Digital/Online Marketing Communications Strategy

How Long Does It Take To Tell Your Story?

By on November 23, 2010 in marketing and public relations with 0 Comments

Hand holding stopwatchGood marketing is like good storytelling.

Truly effective marketing hits on emotional touchpoints that make us believe what you have to say, enough so that we’re persuaded to buy what you’ve got for sale. We need to see ourselves in your story.

It’s no accident we have the expression, “I don’t buy that story for one minute.”

How much story can you tell in 15-seconds?

How long should your brand story be?

This thought came to mind when I was chatting last week with Glenn Holsten. Glenn is an independent filmmaker who is well known for his documentaries, but he also does commercial work.  We were catching up prior to the world premier screening of his film Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists 1958-1968 and somehow got on the subject of social media. Glenn said he had a client who wanted a 15-second video to use for social media. “How can I tell in story in 15 seconds?” he asked.

I mentioned the tale, perhaps an urban legend but nonetheless oft-cited, about how Ernest Hemingway won a bet by writing a story that was only six words long.  I’ll now share this story, in it’s entirely:

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Glenn agreed that’s one heck of a short story, and he assured me he’ll whip up that 15-second spot his client wants for social media. Meanwhile, I’m intrigued by the fact that his client perceives the need to create a 15-second video, simply because it’s for social media.

Is there an ideal story length? Does the media matter?

I’ve seen two and half-hour movies that seem to fly by and watched three-minute videos that feel like they take forever.

TV commercials are usually 30 or 60 seconds long. Much of that’s due to the cost of buying time on television. There is no equivalent cost with social media.

Regardless of your expense, whatever the length of a marketing message, there’s a cost to your audience in terms of time and mindshare. Even 15 seconds of wasted time can be annoying.

YouTube is a social media channel and YouTube has in excess of 100 million videos, pretty much all of which are longer than 15 seconds. The fact that a video may also be a form of advertising doesn’t matter. If the content is worth watching, you can exceed the 30-60 second convention.

Screen shot from Blendtec Will It Blend, iPhone videoPrime examples here are the Will It Blend? spots featuring Tom Dickson, who rose to online stardom thanks to a series of videos where he proved the power of his Blendtec blender by using it to pulverize all sorts of objects, including an an iPhone, a Bic lighter, golf balls, a bag of marbles and a crowbar. Nearly all of the Will It Blend videos are between one to two minutes long and they’re super popular — the iPhone video has in excess of 9 million views. Blendtec also promotes its videos through a Facebook page , which has a more than 56,000 fans, and through Twitter.

The evolution of storytelling… to be continued

You might say your story should be as long as is required to tell what needs to be told while also holding the viewer’s interest. That’s true, and also highly subjective.

There’s no hard and fast rule here. Still, it’s interesting to consider how much social media, and the way in which we consume it – via mobile phone, desktop computer, computer tablet or TV –  influences the art of brand storytelling.

Open question: Is there a difference in our attention span toward marketing messages when we receive these messages via social media, as opposed to a company’s website?

Could be. I wouldn’t be surprised to see research down the line on this very topic. Time will tell.

What do YOU think? Is there an ideal length for a branded video that’s distributed through social media? Please share your thoughts.

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About the Author

About the Author: Deni Kasrel is seasoned (slightly spicy) specialist in digital/online communications. .


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  1. Good stuff, Deni.

    I agree with you about story length. You say, “your story should be as long as is required to tell what needs to be told while also holding the viewer’s interest.” This is absolutely true in marketing products or services and in marketing yourself.

    As a professional resume writer, I am frequently asked how long a good resume should be. While some people think they should adhere to some made-up edict about one-page resumes, I tell them that your resume should be as long as it needs to be to adequately market yourself to a potential employer.

  2. Susan McWilliams says:

    Brilliant! As the world shrinks, so does time compress. On the job and with loved ones I’m reminded that our attention span is shrinking. I need to figure out 6-word elevator spins or be left behind.

  3. autom says:

    w00t!! of course, content directly from social channels are definitely more appealing and’s all virtually UGC (user generated content) created by real people like you and me, in essence each if us telling our own stories.

  4. This is always a debated topic and a challenge for every brand, whether personal or corporate. The attention span appears to be becoming less patient, and our technology-focused world seems to be speeding up, so it can be difficult to capture the full attention of somebody or some organization, so you better get to the point as quickly as possible. Of course, this is situational, but we all need to first know who our customer is and better understand the attention span of this customer; then, we need to speak to him/her/it in the language that is clear and understandable!

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