Jon Thomas
Jon Thomas
Communications Director

Drive-Thru Marketing: Bite-sized Content for an Impatient World

I have no patience anymore.

I know that at some point in my life I did. I could wait in lines, sit through three-hour college classes and even read a book for hours, all without feeling as though I’d missed out on something. But not anymore.

Today my patience (or maybe it’s just my attention span) has deteriorated to a sliver of what it was. In a normal day at the office, I scan hundreds of tweets and status updates, read (or at least skim) a dozen or so blog posts and view countless Facebook photos, YouTube videos (the short ones), Touts and Vines. I can’t stand in line without checking my email, Facebook or Instagram. 

I’m not reading books or even long- form articles. I’m busy (at least I think I am), and I don’t have time to read your lengthy e-Book or watch your 60-minute webinar. In reality I probably do have the time, but the advent of social media has changed not only the type of content I consume and where I consume it, but also the speed in which I feel I must consume that content. And by “I,” I mean most everyone. 

So what does that mean for content marketing?

A Trip Back to 2006

Though the context of the content may vary (a banker, a teenager and a mother of four will consume very different content), there has been a clear progression in the creation and consumption of long-form to short-form content over the past seven years, give or take a year. In 2006, blogging was all the rage. Any and every digital marketing expert was telling brands to create their own publishing channels and start creating content, often in the form of helpful articles. Blogging fueled SEO results, and that success on Google would develop more inbound leads. 

It was a simple strategy but one not easily sold to C-level executives worried about dedicating resources to an effort that might only indirectly result in revenue. Most would rather have stuck to the old methods of traditional advertising (where it is nearly impossible to truly valuate ROI) or to sales teams cold-calling potential customers. The job for agencies or forward-thinking marketing managers with their fingers on the pulse of digital was to show how the landscape was changing and how audiences were changing with it. 

A Content Drive-Thru

That strategy is still at the core of digital marketing today, but the proliferation of tools has changed the way audiences connect with each other, and that connection changed the way audiences found, consumed and shared content. With each passing year, social media audiences and channels grew more. While the big three—Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—continued to expand and iterate, smaller players, like LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, SnapChat, Tout and Vine, began to capitalize on niche social activities. These social platforms have smaller audiences but grow rapidly and offer features that the big three don’t have or at least whose versions of which aren’t as robust. Facebook knew that early, and even though its Camera app has filters, it went ahead and bought Instagram, a platform that’s becoming more popular than Facebook with teenagers, for a cool billion dollars.

This resulted in what I call a content drive-thru. Like customers without time to park their cars and stand in line at a fast-food restaurant, audiences now favor bite-sized content that can be consumed and shared in seconds, not minutes and certainly not hours. This has led to many brands ditching the keyboard for the camera, creating image-based content that grabs attention and is visually appealing yet is quickly understood and consumed. Even when it’s just text, as with Twitter, there’s a hard stop at 140 characters for good reason.

The Road Ahead for Brands

I don’t claim to know with 100 percent certainty what’s in the future of content marketing, but there are clues from the past and present that may help us predict more accurately what’s to come. One clue is the notable shift in the style of branded Facebook content. Updates from brands have shifted from text-based questions and link sharing to including a photo for every post, regardless of type. Sharing a link? Find a photo and put the link in the copy. Want to use a quotation? Put it on top of a photo. 

In this climate, Instagram has flourished. The photo-based social network utilized filters to give photos a unique glow and a retro feel. But it’s not the filters that make it special (Facebook has filters, and there are Instagram competitors, too). What makes Instagram special is its dedication to one type of media—photography. Add the ability to search, comment and hashtag, and the mobile-based app is becoming a force in the social-media world. Brands like Nike, Red Bull, Victoria’s Secret and Starbucks each boast more than a million followers and offer a glimpse into the visual essence of the brand.

Following Instagram’s success, the Twitter-owned short-form mobile video platform Vine, as well as Tout (self-described as a “real-time information network for video updates”), have emerged in a world where YouTube is the 1,000-pound gorilla in the room. Both allow the user to quickly record and upload a video into a dedicated stream that is easily consumed and shared by their audience. 

