How long should a video be?

I had originally started this blog post for Target Marketing Magazine as one about tips for writing your story or script. But as I started researching what others were saying about scripts so I could blend thoughts with our own experience, I kept getting distracted with bloggers and video production experts whose first piece of advice was to keep the video short! 30 seconds, 60 seconds, never more than 2 minutes! Watch this video to learn more:

As a traditional direct marketer and copywriter, that felt to me like someone who was saying “only write a one page letter.” “No one will read 2 pages or 4 pages.”

Well tell that to direct marketers who use 16 page letters (and yes, I’ve written those over the years as well) who make millions for their clients from their long-copy.

To those who bark, “keep it short!” I say keep it tight. Begin with a knock-out lead, and keep the story moving and flowing. Your viewer will stick with you for as long as it interests them. Just like they would in reading a long-form direct mail letter.

Let’s dispel some myths about video length and give you guidelines for 5 types of videos that a direct marketer is likely to use. I’ll share with you our experience, and opinions that are based on our experience, as guidelines.

First a word about why opinions about video length only go so far. The good news for you is that it doesn’t have to be a mystery to learn what length works best for you. Those tools exist on YouTube. And they’re free. You just need to get upwards of 300 or so views for this tool to be activated.

In fact, watch this video to see a chart from YouTube of a recent Online Video Marketing Deep Dive presentation about marketing on tablets. It shows how long the viewer watched the video. In this example, the video was 6.5 minutes. You can see the gradual decline of people watching the video. That’s only natural because there people who just don’t stick around very long. In this example, you can see that 56% of viewers stayed with the entire 6.5 minute video right up to the end.

Or consider this example of a fun project Perry and I recently completed for a performing chorus, I happen volunteer for and perform with. We had 60% retention right up to the very end of the 2+ minute video.

And YouTube gives you another chart to compare your audience retention relative to all other YouTube videos of similar length. You can see that this video fared considerably better than average until the very end.

This analytic tool on YouTube is a must use to know when and figure out why you’ve lost your viewer. Use this to get experience and understand the dynamic of the point at which you’ve lost your viewer.

Here are the 5 types of video a direct marketer’s video will fall into, along with our thoughts for general guidelines of length.

1. Educational message building up to purchase: Most likely this is a long-form video, ranging from 5 minutes to 15 minutes. You have a few options with this type of video. One is to create a short video that clearly shows the viewer what they’ll learn and how that solves a problem, and then host that video on a landing page. Include an opt-in form so the viewer can access the rest of the video, which might be one long video, or a series of spaced-frequency, shorter videos sent over the course of a few days with an autoresponder email campaign.

2. Product demonstrations can be effectively communicated in a video. The length of your video will be dictated by the complexity of your product. If you have to introduce the product and it’s new, your video will be longer. In fact, it could be educational as discussed a few moments ago. If your audience already is familiar with the product and the category, maybe you can deliver a great message in less than a minute. But I don’t recommend you attempt to “fit” a video into a time period. This is the course of action I suggest for product demonstrations: take as long as it requires to translate every important feature into a benefit—and not a second longer. Be clear and compelling—but be brutal on your editing. Remember: keep it tight. If you can do that in 30 seconds, so be it. If it takes 3 minutes to tell the story, then make it 3 minutes, but keep them engaged.

3. Using video for fundraising is a natural. To tug at heartstrings—and purse strings— you need a great story, told by people whose lives are touched by the organization. It’s not about the plea or the ask, it’s about transforming lives, both physically and emotionally. With an organization that enjoys a loyal constituency, our experience suggests that you can take your story to around 5 to 7 minutes. In at least one client example test, closer to 10 minutes was too long, and 3 minutes was too short, apparently, for emotions to be brought to a tipping point.

4. Lead generation, by nature, suggests something shorter, based on our experience. In fact, this may be one place I’d adhere to the 1 minute guideline. You need to give enough information to compel the viewer to complete an online form, or pick up the phone to call, yet not so much that you reveal too much of the story. That’s a fine line. Keep it tight!

5. Case studies, coupled with customer reviews and endorsements, are reportedly watched by more people than other formats. In fact, I’d suggest that for all of the categories I’ve described, weave in, whenever possible, interviews of the people who use your product or contribute to your cause. And based on our experience, I think you can make these from 3 to 7 minutes.

Bottom line is this: Identify the type of video to meet your needs, plan your objectives, and build story line from there.

Please share with us your comments, below, about your experience.

Gary Hennerberg

After a lot of years in marketing and sales, this is what I know works:

Stories sell. Think unique. Stimulate emotion. Close deals. And here are a few other gems from my new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code.” Know the persona, interpret your offer and let your prospect give themselves permission to buy. That’s how the brain is wired. It’s how people think.

What else? When I’m not breaking down complex topics (or ones marketers over-complicate) into easy-to-grasp stories that sell, I crunch numbers. Manage projects. Write. Teach. Lead.