The case for long form content marketing

August 18th, 2017

Long form content is back in the news again this week thanks mainly to an excellent article by Peter Houston on Pub Exec. Peter takes a detailed look at the way that long form content has become popular among mainstream publishers. He cites not just the way that words and images are being used but also how long form video content, such as practiced by Vice, is inspiring the media.

Long form has many uses for publishers, but one key thing that it communicates to its readers is that the content creator understands that its audience is intelligent and engaged enough to work though longer pieces.

Peter does however reference what some argue is long form content’s achilles’s heel, and that is that not that many readers seemingly make it through to the end of an article.

Peter writes

“Mother Jones senior editor Dave Gilson recently shared an image of a newspaper clipping on Twitter. It is a letter from a newspaper editor of almost 20 years’ experience. The newspaperman wrote ‘People make a great mistake by writing long articles’ before outlining his formula for calculating the likely success of an article according to its length:

  • A fourth of a column will be read by most readers
  • Half a column will be read by half of readers
  • A full column will be read by just a third of readers

By the time you get to three or four columns, our correspondent believes only the ‘wearied editor’ is going to read it — an interesting take on the perils of overly long articles, especially since it was published in the Sonoma Democrat, 3rd May 1860.”

So the pros and cons of long form are clearly something that the publishing industry has been debating for centuries and probably still will be in a century’s time.

Long form content marketing is still a comparatively rare beast. Sure companies like Hubspot and Quicksprout have experimented with it, but generally it seems that marketers seem still to be very focused on content that comes in more bite sized chunks.

I guess the reason for this is largely about cost. Long form content is perceived to be expensive. The theory is that for the investment on a piece of long form the same marketer could have commissioned five shorter articles which may ultimately have delivered more of an ROI in terms of leads generated, new business wins etc.

Image result for new york times snowfall

I do however sense that a new approach to long form is coming and it is one that reflects some key marketing trends. The CMA blog looked at the issue of mega posts back in February highlighting how they can have enormous bearing in terms of SEO and brand authority.

Also more recently at the CMA Digital Breakfast in July Nicola Fleming, VP Head of Digital Content Strategy from Barclays spoke about the atomisation of content. The key being that brands need to work out strategies which then yields content that can be cut up and used in many different places and for many different uses – both internal and external. One way of achieving this is by creating long form content that is designed in a chapter style way so it can be cut and pasted on to other blog posts, social media and more.

If as marketers you are still concerned about dipping your toe into longer content then this article from TNM outlines its benefits from creating conversations through to increased likelihood of social shares.

Ultimately, then longform can have a powerful impact on brand image. As I mentioned earlier publishers use long form to appear intelligent, insightful and smart to their audience. That could be a powerful perception change for some brands too.

Commissioned by The CMA

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