In defence of long-form content

Pound & Grain's Jackson Murphy and Michelle Knight on why we shouldn't just let emoji conversations take over.


By Jackson Murphy and Michelle Knight

Stories have built and destroyed our belief systems, values, and cultures since the beginning of time. Today, storytelling is where brands go to grow. The online world is a global cultural structure that is hungry for content.

But what type of content is best to invest in – the short flirt or the committed friend? In a world where emojis are replacing sentences, is our old pal Long Content still invited to the party?

In 10 years, our attention spans have decreased from 12 minutes to five. Our ability to read lots of content has clearly been impacted. It would be naïve to think that our brains aren’t changing with the use of technology. A study done on comprehension found that people who only read text understood far more than those who read text integrated with video.

Contrary to those who say people don’t want to read long form, when it comes to social sharing, long content takes the cake. According to Buffer, articles with more than 2,500 words will garner the most social shares. Consumers are developing a unique taste and ability to ingest content and the menu is endless.

For brands, this means they need to feed the beast. The question is, does the beast prefer entrées, appetizers or the whole all-you-can-eat buffet? Brands need to keep users engaged, and understand the value of their time by watching the data. Long-form content is a friend of Google; it gives the brand an opportunity to create in-depth, rich content. On the other hand, if you pump out fluff, Google – and your audience – will avoid you like your aunty at the wedding who wants to have a three-hour conversation about her cat-children.

There are some true long-form soldiers that are winning the content war, providing memorable experiences designed to intrigue and reward. The CBC’s “Wild Canada” digital coffee table book, for example, lets you explore Canada in an interactive way. It cements the value of the full product and drives its audience from one screen to another.

Then there’s, a short animated documentary that helps viewers understand the number of deaths during the six years of World War II. And Patagonia’s “The Fisherman’s Son” is designed to tell a story in the perfect context. It is of value – it is remembered and more importantly, shared. In the age of short-form content, these long-form content pieces are captivating attention.

Meanwhile, short form is, ironically, one area where more is generally better. The average lifespan of a tweet is 18 minutes! When done right, you will have engaged customers looking for more over a diverse mix of platforms, but it doesn’t require any deep investment from the audience. The unfortunate nature of short-form content is that it has such a high turnover rate and its virtual life is limited to such a short period of time that it needs to be repackaged, and shared again or risk missing a large percentage of its audience.

When it comes down to the crunch, great content relies on brand values. There is always an opportunity to build conversions with trust, or to count clicks through manipulation. Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin says, “In a world of zero marginal cost, being trusted is the single most urgent way to build a business. You don’t get trusted if you’re constantly measuring and tweaking and manipulating so that someone will buy from you.”

Creating content is about context. Know your audience, then mix the best long- and short-form content, measure and revise. The pace of culture is something both consumers and marketers struggle to keep up with, and yet the wheels keep turning, with new technologies, platforms and ideas. Own the content, join the conversation and design the culture. The secret is to get the right people who care about creating to make something they care about.

With content, size matters. But it’s not about the length, it’s all about the value. And with long-form content, you stand to establish expertise and trust.

Jackson Murphy is creative director and partner and Michelle Knight is a copywriter at Pound & Grain Digital

Correction: This article originally incorrectly stated that Pound & Grain’s Sandy Fleischer was the author.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock