Less Is Less

Have you been watching the “March Madness,” college basketball tournament these past couple of weeks?

I have. Not every minute, certainly, but plenty.

Apparently, I am not alone. In fact, if this email snippet sent to me by my friend Dave, courtesy of his surgeon son is any indication, it’s quite the distraction to many, many people:

“[Monday was] the biggest day of the year for male elective surgeries amongst married men. Your recovery provides the excuse needed to lay on your ass and watch basketball for four days.”

Listen To This Post

That certainly got me thinking about next year’s schedule. Although I have to confess, at this point, I’m down to a scant few nonessential body parts.

But wait a second. I thought everyone was “too busy” these days to do anything but go to work, do the work and stay productive, now that we’re all living in a hyper-connected, hyper-competitive, 24/7 world.

At least that’s the argument I hear, every time someone suggests that a busy professional would ever slow down long enough to read a newsletter or blog post that wasn’t super-short and nothing but the facts:

“People don’t have the time or patience for this kind of thing anymore. They need everything in quick, bite-sized chunks.”

Hmmm. I guess that’s why nobody watches movies anymore. Or goes to restaurants. Or surfs YouTube. Or posts on Facebook. Or hikes, runs, bikes, cooks, gardens. Or wastes countless hours worth of precious time watching college basketball.

I don’t buy it. The popular notion that “time scarcity requires hyper-brief content” is missing the point. (tweet this)

After all, I’m no Copernicus, but as far as I can tell, there are as many hours in the day today as there were 50 years ago.

Busy or not, people will always find time to read, watch and do things that they find compelling, interesting, vital or just plain fun.

Your problem isn’t length, it’s quality. Have you noticed that the people and companies that churn out the dullest newsletters are the same ones that churn out the dullest tweets?

If the content you create stinks at 800 words, it will stink at 140 characters (granted, it will stink for a shorter period of time).

So what’s the solution to achieving the holy grail of compelling, interesting, vital and fun? Try these three things:

  1. Tell stories. Humans are hard-wired to listen to them. A story requires more words, but it also grabs attention.

    Sure, I’d save some time if you simply said: “Nerdy kid goes to boarding school, makes new friends, fights evil.” But turn it into Harry Potter and I’m on the edge of my seat for 850 pages.

    Your personal stories and observations – not the Nordstrom tire return story that we’ve all heard a million times – are unique to you. Wrap them around the facts and you’ll teach me while holding my interest.

  1. Narrow your focus. Writing great content for “anyone who may be interested” is hard. Maybe impossible.

    A narrow audience on the other hand, while necessarily smaller, is more engaged. They’re willing to read longer content if it applies directly to who they are and what they care about.

    My audience, for example, is solo professionals. Are you allowed to read this if you’re not one? Sure, but I’m not talking to those people. As a result, I have the freedom to not compromise my voice, content, suggestions, etc., out of a concern for including everyone.

  1. Take a position. Do I really believe that content length is completely irrelevant? No. But, if I wander out into the squishy middle of a topic without expressing a clear point of view, it quickly degrades into Parade Magazine-style fluff, and I lose you.

    Experts (likeable and otherwise) have clear opinions. That’s why people pay attention. Get out of the middle of the road and say something that someone might disagree with. And don’t worry, when a reader objects to something you’ve said, it means you’ve got her attention (congratulations).

Here’s the bottom line. All things being equal, shorter is better. The problem is, all things rarely are.

Longer format content gives you the running room to share a point a view, demonstrate your expertise and show some personality. (tweet this) If you sacrifice all that in the name of brevity, you have to wonder why you’re publishing content in the first place.




What do you think? Is long(er) form content in business dying? Share your comments – of whatever length – below!

 

35 thoughts on “Less Is Less

  1. Debra Murphy

    Michael – well said (as usual).

    Both long and short form content are important in your content marketing strategy as you need to produce both in order to catch people’s attention more often. Long form content, however, is being valued more by Google in search engine results and those producing quality, long form content are rising in the search engine ranks.

    However, the problem with some longer content is not only quality, but the formatting of the content. You can have the best content but if it is hard to read, you are going to lose the audience because of the time it takes to figure out what is important.

    As long as you provide white space, bolding, bullets and other ways for people to skim first, then read (as you have done above), people will be able to digest enough and then go back for more. That’s how you can give them the bite-sized chunks as well as the complete package.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Debra, that’s helpful. Question for you (and anyone else): I see a lot of blogs/sites with much larger typefaces than mine.

