Bite-Sizing Your Online Video

These days, I have numerous conversations with clients about how long a "short-form video" should be. And while my answer is "typically, three minutes or less", what I find more interesting is how many times I get asked. From my perspective, more and more technology marketers are wondering "how short is short enough?"

Attracting the distracted

I talk a lot about the ever-diminishing attention span of today’s consumers. In a mobile culture infatuated with surfing, skimming and snacking, capturing even three minutes of concentrated attention seems to be increasingly difficult. Clients are feeling compelled to compress three-minute videos into two minutes. “People just don’t seem to have the patience to watch three minutes anymore”, I hear. (Interestingly, many of these clients are the same individuals who wanted to produce 5-7 minute videos a few years ago, against all best advice.)

Is there an absolute limit to attention spans? Is there some empirical evidence that suggests focus and learning diminish after 180 seconds? Perhaps. But what I do espouse is a broader strategy that syncs video length to sales cycle.

Matching runtime to interest level

The classic sales cycle model has prospects moving from casual interest to considered evaluation. As technology marketers, we need to move buyers deliberately and efficiently through the stages of awareness, interest, evaluation and onto purchase. And we all know that as buyers move along that cycle, the types of appeals and tools we employ change. A banner ad may capture attention, a data sheet may offer more information, a white paper supports detailed fact gathering, and a live demo can help answer final questions. In short, people want more information as they move along. And when they want more information, they’re willing to spend more time engaged with your company.

So why not ask yourself where your video falls in that cycle and calculate your target runtime based on that? It may sound basic, but I suggest that too many marketers overlook the simple questions of “what does my target audience want and what do I want them to do after watching this video?”

Satisfy the need for speed

If your company is methodical about video and employs it as a major part of your content marketing effort, then good for you. But, if you’re like many companies that still consider video a “special project”…perhaps producing only two or three a year…you may fall into the trap of trying to shoehorn as much information as possible into the piece. And that content bloat inevitably results in longer runtime. Soon, what you thought might be three minutes balloons into 3:45 or 4:30. Your deadline for product launch fast approaching, you grimace and ask “what’s an extra forty-five seconds, right?”

Consider shorter-than-usual video lengths. Rather than stringing out even three minutes, try producing a series of three sixty-second videos. Or even four 45-second pieces.

Increasingly, I ask clients to consider shorter-than-usual video lengths. Rather than stringing out even three minutes, I’m finding better results producing a series of three sixty-second videos. Or even four 45-second pieces. Depending on the structure of your story, you may find yourself with three or four key differentiators you want to highlight. Rather than discuss those sequentially in one piece, consider breaking them into smaller, discrete chunks and titling them intuitively. Then the viewer can select which feature is most relevant to them and cut right to the chase, satisfying their insatiable need for speed.

There’s a moment when we all click on a video and our eyes instinctively go to the lower right corner of the play window to see the total runtime. And in that moment, we all decide if the investment in X minutes is worth it. If I’m in a casual state of interest, 60 seconds will undoubtedly seem more reasonable than three minutes. And if you can capture 60 seconds of engaged interest, it’s far more valuable than someone becoming disinterested after 70 and shutting you off.

More videos, more content marketing fodder

This more/shorter videos approach is also great for fueling your inbound marketing efforts. By arming yourself with more, benefit-specific videos, you have multiple, unique items that you can promote in emails or online. Center a specific email around one of your product features with the accompanying video featured. Send out a series of three or four emails and see which ones get the most clicks. That may give you insight into which feature is the most compelling…which will help you tailor future messaging. When the user gets to your page housing the video, be sure to give a clear path to other videos. Analytics can reveal which videos they watch second or third which, again, informs your marketing priorities.

Then, expand your strategy horizontally. After your series of short attention-getting videos, plot out a map of longer form pieces that accommodate buyers further along the sales cycle. Set up a path of customer testimonials and technical demos, for instance, that progressively heat up prospects.

By asking yourself some fundamental questions about how your video plans map to your broader sales and marketing strategies, you can make more appropriate decisions about runtime. By cutting just the right size bite of video, you’ll find that you’re effective at whetting the appetite of consumers and keep them coming back for more.


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