“What’s the ideal length?”
It’s a question pondered in many circles, some of them quite spammy or sleazy for sure, but it is also one of the more common serious questions I’m asked by clients here at Gisteo. I’ve had Type-A New Yorkers swear to me that they get indignant after about 20 seconds of watching any type of video…while I’ve had cerebral Californians calmly tell me that they’re looking to make a “short video” of 4-5 minutes in length. Opinions over length and what clients think they’re looking for are indeed all over the map…and it’s something that’s obviously further influenced by budget.
If you dig around a bit, you’ll also see that the topic of video length is commonly discussed by bloggers, video hosting platforms, marketing gurus other pundits alike. Their conclusions vary wildly with different opinions being backed by all sorts of “hard data.” One of the more popular pieces of research that’s being floated around lately is that our attention span in this hyper-connected world has reached all-time lows, sinking below levels of animals that barely have a brain. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds. This is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish. That’s right, tiny fish have an attention span of 9 seconds – 1 second more than us highly developed humans.
Research like this has helped give rise to short-form social video platforms like Vine, Tout and Instagram which many marketers are now embracing. The video hosting service Wistia did a study last year on video engagement (based on the mostly marketing/business-related videos hosted on their platform) and here are the results:
Their point is that shorter videos are better for getting people to watch the whole thing and I don’t find this to be an earth-shattering revelation. I mean, yes, all things being equal, if you can make a video that’s 30 seconds or less, you’ll increase the odds of having your audience watch it until the end. This seems like common sense…and less can definitely be more when it comes to the world of online videos.
So, there you have it. Animated marketing videos should be super short and sweet, end of story. Why even consider creating a 90 second or two minute video? After all, we get our butts kicked by lowly goldfish in the attention category, no? We need to all shift to Vine-like videos or we’re completely screwed, right?
Not so fast. First of all, if you look at Wistia graphic again, I’m actually quite surprised to see that, on average, people finished over half of the 5-10 minute long videos and that people watch just under 50% of videos that are 10-20 minutes in length. I mean, I rarely make it to the halfway point when watching (non Gisteo) marketing videos over a few minutes long…and I live and breathe this stuff! It’s particularly shocking if you apply the “we’re more ADD than a goldfish” thinking. Shouldn’t that percentage viewed be much lower across the board if we’re so all so doggone attention-challenged?
Sure, it’s outside of the confines of the purely animated marketing video space, but how about the most popular videos ever on Youtube? Given our attention spans, the most watched ones must be like 30 seconds long or no more than a minute, right? Nope. At #1, it’s Psy’s Gangham Style with over 2 Billion (yep, that’s a “B”) views. Running time: 4 minutes and 15 seconds.
Justin Bieber’s Baby is right on Psy’s heels on that all-time list with a video that runs just under 4 minutes. “Ahh…that’s different because they’re music videos,” you’re thinking. Fair enough…so what about the PooPouri marketing video I blogged out a couple of weeks ago. In case you missed it, we’re talking about a product that helps neutralize the odor of your poop. The video runs 2 minutes and 15 seconds and it’s got well over 31 Million views:
The fact is that the content of the message is paramount, which is why I’ve written about the importance of writing compelling scripts on a number of occasions. We gravitate towards stories, videos and films that move and entertain us. We have more patience for topics that interest us and are relevant to our lives. Steve Jobs’ 15 minute Stanford commencement speech has millions and millions of views. Likewise with Randy Pauch’s brilliant “Last Lecture” from some years ago, which is well over ONE HOUR long:
Oh, and how about those wildly successful and influential TED talks? Given our meager ability to listen to anything long-form, the 18-minute rule utilized by TED seems way too long, doesn’t it? Nope, they think it’s perfect. TED curator Chris Anderson has explained the organization’s thinking this way:
It [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online. It’s the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk, and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily. The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.
Hmmm…so we’ve got an 8 second attention span yet the ideal TED talk length is 18 minutes? That’s quite a head-scratcher there. I don’t pretend to have all the answers on this complex subject but it just doesn’t add up!
So let’s put that aside and get back to how I respond to the question about “ideal length,” as it pertains to Gisteo’s explainer videos or marketing videos; here’s my two word answer: “It depends.” Deep huh? Well, it’s true. It depends on a number of elements, probably too many to get into now…but here are three key factors that I feel anyone looking to create a marketing or business video should consider:
G-A-P. Videos like what we produce at Gisteo can play an important role in your integrated marketing plan. They have the power to fill a “gap” that’s not currently being addressed via other messaging, hence the cheesy acronym.
Let’s take a quick look at each of the three factors of G-A-P.
