Shorter Copy isn’t Always Best – Shorter Attention Span Changes the Way We Write
January 27, 2012 § 3 Comments
Many moons ago, I graduated with a degree in Journalism and I walked out know that readers will only read the first few paragraphs of a story, so I better make it good. It is referred to as the inverted pyramid. As a writer, I need to tell you the who, what, when, how, and why within the first and possibly the second paragraph. If I don’t, I was taught I would lose my reader’s attention.
Before the internet, a paper newspaper would show up on our door step every morning. Well, I assume it showed up on the door step, by the time I woke up, it had made its way to the kitchen table. I would actually look through the paper while I ate my cereal. Occasionally, I would read an article and get frustrated when the story continued on a different page.
Similar to today’s media, this was done so that the paper could entice the reader with several splashy headlines and a brief synopsis of the story. Once they hook you, you would open the paper to the rest of the stories, passing tons of ads along the way.
140 Characters or less
Many of us have moved to reading our news online. Twitter has transformed tidbits of information to 140 characters. Anyone can share their point-of-view through blogs, websites, pictures, and videos. The newspaper and magazine businesses are drowning a slow and miserable death.
With all these changes, has anyone noticed that the delivery of information has shortened considerably? Apparently, as we are bombarded with information and delivery options, our attention span is shorter than ever. But before you go chopping out copy from your collateral, website, blog, or e-newsletter, it might be worthy to have a quick conversation on whether that is the best solution.
I spend a lot of time reading. One, I enjoy reading and two, my work requires it. Lately, I estimate that 90% of the information I read doesn’t give me enough information. As a marketer, I see a huge opportunity wasted. Don’t take me wrong, I am not condoning you spew every little detail about your product or service. However, I do believe you should give the reader enough information that it will provoke action. Skipping key details will not provoke action, rather irritate the reader.
Don’t Fall Short, Literally
Using the inverted pyramid concept, nearly every marketing piece should summarize the basics up front, but don’t just stop there. Don’t just bring up an area the reader is interested in; rather give them enough information that they won’t go elsewhere to buy. This happens to me a lot – I get a piece of information that only gives me enough to spark my interests, but not enough to create a desire to buy from that particular company. Many times, I buy the product or service elsewhere. Sad, I know.
By no means, am I telling you that your email copy should equate to 3 printed pages. Nor does this mean your collateral should be 10 pages long. Here are a few tips to help you with copy development.
• Write concise copy, don’t mix words, and don’t repeat yourself
• Avoid being coy, cleaver, or secretive. I really hate this style
• I love funny, but done wrong, it will flop every time
• Over communicate and don’t expect your reader to know what you know
• Don’t leave your reader hanging
• Use “We are Great” sparingly – don’t go overboard on why you rock
• Keep it simple and factual
In my reading for this topic, I came across a fun visual representation of how our attention span as dropped from 12 minutes to 5 seconds all as a result of social media.
What do you think? Has our attention span reduced to the level that marketers should stick to three paragraphs or less?