Last month, the Maven wrote a post offering tips for writing and producing long-form marketing content, such as white papers and research reports. This month, we’ll explore short form.
If long form is anything over 1,000 words, then short form is anything less. The majority of marketing content your company produces is likely short form, such as emails, blog posts, infographics, and social media posts.
Short-form content offers a number of benefits for both you and your audience:
- Due to decreased attention spans on the part of your audience, especially in the digital sphere, short form is less intimidating and more likely to be consumed in full.
- Short form is easier to see and read on mobile devices. Up to half of all content is accessed on mobile devices.
- Short-form content is faster and cheaper to produce than long form.
Don’t Mistake Short for Easy
Just because short form is short doesn’t mean it’s easy to create or that you can treat it more casually. Short form is challenging because you have to do a lot with so little, you need to quickly capture your audience’s attention, any tiny mistake is magnified, and you need to be concise and to the point.
As the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal famously wrote: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” That’s because being brief takes careful crafting and editing.
Here are some tips for mastering short form:
It All Starts with the Headline
News editors know that story headlines must do two things: get the reader’s attention and reveal the main point of the story. It’s true for marketing content as well.
Write headlines that will intrigue your audience and set expectations. For example, the headline to this post—“How to Master Short-from Marketing Content”—should interest marketers tasked with creating short form and also promises “how-to” tips. The headline isn’t fancy or clever; instead, it does the job it’s intended to do.
Follow the Inverted Pyramid Rule
Again, we’ll take advice from the world of journalism. The inverted pyramid rule states that the most important information comes first, followed by secondary information. There’s no need to attempt to build suspense in the reader. They don’t want suspense—they want the main points as quickly as possible.
Stick to a Narrow Topic
If you can’t fully cover your topic in a thousand words or less, then your topic is too broad for short form. If you have to make more than one key claim along with its supporting information, then again, you shouldn’t be using short form.
If you find yourself in this situation you can do one of two things: switch to long form to cover your topic, or segment the topic into smaller units that can be covered in short form.
Nothing bashes credibility like grammatical errors or typos in a short piece. They really stick out and your audience will judge you negatively. Ruthlessly cut extra words, but proofread your final product with an eagle eye.
Choose an Appropriate Content Format
Research studies, white papers, and in-depth customer interviews or articles don’t lend themselves to short form. Instead, choose a format that dovetails nicely with short-form writing. Here are some examples:
Listicles—this ever-popular format (“Top 10 Ways To . . .”, “8 Tips for . . .”) offers a quick read and digestible information. Pro Tip: Keep your introductions to listicles to a minimum amount of text, or abandon the introduction altogether. You have to admit that when reading listicles you’ve skipped past the intros to the first item on a list.
Infographics—This combination of text and graphics is especially appealing for presenting and interpreting data.
Checklists—Kind of like listicles, checklists give straightforward information, such as “Must-have Features When Purchasing X.”
Visual + Caption—A single visual element with an extended caption. Take a look through your slide decks. Can you pull anything out that can stand alone with the help of a caption?
Three Questions With . . .—A mini-interview with a customer, partner, or subject matter expert. You’re already telling your audience this will be short and to the point. Variations on this include “Did You Know?” in which you promise an important and relevant fact or piece of information.
Social Media Posts—Get right to the point you want to make and your audience will be appreciative you are respecting their time.
Less Obvious Short-form Content
To really become a master, treat every little thing you write as short-form content. Comments you add on posts from companies or influencers you follow? That’s short-form content. Treat it as carefully as you would your own marketing content. Description tags on web pages? Same thing. Your company descriptions on social media profiles? Make your point, be clear, be helpful to your audience.