It’s the first question on our pre-production questionnaire and one of the most important: why are you having this video created and what do you hope to accomplish? If you’re looking to do a short, fun teaser then, by all means, 30 seconds will probably work. If you need to use the video both online and possibly for cable TV, where there are strict time parameters, 30 seconds is vital. If you’re looking to give an in-depth explanation of your value proposition, however, 30 seconds may not cut it. Most experts agree that an “elevator pitch” should be around 90 seconds, for instance, so it’s logical to assume that an “elevator pitch” in video format should follow suit.
If you want to feature numerous screenshots and show viewers how your platform works, 30 seconds likely won’t suffice. For these types of videos, you’re probably going to need at least 90 seconds or more to effectively communicate your message and accomplish your goals. If you want to provide an in-depth explanation of a complex subject, you may need two or three minutes. If you’re condensing a 25 page manual into a training video to share with your employees, you may need four, five or more minutes…and there’s nothing wrong with that. Your audience will thank you for sparing them from reading the type of dry documents they’re accustomed to! Which leads me to the second key factor…
Who are your talking to with your video? Who’s your target audience? Most of us can’t wait to click off the pre-roll ad on Youtube so we can watch the video we were intending to watch. Same with those annoying videos that are popping up on blogs, news sites, etc. these days. This type of experience, however, is totally different than your typical explainer video experience. We’re simply not comparing apples to apples when we lump everything into one “online video” basket.
When we’re hit with a relevant message in the right place at the right time, we will react. Think about someone looking to learn about flipping homes, for instance, who hears a radio spot promoting a two hour seminar, signs up, pays good money, drive across town to the Holiday Inn and sits through the entire seminar with wide eyes. They do so because they are part of a captive audience who are there because they want to be there…which very often is the case with explainer video. Your target is likely researching solutions that address pain points in their business or life. They’ve been Googling companies and they’ve stumbled across your information, voluntarily entered your site and now want to know more.
When the Type A guy tells me that he can’t stand watching more than 20 seconds of a video, I believe that his experience with video ads or even TV commercials may be influencing this radical opinion. Most explainer videos, however, are displayed to an extremely narrow audience. A CIO at a major tech firm might not like to watch videos and ads in his day-to-day life as a consumer but, if he needs to make a data storage solution decision that could impact the future of his company, you better believe that he’ll appreciate a 90 second or 2 minute overview of your offering, assuming that it’s well-done and insightful.
A lot of the work Gisteo does is for client with very defined targets comprised of a finite group of key decision makers. For example, we’re working on a project right now for a service that prepares recertification materials for Ob/gyns. So we’re talking about practicing physicians in the United States, specialized in the field of Ob/gyn, who need to stay current and take recertification exams periodically. I wouldn’t expect anyone who is not an Ob/gyn to have any interest in watching a 90 second video on this topic. It’s reasonable, however, to expect Ob/gyn’s, who’ve found their way to the our client’s website, to watch this entire video and, hopefully, the valuable information conveyed in it will help close the sale.
This is the most tactical of the three factors. It’s all about how and where you plan on using the video. If you’re putting it on the top of your homepage and devoting serious website real estate to your video, it’s probably best to keep it shorter- say 90 seconds or so. This placement lends itself to a broad overview approach that serves as an umbrella for your entire offering. The homepage is big picture in nature so I feel that the video should mirror this and, thus, recommend not going overboard in terms of length.
If you’re using the video as a tutorial to showcase how a particular part of your product/platform/service works and it’s meant to live on a more specific page within your site, then I’d say you can get away with something longer, if necessary. After all, you have a presumably captive audience and they’ve chosen to drill down deeper while navigating through your site, so there’s much less risk of losing them when they watch the video here vs. on your front page.
If it’s a video that you’re putting on a landing page after asking someone to sign up or take some action, again, there’s less pressure to keep it super short. Imagine you had a video offering keys to weight loss that someone could view after registering via an online form. They’ve chosen to sign up, they’re interested and, if you want to present them with a 7 minute video explaining the benefits of your product, diet, whatever and the science behind it, it’s safe to say that they’ll probably watch all or most of the video.
If you’re sending out a an email to your staff around the world explaining the rationale behind a new company initiative that will affect the entire organization..then, sure, 60 or 90 seconds would be great but, you may very well need 2-3 minutes to thoroughly present the “nuts and bolts” of your plan.
So what’s the truth about length? Well, there really is no hard and fast rule- that’s the truth. It depends on a number of important factors, some of which have been discussed here. Shorter may indeed be better in certain cases but a video that’s 2-3 minutes (or more) definitely has its place. The next time you’re thinking about creating a marketing video and you’re wondering about length, be careful not to get caught up in all of the scientific research surrounding attention spans and video consumption. Watch out for the “goldfish gurus” warning you of doom and gloom if your video runs past 30 seconds and avoid those sharks trying to coax you into an unnecessarily long videos simply because they’re going to make more money off of the longer production. Listen to you gut, think hard about your G-A-P and go for it!