      I assume that’s also for greater readability (and not just a fad), although I’ve resisted on this site since I prefer this more conventional size. Any thoughts on that?

      Reply
      1. Joyce S. Kaye

        Stick with what you have if you like. Readers can enlarge/decrease the font size using CTRL + “+” and CTRL + “-” respectively, or holding CTRL and rolling the wheel on a mouse (PC). I believe with Macs, you use the CMD key instead of CTRL. As for mobile devices, well, there’s just so many options out their for viewing, you could drive yourself crazy!

        Reply
          1. Debra Murphy

            Actually larger typefaces are becoming more popular to not only make it easier to skim, but also to accommodate mobile devices. If you use a responsive design, reading and clicking on links on your smartphone becomes easier. So not a fad.

            (next time I’ll check the notify box below :)

          2. Michael Katz Post author

            Thanks Debra. I’m in the process of converting my site to responsive for that very reason!

  2. Joyce S. Kaye

    Something taught to me years ago when I got involved in an MLM has remained with me: “Facts tell, stories sell.” And of course you are spot on that the problem isn’t length, it’s quality. Thanks for another great e-news, Michael. Now, you can go ahead into your weekend and partake in the March Madness – enjoy!

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      The funny thing for me with stories is that I just like telling them (jokes too). The fact that they are also incredibly powerful as a way to communicate was something I didn’t learn until quite a bit later!

      Reply
  3. Jim Quinlivan

    Nice title! With apologies to Mies van der Rohe and Robert Browning, I assume, who popularized the phrase “Less is More.” Ironically, Browning’s poem — “Andrea del Sarto,” a dramatic monologue of 266 lines (1855) — is great long form. Didn’t sell anything, but we’re still reading it.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Jim. I just heard from my client “Les,” and told him again that I always thought his newsletter should be called “Les is More.” (He didn’t go for it!).

      Reply
      1. Lew Hollerbach

        Brilliant! If I were Les, I’d have gone for it. Why not have a little fun with your blog/newsletter! I’m resurrecting my blog, called “Hollering Bach”.

        Reply
      2. David

        I am reminded of a epitaph said to have
        been seen on an old western tombstone:

        Here lies the body of Lester Moore
        Killed by a shot from a .44
        No Les, No more

        Thanks for setting up the opportunity
        for me to retell this story.

        Reply
  4. marian Cramer

    Hi Michael, I still read most of your content. I need a few smiles in my day, and you often come through for me. I am still involved in the Long Goodbye with my husband of some 61 years, and smiles are hard to come by. The good news is that it is becoming easier and I don’t cry at the drop of a hat. Some days are diamonds, some days are stones, as the old song goes. Thanks for helping me see the diamonds once in awhile. Take care, and keep writing about writing. My counselor is urging me to get back to my computer and WRITE. At least now I am thinking about it. “One small step” and all that. THanks again, Marian, now in Assisted Living up in Shoreline, WA.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Marian,
      Thanks for writing and I’m glad my newsletter has been helpful. I hope you get back to writing soon!
      Michael

      Reply
  5. Debby Brown

    Michael,
    Speaking from personal experience, it doesn’t seem to matter how long or how short the content of my marketing emails are. I get the same decent number of “opens” and “click-throughs,” no matter what.
    So I would have to say that for my clients, the longer content is not dying.
    I’m curious to know how the “read the entire newsletter” link to your newsletters is going. The perception is that you’re shortening your newsletter, but you’re (obviously) not.
    As usual, this was a thought-full one.
    Debby

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Debby!
      Funny you should mention the “read the entire newsletter” thing. I’ve had two email conversations with long time readers today about it. The people who don’t like it REALLY don’t like it. Others don’t even seem to notice it. (Do you care?)

      I’m close to having enough data to share the reasoning and the benefits with everyone (I think today’s was my 6th issue this new way). In fact, I’m trying to decide if I should write a newsletter about it, or write a longer format download or maybe even do a webinar where people can actually see the mechanics and discuss the tradeoffs.

      Michael

      Reply
      1. David

        Michael –

        As someone who told you long ago that I would appreciate seeing the full newsletter transcript, and not merely the audio…I am glad to now see my prayers have been answered. I just happen to prefer the visual route to the aural.

