giving your brand more credibility within an audience that would not have thought of you otherwise. (In other words, impacting the consideration part of the funnel.) Example: by partnering with Youtube influencers like Pewdiepie and Mr Sunday Movies, “comic-con in a box” geek swag company Loot Crate built instant credibility with the video game / scifi / fantasy / comic book crowd.

Knowing which part of the funnel your influencer plays will be crucial in measuring results. For example, tracking clicks from an influencer’s post may not give you a dramatic increase in transactions (especially in comparison to other channels like paid search). But with the right tracking you could discover that a follower of your influencer is 20% more likely to convert because of this new brand association.

Watch comedian Hossan Leong take over Singtel’s Twitter account in 2013 influencer campaign

  1. Values matter

Lastly, if values matter to brands then your choice of influencer should also be about values. Your brand should stand for something…how does that sit with what the influencer stands for? Do the influencer’s values complement or reinforce your own brand’s values? Or does she contradict them?

Arguably the most high-profile example of an influencer campaign gone wrong is Pepsi’s brief but damaging romp with reality TV star Kendall Jenner. Pepsi was clearly trying to align itself with the new, emerging political awareness in the US among young people. Instead, they came across as simply capitalizing on the movement to sell more soda pop. While one could argue that Pepsi got many things wrong with the execution of this campaign, its choice of influencer in this case could have made a big difference. What values does Kendall Jenner represent? Does her reputation include speaking out on political issues? How would it have helped Pepsi’s credibility if they had instead selected an influencer who was a known political activist?

This is also why I’m not a fan of buying “influence” through influencer networks. While a brand partnership requires meticulous research and evaluation, an influencer network acts on your brand’s behalf with the precision of a grenade thrown into a crowded market on a Sunday. How do you know that every single “influencer” in this network offers the right amount of synergy with your brand? Critically, how many of them have the potential to damage your brand by sheer association?

Working with influencers should be treated with the respect and gravity of any other brand alliance. The exercise can be very tricky but also vastly rewarding. Marketers should consider the risk as an opportunity to stretch your brand beyond its current constraints, potentially delivering value well beyond what a regular paid media campaign can deliver.

*Full disclosure: Popular Chips is a Singapore-based startup and part of Mediacorp’s Mediapreneur incubator programme.

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