Arguments concerning the importance of content flare up at regular intervals, especially when talking about quality and effect. Advocates of long-form content usually quote the excess of superficial social posts which, they say, make a visitor more willing to read longer articles.
According to Wikipedia, branded content is “the practice of marketing through the creation of content that is funded or outright produced by an advertiser”. Google Trends shows that the popularity of branded content has also increased in the last five years. Since search queries often include the words ‘Instagram’ and ‘Facebook’, shorter social media texts appear to be the most popular content choice. When scanning through one’s own social feeds, this also seems to be the case. However, most popular does not always mean right. What content works best for building up brand awareness? Short social content or longer informative articles?
Branded content – subtle or in your face?
Brands are built through sophisticated mass marketing strategies which constantly communicate with customers using consistent, easy to remember brand assets. This repetition of simple phrases or visuals creates memory structures that ensure a brand comes to mind when the consumer starts his or her purchasing journey.
Brand perception before purchase has been proven to have an impact on how much a customer will consider a brand, prefer it and ultimately buy it. In the case of brand perception, content definitely plays a role, giving you the space to tell your story, connect your brand to the culture of your target group and arouse interest within that group. By making impressions last through frequent updates or instalments, one can heighten brand perception and, as a result, increase sales.
The integration of ads into content has a positive impact on the way in which people view advertising. Ad blocker usage continues to increase among older groups, but is less implemented in younger groups. This is due to three different aspects. Firstly, younger age groups are more used to digital advertising. Secondly, advertising methods have been improved, shortened and made more interesting through branded content which tends to be much more subtle. Thirdly, personalisation makes advertising more relevant and therefore less irritating. This trend indicates that content that includes branding and advertising will remain relevant, whether short-form or long.
Which content works best?
Content can change one’s perception of a brand. Which type of content is the most efficient is not a clear cut topic. With the seemingly universal drop in the human attention span it is often supposed that short-term is best. In many cases, this is true.
According to Facebook, 70% of social content is consumed while traveling (on the go), 20% when searching for information (lean forward) and 10% when relaxing (lean back). Many factors can sway these averages – from age to level of education, from country of origin to the weather. This is why a mix of content based purely on the behaviour of your target group is essential. The answer to the question of this paragraph’s heading is therefore not short- or long-form, but short- and long-form. Both have their place.
Sit back and relax
In order to use the right content you have to picture your user. Are they listening to the radio when in the car or scrolling through social feeds on the bus? Do they have a few spare minutes at work or are they watching TV, phone in one hand and a beer in the other? In these situations, short-form content is the best option. This type of content should be visual, short or quick, and strongly feature the brand using high levels of attractiveness or design.
For long-form content, you need to entertain people for a longer period of time. This is entertainment for which we sit back and take our time. Unfortunately for business owners, this type of content is also offered by cinemas, television networks and music platforms. These often huge companies invest the majority of their time and money in producing content that people are entertained by. In 2019, Netflix will invest no less than 15 billion dollars in content production. Want to compete with that?
This is why many companies fall short when offering long-form content. Their writing is simply not of a high enough quality to compete with the sit back and relax content that we watch or listen to every day.
So is long-form content a valid choice for businesses?
The answer is yes. But you will need to take a few things into account:
Invest in storytellers and storytelling
Investing in storytellers (those who can tell a great story) and storytelling (the actual stories) is essential for long-form content. Take the time to find writers that talk about your brand using the right language for your target group. All stories also need a catchy plot. Ending with “and then he woke up and it was all a dream” doesn’t work in any situation. What’s more, this creates an aura of negativity where your brand is concerned. A good writer captivates his or her audience. A good writer is also not cheap. However, costs can be lowered by learning how your target audience’s influencers communicate and indicating this to your storyteller, and by creating a general storyline in-house which a professional writer can then expand upon.
By making a connection with the culture of your target group, you ensure your content appeals. This means basing a story on a topic other than your brand, but using that topic to show that what you are selling is relevant. Sports shoe commercials don’t just show pictures of their products. They provide visual information that is highly connected to a particular culture. Young customers are offered styles worn by current celebrities. Middle-aged customers by healthy, driven individuals. This is culture-based branding at its most simplistic.
Creating one’s own culture is basically the result of masterful marketing. Chanel, McDonalds, Apple, Mercedes-Benz and Disney have all created their own cultures which others follow. Yet all of them started by providing a product, by advertising the brand. Being aware of the culture of their consumer, they were later able to breach the gap between follower and trendsetter. When combining culture with long-form content you are usually providing either educational or entertaining content within a visually attractive framework. Make your stories relevant, make them different, and make them say something important.
Long-form is long-term
Many brands (and agencies) produce way too much content specifically created for short term campaigns. Short campaigns that have no connection or follow-on do not help build brand perception. Your target audience will not make the link between your brand and good content; with every episode or every campaign you will need to convince – from scratch – your visitors to spend time on your content. This is an uphill struggle that requires a lot of effort and a large budget.
Long-form content, when relevant, interesting, truthful and entertaining, can turn your company into an expert to which a visitor automatically returns when looking for the next instalment. This effect can not be achieved with short-form versions.
Long-form advertising does not have to be long-winded. A brand story featuring familiar characters can run over years, each short episode connected so that, when watched in sequence, a complete tale is told. Written well, the consumer will look forward to the next instalment, begin a conversation about it with social media friends and followers, and create hype around your brand. This customer will lean back when reading or watching it, as he or she now considers your advertising to be their entertainment.
A startup will never have a Netflix budget but is capable of stringing together short videos, imagery or texts to create a piece of art or fact-loaded volume that brings visitors back for more with each new update. While video and text editing software is easy to find and use, word craft takes longer to learn. Invest in a good storyteller first.
Build a campaign around your content
Never leave your content to perform on its own, relying on the organic traffic that is driven by it. If you have not yet distributed much content as a brand, it is naïve to expect people to find your content and then sit back and watch it. Early long-form content especially needs a campaign to promote it. Once word spreads, campaigns should continue but this time can make use of the popularity of your content to advertise other aspects of your business. Your content, purchased from a quality storyteller, needs further investment in its initial stages to make it work.
Use sections of high-end content to tell your brand story over other media channels such as TV commercials, social and online video ads, or even printed materials. Get the most out of your content by making it as multi-channel as possible, at the same time increasing production ROI and creating more impact across the analytics board.
Those who have already viewed your content are extremely valuable. They have seen your brand and know what it stands for. This means personalised content should be backed up by quality ads concerning related products and services, incorporating all to build a campaign that will further guide your target group through the funnel. Never make the mistake of pleasing your target audience with good content then spoiling the effect with bad follow-up advertising.
Long-form content for long-term effect
There is a place for sit-back-and-relax content on the majority of websites, but this content type requires a mixture of literacy, creativity and marketing skills very different to those necessary for short-form texts and visuals.
Even then, far too many businesses relegate this content type to those unequipped to provide it. We have all skimmed through badly written, keyword-laden texts that may as well have been written by a cat as it nuzzles its way along the keyboard. We have all come across educational pieces that state unproven and ridiculous facts. Or scrolled past plagiarised copies of the exact same texts listed one after the other from page one to page ten of Google search engine results. For SEO rankings, these sites score high. For engagement? Not so well.
When it comes to creating content to advertise your sector, business, product or service, all content is important, all content should be different, and all content should be worth reading. No matter how short, and no matter how long.