If you die a little inside every time you see Facebook posts from brands along the lines of, “Like this post if you love drinking our soda!,” you’re not alone. While microblogging and shorter-status social platforms are wildly popular, recent trends point to a need among consumers for something more substantive.

As Shane Snow puts it:

“If you want to dominate in a landscape littered with stupid cute stuff, go long-form.”

Forbes.com writer Lewis Dvorkin sees a happy marriage between long- and short-form content, and digs into the role of “time-shifting apps,” like Apple’s Reading List (now native on iOS devices) ReadItLater, and InstaPaper. Essentially, the ability to easily save something for later reading—instead of having to read it when encountered—and read the same content on different devices in multiple sessions, makes long-form content more appealing to consumers.

E-readers fuel the boom

A February survey by Pew found that 21% of American adults have read an e-book in the last year, up 4% in just three months. In that same period, ownership of either tablet of e-reader nearly doubled from 10% to 19%. One of the more interesting data points from the survey was the prevalence of electronic long-form in general:

“Using a broader definition of e-content in a survey ending in December 2011, some 43% of Americans age 16 and older say they have either read an e-book in the past year or have read other long-form content such as magazines, journals, and news articles in digital format on an e-book reader, tablet computer, regular computer, or cell phone.”

There’s a huge opportunity here for brands to publish in e-reader and tablet-specific formats. Giving readers several optimized options as to how they consume your content is never a bad idea.

Branded knowledge

Several hubs for long-form writing have emerged to fill consumer demand for content in the grey area between article and book. These include sites like longreads.com, which started as a hashtag, and is now home of 1,200 curated long-form pieces submitted by readers and established publishers like The New Yorker. Virgin Atlantic sponsors Travelreads, a branded travel section of the site.

Longform.org takes a similar approach with its weekly sponsorships. The common thread here is that brands don’t necessarily need to create the content to benefit from the rise of long-form, they can benefit through smart curation and sponsorship.

Quality over conformity

Brands are starting to realize that their writers and content creators aren’t necessarily their best marketers. If the aim is to create better, more engaging content, many companies are looking outside their walls and hiring established experts that bring with them skills, an audience, and established cachet. But being flexible is essential here; brands need to be comfortable with content that doesn’t look like it was written by marketers—which is the point, after all. Interestingly, a few brands, like Nissan, are hiring journalists for this task.

Companies are also turning to high-quality outside content creators through sites like Contently.com, which serves as a marketplace for “magazine-quality writing talent,” and often features journalistic talent. Expect to see a lot of growth in this market, as improved metrics testify to two undeniable truths:

  1. Great content works wonders for brand awareness, lead generation, and practically every other business goal with a public-facing dimension.
  2. Great content is worth time and money.

The demise of “video attention deficit”

Viewers’ interest in longer videos is growing, contrary to popular belief. And mobile viewing is no exception:

“In Q1 2012, around 40% of time spent watching online video on mobile and tablets was spent watching long-form video (defined as more than 10 minutes in length), compared to 29% for mobile and 36% for tablets in Q4 2011.”

One explanation of this phenomenon is that video content is simply getting better, and can engage viewers longer. But this trend also tracks to consumers owning better devices, and thus a better video viewing experience all around.

There are hundreds of branded long-form videos I could include as great examples here (starting with BMW’s pioneering The Hire series), but if there’s one that really stands out in my mind, it is Stella Artois’ Up There, which “reveals the dying craft of large-scale hand painted advertising and the untold story of the painters struggling to keep it alive.” The film was used to promote Stella’s campaign, The Ritual Project.

The opportunity

What does this all mean for marketers? It means you can breathe a sigh of relief. There’s a growing audience for your best work, and for a deeper connection with your company. It doesn’t mean you should delete your Twitter account, or stop posting short-form content. Like anything else in marketing, long-form is an ingredient in the mix. It’s time to add some more.

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