Short versus long

I’m a champion of all things short, simple and small. This may come from my time at university, where amongst other things I studied sorting algorithms (here’s a visual guide to sort algorithms if by chance you’re interested) to understand the importance of using the right process to get things done quickly, or it may simply come from having little legs. I celebrate the small number of passes Leicester City have used to score so many goals this season and always try to reduce something to its simplest form to gain clarity.

Good things very often do come in small packages.

It may be a trend, it may be my age (I’m still a little embarrassed by the National Trust sticker in my car and occasional preference for Radio 4) or it may have just passed me by until now, but there’s something equally brilliant about more complex things that need a longer time to appreciate.

For every advocate of Hemingway's economical use of language you’ll find someone who adores the complexity of Joyce. People will champion the simplicity of Picasso, whilst others cherish the detail of Turner.

When I was regularly listening to Radio 1 for the charts each week in my teens, posting letters was common; people had long phone calls at the weekend to catch up and had to cut short Internet browsing to allow phone calls. Our lifestyles are radically different now through rapid advances in technology. We receive far more and far shorter messages. As a result of more communication, we flick between ever shorter messages and with it our attention spans have diminished. The ability to quickly send short messages on email or social media has further pushed people to scanning rather than reading every last word. The use of emojis in place of a word or words is a natural consequence of a desire to communicate even faster.

Knowing when to keep marketing short is important to fit with changes in habit. The value of maintaining someone’s attention on a message when habits tempt them to move on is far greater than before.

This year will see even more businesses improve their use of short automated/personalised emails, to provide a much better experience for customers and improve lead conversion. Social media will see additional investment in increasing the volume of short messages, particularly with content often fading quickly and unseen by many people it was intended for. Taking things further, Snapchat and Periscope allow people to share transient content immediately and are being considered as potential new marketing opportunities.

So what can you do to stand out and retain the attention you’ve fought so hard to get in the first place?

Tell a story

Argentina-born artist Amalia Ulman made use of Instagram over almost a year to document her move to Los Angeles to try and break into the modelling world. Sounds familiar so far? The catch was this was all made up and perfectly staged to draw attention to how society/the media construct expectations of women. By the time the hoax was revealed, Amalia had amassed thousands of followers interested in her story. Okay, this one can be argued to be both short content as part of a long story but shows almost perfectly the use of a new medium to tell a story with an important message and keep people hooked.

You can read more about the “Instagram hoax that became an art world sensation” or watch out for the images to shown at the Tate Modern’s Performing for the Camera show.

Remember all media

Spoken word had slowly fallen out of fashion, with texts replacing phone calls and technology allowing video content to be shared easily. Podcasts have grown up over the last few years and have loyal followings but are so often overlooked. They shouldn’t be though. People listening to podcasts are very often focused and willing to spend longer on an idea, whether they’re on a journey somewhere or exercising etc. There are some great short podcasts out there but I’ve recently found a number of fantastic longer podcasts, which have held my attention for hours on end.

For history geeks like me I’d recommend checking out Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Not keen? Try Serial to see how a weekly podcast has started a national campaign.

It’s not a case of short or long. You need short and long messaging as part of your marketing. Provide short messages to your customers to be timely and relevant on channels they flick through and check regularly. But make sure to encourage loyalty to your brand with a longer story on channels where people are willing to take time to digest detailed information.