        By the way, though I was not thinking of it at the time, the full transcript would help to make your newsletter ADA compliant in making it accessible to the deaf (that is, to the sound of yoiur voice, not to the content}.

        It is almost embarrassing to point out this, IMHO, “clinker” in your current issue:

        >> Here’s the bottom line. All things being equal, shorter is better. The problem is, all things rarely are. <<

        …things rareley are what? (shorter, better, equal, take your pick?) The rhythm and intent of your statement really wanted that additional word.

        Now it may be possible that a grammarian could parse your statement to extract your intended meaning…but, just as you are not writing for non-solo professionals, you are not writing for grammarians, so you want it to read smoothly and clealy (the first time through).

        Keep up the generally good work.

        Reply
  6. Dennis terHorst

    In regards to the larger font question you asked, Michael — could the answer be that maybe those who up-size their font just don’t know any better? There is a point beyond which increased readibliity becomes stumpy looking from a design stand point and psychologically irritable to the reader. That’s more than just a position. It’s a professional opinion.

    However, as a bespectacaled and bifocaled viewer of the flat screen monitor (a challenge even for eyes of a younger vintage), a point or two increase in font size would help me and my kind. Just a little bit bigger can make a big difference without making it look like 3rd grade artwork.

    Keep up the good, refreshing work. I look forward to each newsletter, as well as, your “Today I …” posts.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Dennis, that’s a helpful perspective. The common size I seem to see these days is like this one, from copyblogger: http://www.copyblogger.com/local-seo/

      It’s not outrageously big, and maybe it’s easier to read. But I find it takes a little getting used to.

      If you care to comment, what’s your bespectacled professional opinion on that? (And would simply increasing the font on a page like this one throw off the rest of the design?)

      Reply
      1. David

        Michael –

        As someone who told you long ago that I would appreciate seeing the full newsletter transcript, and not merely the audio…I am glad to now see my prayers have been answered. I just happen to prefer the visual route to the aural.

        By the way, though I was not thinking of it at the time, the full transcript would help to make your newsletter ADA compliant in making it accessible to the deaf (that is, to the sound of your voice, not to the content}.

        It is almost embarrassing to point out this, IMHO, “clinker” in your current issue:

        >> Here’s the bottom line. All things being equal, shorter is better. The problem is, all things rarely are. <<

        …things rarely are what? (shorter, better, equal, take your pick?) The rhythm and intent of your statement really wanted that additional word.

        Now it may be possible that a grammarian could parse your statement to extract your intended meaning…but, just as you are not writing for non-solo professionals, you are not writing for grammarians, so you want it to read smoothly and clealy (the first time through).

        Keep up the generally good work.

        Reply
  7. Christine

    Length prevents me from reading a newsletter if 1) I’m short on time, 2) I’m really not interested (of course), 3) I’m not hooked immediately and 4) I find the formatting frustrating. I always read your newsletters – short, or long. (Squeak, squeak!) You make me smile and above all, you give me worthwhile information. I know that will be the case when your newsletter arrives in my mailbox. In fact, if my schedule prevents me from reading your newsletter immediately, I save it and come back to it later. Regarding your “read-the-entire-newsletter” link, I find I follow your links without frustration. That’s rarely true with others because my experience tells me it’s probably not worth the effort or the linked page doesn’t come up fast enough. I’m looking forward to getting your data on this question. And finally, I find the text size of copyblogger content larger than I like despite my aging eyes and bifocals. In my opinion, increasing font size would detract from your page design.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks on all counts for your detailed comment, Christine! Very helpful all around.
      Michael

      Reply
  8. Bruce Horwitz

    Hi Michael,

    I always read to the end of your newsletter to see if I can spot the real stories from the made up ones ;^)

    Seriously, I think each person has to evaluate their own writing skills and “voice” and make sure the length of the piece will not bore reader. You have a light and breezy voice and can “get away with” a long piece than I can, for example.

    Font size: I find the copyblogger size too large.

    Linking to the full content: I made that switch a while back with no noticeable impact on readership. The only drawback I can think of is that people have to be on-line to read the material whereas with the full content in the email they could have downloaded their emails and gone off-line (like on an airplane) to read it.

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Bruce!

      Thanks as always for commenting. It’s always interesting to see the range of opinions.