A number of brands are already experimenting on Vine (you can see them at Brands on Vine). As recently as this week, the first trailer for Wolverine was released, as a Vine. Tout has resonated with flagship brands, including the WWE, which has posted more than 2,000 Touts and attracted more than 100,000 followers on its branded account. More impressive is the fact that the WWE has managed to get most of its large roster of personalities (about 40) on the platform as well (though not all have “touted”), increasing the brand’s exposure. They encourage users to Tout at them as well, using those user-generated Touts on-air during live broadcasts. 

Finally, the GIF has made a comeback of late, fueling the success of Tumblr, and brands like HBO and Pixar have taken notice. HBO created a Tumblr for its hit show Girls, curating user-generated photos and animated GIFs. For the upcoming film Monsters University, Pixar developed its own Tumblr, creating comical memes based on footage from the film.

The Irony Is Not Lost on Me

An article about the emergence and success of short-form content (branded and otherwise) has exceeded one thousand words. Yes, I get the irony. But long-form content published weekly is what our audience has come to expect, and that’s an important lesson. 

While there are many successes across various new and (relatively) old social media channels, ultimately your brand has to understand who your audience is, where they are and what type of content they want to consume and would be willing to share. The answers to those questions will differ for every single brand. While Pinterest seems fun and popular, it may not resonate with your fans and may consume valuable resources for little to no return. Always remember to take an audience-first approach to determine which channels your brand embraces. 

Is your brand creating short-form content? Are you focusing less on long-form? Let us know in the comments. 

Photo Credit: Wade Morgen via Compfight cc

  • tannerc

    Short form content is huge right now, and rightly so, but I don’t think it’s the future of marketing.

    We’re seeing more and more than people are happy to split their time and attention between short, quick quips of content (like Vines or Tweets) but they also value longer pieces of content (like hour-long, premium TV shows or really engaging news articles).

    There was a great article with research data to explain this better than I have here, but – alas – I didn’t save the link.

  • Sasha Safonova

    These are excellent points, and from information consumer’s perspective I’m realizing that reading/watching/checking less things leaves us in a deeper know.

    The irony here: this article is long-form.

    But ideas are valid.

  • Jon Thomas

    The irony is not lost on me!!

  • Jon Thomas

    I think it’s “a” big part of the future of marketing, but certainly not “the” future of marketing. As you can see by the article itself, long form does have its place.

  • Michael Downing

    Great Article - “Show me Don’t Tell Me” - a simple way to think about how behavior is changing. Doesn’t mean that long-form is dead or going away - but does mean that the route to get people to long-form has changed - I know “tune” my real-time feed to discover that which interests me - and a link from this feed will sometimes take me to longer form content….sometimes.

  • Jon Thomas

    Thanks Michael. Great insight.

  • Jon Thomas

    Gunther, Let me first say that you’ll find few blogs out there covering content marketing that mention storytelling as often as this blog does. This blog is the publishing platform for Story Worldwide, a brand-storytelling agency. It’s what we do every day for our brands. The fact that it doesn’t show up in this article is part pure-chance, part me trying to avoid being so overbearing with the term. You know, that’s our term, don’t wear it out!

    Just follow this link to see all our posts that mention storytelling -

    But to get back to your point—you’re not going to find an argument from me. “Storytelling” is the buzzword du joir nowadays (even though we were calling ourselves a brand storytelling agency in 2006) and you can’t throw a rock without hitting an agency that claims it helps brands tell stories. However, we’re an agency founded by a lifelong journalist (and Pulitzer Prize Finalist), staffed by those who you wouldn’t consider the “usual suspects.” Our employee roster includes the lead signer of Gang of Four, comedians, authors, film makers, technologists and more. But what unites us is our passion for storytelling, and we apply that passion along with proprietary approaches to unearthing a brand’s story (including a unique Discovery Workshop that uses hands-on activities to express a brand’s story platform) to tell better stories for brands.

    This isn’t a pitch for Story. I’m explaining this because you mentioned that agencies, brands and institutions alike need to take a journalistic, narrative approach to develop better content, and we couldn’t agree more.

  • fatrabbit CREATIVE

    Thanks for your insight, Jon. While short-form content may be fashionable right now, it seems as though users/consumers are willing to digest multiple “short-form” pieces on one subject of interest. Perhaps the key is presenting long-form content in multiple media formats, all in one location?

  • Jon Thomas

    I wouldn’t argue with that.

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