Long-Form vs “Snackable” Content: No, shorter is not always better

People read and value long-form articles, despite their busy lives.

Photo: Anna Dziubinska

“I don’t know what happened where every marketer thinks their content has to be shorter and shorter.” – Joe Pulizzi, founder, Content Marketing Institute.

Have you heard the shorter-is-better “wisdom” in your marketing meetings? Odds are you have, because it has become one of those things that people repeat as an obvious truth. Yet despite our busy lives, data shows it to be false.

Before I left the corporate world, I know I heard it from supposedly-informed colleagues. Along with these equally false statements:

  • Young people don’t use Facebook anymore
  • Email marketing is dead
  • No blog post should be more than 500 words

That’s not the end of the list, but the point is made without compiling more.

The true value of long-form articles

What’s the truth? The Quartz Global Executive Study discovered something quite different. Quartz calls it a survey of the media habits of the world’s smartest, busiest people. The 1,357 executives participating reported these results when asked which type of content they are most likely to share:

  • 84 percent say they share long-form articles more than any other content
  • Charts and data came in second at 47 percent
  • Videos were cited by 37 percent and breaking news stories by 36 percent

As you can see, there is no ambiguity in these results. People read long-form content and place a very high value on it. (Perhaps equally important, note that written articles are ranked well ahead of video.)

Mr. Pulizzi’s comment at the beginning of this post was made during Episode 180 of the This Old Marketing podcast (at about the 36 minute mark) that he produces with co-host Robert Rose.

Talking to Rose during the episode, he continued with these remarks. “You and I have been ranting about the whole ‘snackable content’ thing. You know, ‘We’ve got to get shorter and our videos are about 3 seconds long now because executives are busy and they don’t have any time…’ What we learn from this study is that executives love long-form articles – long, meaty, informational articles.”

Think before doing the same old marketing things

An often repeated point by Pulizzi is that we should always be asking why we are doing what we‘re doing in terms of marketing. Ask if sales collateral, trade shows, video, and other common tools are really the right tools for your market and product or service. Don’t just plow ahead with marketing activities that you know (or think you know) and are used to using.

And don’t believe marketing “truisms” just because you’ve often heard them.

Effort spent trying to do more of the same old things, may actually be more profitably spent doing new  and different things. The right things, based on what your customers truly consume and value.

So don’t blindly accept that short content is always better. From this study you can see that if you provide real information, with new data and insight, it’s going to be valuable to your customers. If you don’t have time to produce longer articles, find someone who has the experience to research and write on your behalf.

It will be another way to differentiate you and your business, with everyone else on another specious marketing bandwagon. One of so many that marketers climb aboard without thinking.


Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

Neil Gaiman, “Eight Rules for Writing,” Guardian, 2010 #

Sound Different: Differentiate with better writing to build your value

The November/December issue of American Marketing Association’s Marketing News includes a directory of higher education marketing providers. The 14-page gallery of “about us” blurbs is a window on the state of writing in corporate America.

The editor in me immediately started to judge the quality of each. The blurbs that follow provide a few highlights and lowlights that I hope will show you how to separate yourself from the crowd.


160_90 company description

The first listing in the directory is a great model of clearly communicating what this agency does. It kicks right off with “a full-service branding and creative services firm.” No unnecessary and superfluous adjectives here, just a little 50-word teaser that gives you a taste of what they stand for.


Wouldn’t you think this source of so many great products would feature great writing too? On the contrary, it slops a bland coat of beige over the great brand, including the hackneyed “global leader in digital marketing and digital media solutions.” More words like tools, groundbreaking, and optimize continue to turn this into a generic description, rather than one that differentiates. Adobe should be better than that.


A typical laundry-list blurb, including listing all office locations in the first sentence. It would seem Converge must lead with the locations to tell potential customers they serve companies in only those cities, right? Or maybe they don’t have a website where readers can find that out on their own. In reality, I doubt the first statement is true and I see a website address right there in print. So why make the reader wade through all that before even beginning to say what you can do for them?


Emma company description
Emma is an email service provider that has built a great brand. Their blurb almost gets it, leading with the concrete statement that 50,000 organizations use it to “get more from their email marketing.” Clear, credible – that’s good. But the next sentence begins the “almost” part. How about this change to shine the light back on the customer:
Marketing teams of all sizes can do their best work through our tailored university, business, franchise, and agency editions for an intuitive, enjoyable experience.

Fewer words, less hammering us with the brand name, and sifting out the clunky words, like “capabilities” and “platform.”

Oh…and “Visit myemma.com to learn more” are wasted words when the web URL immediately follows.

G/O Digital

G/O Digital company description
Of 82 blurbs in this directory, 68 of them start right off repeating the name of the company, even though the company name/logo appears at the top of every listing. Why do that? Especially when you have limited words.
This company is one of the few to get it right in a few ways:

  • Never uses the company name, instead using the conversational and friendly “we” and “our” when referring to the company.
  • Quickly focuses on you and “your institution.”
  • A great description of things they do and how those things will help you.

Congrats G/O Digital!


Salesforce company description

It still surprises me that large enterprises can’t find better writers and, I guess even more surprising, they don’t know what good writing is. Yet here’s another example. For one, “Salesforce” is the first word in all three main sentences in this description. The first sentence includes the brand name twice in only 17 words, to be sure you don’t miss it. Overusing the name sets a barrier between you and the reader. You become the impersonal “company” and they become the dutifully-listening customer as you tell them what they need. Where’s the one-to-one dialog in that? It’s the me-me-me school of writing. Kind of like going on and on about yourself on a first date. Not a good strategy.

And again, the wasted reference to the website in the last sentence.

Don’t follow the crowd: Sound Different

Apple gave us “Think Different.” I am the champion of “Sound Different.” Differentiation is what you want in all communication to your target audiences. Otherwise those audiences will not be able to gain any foothold in their quest to decide if you are different from your competitors.

You can see from these examples that there are wide open spaces for you to stand out from the same old writing style that everyone else uses. Most companies seem determined to stick to the old way. Use that to your advantage.

When you have a unique voice, you make your potential customer’s job easier. You can move more quickly to showing them the value you alone can provide. And you can compete on that value, rather than being seen as a commodity that need only be judged on price.