      On the “gone off-line” thing, I too always felt that was a big consideration. But these days, and other than the airplane (and even then, not always) we’re all connected almost all the time, so I think that has lost its importance too.

      I’ll tell you, though, one thing I love about this approach is that not only are there more comments, but there’s some cross talk too. You commenting on the click through side conversation I had with Debby, and Lew commenting on “Les is More” up above, for example. Previously, I had these interactions one-on-one via email. Much more conversational!

      Reply
  9. Dennis terHorst

    Thanks for your invitation to making an additional comment on font size.

    In graphic arts there a few hard and fast rules but not a lot. After some graphics experience one develops a subjective feel for design. As much as anything else, this is what we use to solve the myriad design problems that confront us.

    Part of it too, is societal convention which is an invisible influence. Portrait artists 300 – 400 years ago probably didn’t ask themselves why they preferred naked, over weight (fat) ladies for their subjects. (Did they know something we don’t.) I digress.

    Over the years this subjectivism has become a visceral tool for me and I use my gut as much as I do my head in determining what’s good and what’s not. It was operative when I toggled between your newsletter and the copyblogger site. I went from your piece to copybloger and my gut relaxed. Switched back to your piece and it tightened. It was my immediate answer to which is more readable.

    This exposes one of graphic art’s rules. To see and compare is to judge. Nothing is proved through narrative.

    The copyblogger font size is about 150% of your font size. I guess I wouldn’t go bigger. Bigger does become a threat to page design. I’ve seen website text at 200% or more of your font which throttles the page design. It churns my gut and starts affecting my respiration! When that happens I don’t fight, I flee, as I think most people would.

    So, if copyblogger’s font size gives you trepidation, increase your font by half the size difference and apply the rule above (to see and compare is to judge) and feedback will affirm or reject the change. By the way, no feedback could easily mean approval. “Unsubscribes” on the other hand have there own lesson. But, the bottom line in regards to the web is that design is the icing — content is the cake. Nothing terrible is going to happen if you make this change because you bake a really good cake.

    Reply
    1. David

      My experience in another blog context makes me wary of making a definitive statement. I was getting complaints from both sides on my font and layout and it became evident when some would say that Element A of my post was larger font than Element B, while others would make the opposite complaint. It seems that that blog platform does not operate on a “What You See is What Other People Get.” Indeed, What Other People Got was not consistent. It seemed there was no way that I could please every one nor even deliver the same look to everyone, whatever their individual opinions and preferences.

      That said, and based on the view as I see it, I would second Dennis’ suggestion to “split the difference” between the size of these comments and the size of copyblogger (which Dennis indicates is 150%), making the revision 125%.

      By coincidence, when I zoom my screen (Ctrl + “+”), I typically zoom to 125%.

      I hope that is helpful.

      Reply
      1. Michael Katz Post author

        David and Dennis, thanks to you both. I will be fooling around with font size in the future (along with everything else!).

        Reply
  10. Barbara Boustead

    Enjoyed reading this post, especially since I’ve been asked to write an article for the newsletter of my professional association. Great ideas! Have really liked the excellent advice you’ve shared with your readers. I am currently on vacation in Mexico, and didn’t plan to be on the computer, but wanted to say how much I have liked your style, honesty and generous sharing of information! You do a fantastic job of modeling how to market, while being authentic and generous with our clients/customers. Keep up the great work!

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks so much, Barbara! I’ve glad you’ve enjoyed the posts.

      Please send photos from your vacation so I can soak up some of that – it’s 40 degrees and raining here in Boston today and people are feeling good about that after the winter we’ve had!

      Reply
  11. Bob Katz

    Enjoyed reading the newsletter, as usual, and having just gone through the Michael Katz’ Course on “How to Write Newsletters that Tell Stories, Are Insightful and Take Opinions” I thought your article was write-on [sic].

    I wanted to mention though that your comment about Copernicus was not FACTually correct; the hours in a day are increasing, owing to the fact that the earth has slowed its rotation, albeit infinitesimally.

    Having watched 60 Minutes this week about High Frequency Trading, its amazing what you can do in 13 milliseconds!

    Reply
    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Bob!
      Thanks for setting the record straight. I always thought that Copernicus guy didn’t know what he was talking about. Heliocentrism indeed – what a crock. If the sun is at the center of the solar system than where does it go at night?!
      Anyway, enough science and thanks for commenting!
      Michael

      Reply

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