How long should your video content be?

04th October 2023

Today, we are going to be starting a series of blogs that explore, explain, and challenge popular misconceptions in marketing. We will dig into everything from agile marketing, to how we build campaigns, what we can do as an internal team, TikTok audiences, and even niche targeting.

The number two question I get asked is “how long should my videos be”. (the number one question is “how do I do it with no money” but that’s another session. Now, to this simple question, there’s a very simple answer ..you got your notebook ready .. the perfect duration for a video is between 5 seconds and two hours. Now, I know, that’s not actually super helpful but it is the right answer.

But for most people, the common mantra is that shorter content works better … so let’s take a look at the phrase “shorter is better”.

Well yes, of course. Time and time again we can show how short posts, short videos, and short articles deliver results. 15-second videos and blogs that can be read in a minute rule the day. And why not, we live in a busy world, and the youngsters won’t watch anything over a minute.

One argument for brief content is that attention spans are getting shorter. And yes, you can easily find the 2015 study by Microsoft that showed that the average human attention span has indeed decreased to around 8 seconds, emphasising the need for concise and attention-grabbing content.

Let’s look at some examples The “Dilly Dilly” campaign by Bud Light featured short, humorous ads that quickly became a cultural phenomenon. The ads were effective in capturing attention and generating brand recognition.

The “Got Milk?” campaign, known for its iconic short commercials featuring celebrities with milk mustaches, also smashed the internet in two weeks.

Now let’s look at the data behind the ideas

According to a report by Vidyard, videos that are 60 seconds or shorter have the highest average retention rate, indicating that shorter videos are more likely to hold viewers’ attention. It shows brands need to capture viewers’ attention quickly and deliver their message concisely to maximise engagement. Short-form content, especially on platforms where attention spans are inherently shorter, is highly effective at grabbing attention and driving desired actions.

When we do paid ads, we point to several key stats that champion shorter content, completion rate by time, total engagement rate, and video completion rate. At my agency Hurricane these are stats that get talked about with almost every client.

And I talk about short content a lot. Here’s a graph from Wistia I regularly point at in meetings and conferences. We can see here the average performance of the two videos. The red line shows the average performance of a 32nd video and the blue line shows the average performance of a 62nd video.

So let’s look first at the short one we can see here that we start with 100% of use, and by around five seconds in we are down to a 75% retention rate which is pretty good as a very standard bounce rate all things considered. Then we get a nice gradual curve by the time we get to the film we just got about less than 30% of people watching which is great. We can say that around 50% of this audience saw all of our messages.

Now we can look at the blue film which is 60 seconds long, here we can see that the drop-off is much sharper. We’ve lost 25% audience by about two seconds, and that keeps plummeting and by five seconds we lost 50% of the audience. Points of the curve start to level out once we get to 30 seconds so we retain the audience for the rest of the film and we end up with 25% of the audience by the time the film finishes.

What is really interesting though is that both of these films have the first 30 seconds of content, they are totally identical to the first 30 seconds. So why do people drop off so much more quickly on the 60 and 30? The only explanation is that people simply don’t want to wait around, they see that it is 60 seconds long and they bounce more quickly. When they see you on the time that is only 30 seconds they are more likely to stay.

This seems to shut the case once and for all, shorter is better.

But … with all of that said. .. this study by Wistia holds the view of duration as the be-all and end-all metric .. and it’s simply not. We have to consider the quality of a view, not just the quantity.

In fact, Wisita themselves have another study, which shows that videos over 2 minutes start to increase in viewer retention rates, and that brand recall from longer videos is higher after watching longer content. A discovery replicated in a study by Ipsos found that longer video ads (of 30 seconds or more) have higher brand recall compared to their shorter brothers

When we tell only short stories and focus on Shorts, Reels, and TikToks, we don’t actually have a grown-up, meaningful conversation with customers. We just show a message and a logo to them.

Longer content allows for more in-depth storytelling and the ability to convey values and mission. Long-form engages on a deeper level, building emotional connections and brand affinity. A study by Google found that longer videos (10 minutes or more) have higher viewer satisfaction and engagement rates.  Wyzowl found that 79% of consumers prefer watching a brand video that explains things in detail rather than a shorter video.

The complexity of the content being conveyed, and the depth of conversations you are having should be the key factor determining durations, not just engagement KPIs. If the content requires in-depth explanations, demonstrations, or storytelling, longer content is the answer.

So what we have to think about is how content duration changes across the sales and marketing funnel. We would expect short content top and bottom and in-depth content in the middle

A key thing to remember is platforms are what drive durations. Social Insider showed that the average length of the most engaging videos on Facebook is around 3 minutes, indicating that longer videos can perform.

YouTube’s organic algorithm is actually driven by long-form content. Let’s step aside for a minute and go into the bowels of YouTube and its parent company Google. Let’s think about what they actually want. Firstly, let’s be very clear, we live in an attention-based economy, and getting our attention is what matters. YouTube has no interest at all in the growth of your brand. Sure, they want your media spend, but what they really want is for people to be watching YouTube for as long as possible. Watch time is the metric they care about more than anything else. Here’s a quote directly from Neal Mohan, Chief  Executive Officer at YouTube “total watch time is a critical factor for YouTube’s success and directly impacts our revenue. The more time users spend watching videos on our platform, the more opportunities we have to serve ads and generate revenue”

It’s because of this cold economic reality that YouTube and Google have adjusted algorithms to favour long-form content, they would rather people watch half of a ten-minute film, than all of a four-minute film… it’s just about time on site. If you can get over 50% completion rate on 8-minute content, your content will be recommended to viewers and you will win. So if you want to grow your channel organically you simply have to have long-form content on there.

In conclusion, while engagement data can provide insights into the effectiveness of short and long video content, it is important to consider various factors such as storytelling depth, information delivery, brand recall, audience attention span, and platform considerations. Both short and long videos can be effective in growing a brand, depending on the specific goals, target audience, and content strategy of the brand. Truly effective campaigns, like the one that Hurricane made for Bupa, use a combination of short and long form. The former drives awareness, and the latter deepens conversations which together increases brand salience.

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