When it comes to the ideal amount of copy for marketing communications projects like press releases, websites, emails, print ads, direct mail, and brochures, it seems that everyone is an authority. However, what most folks in funeral service view as expertise is just an individual’s inclination or their bias.
The easy reply is that the right amount of copy is precisely what it takes to achieve the goal. At times, that may be a few sentences; other times, it may require a word heavy tome. Believe it or not, length will not stop people from reading long copy, provided they feel your words resonate and are worthy of their time.
It’s a fact that the amount of writing has been dwindling in length over the past several decades. Compare today’s newspaper stories, brochures, or ads with what was written three decades ago, and you’ll see that they tend to be significantly shorter. One reason is that families’ attention spans are shrinking, driven largely by television and the Internet.
The web has also been responsible for the move to shorter copy. In the Internet’s infancy, most websites had lots of copy and few photos; many times they were nothing more than the words from company brochures repurposed online. As the Internet connections became faster, people started to use browsers for what they were originally intended – browsing. Folks were less likely to scroll down, so it became essential to put important information at the top of the page. There was even a carryover to printed materials, in that most people stopped reading pages word-for-word and began only to scan the brochure or ad.
Tablets and smart phones have only amplified this tendency. Now the main parts of a message have to be condensed so they fit on a screen that’s fits in the palm of your hand. When viewing the average website on a computer you may have had 150 to 200 words visible, but you’ll be lucky to get 50 on a handheld device.
Am I worried that my services as a marketing communications consultant are about to be rendered obsolete? Not at all. That’s because shorter lengths mean every word must count. There’s no room for surplus or additional words, and making copy work it’s hardest is where communications professionals shine. However, anyone who writes can benefit from these tips:
1) If you’re developing printed pieces such as brochures or direct mailers, remember that these days, nobody is going to read every word. Instead, cater to the skimmers and break large blocks if copy into smaller chunks. Use subheadings, shorter paragraphs, and other techniques to lead skimmers through the document, so they can easily find what matters most to them. Don’t be upset if they don’t read the entire piece; the portions families do read will be more relevant to their needs and situation.
2) When you do have more to say, post it on your website and provide a link in the copy. Then families who want to see more have an easy way to access it. And the skimmers who simply want a quick once-over won’t be forced to wade through pages of material that isn’t important to them.
3) If you’re creating copy for a website, a blog post, or something else that will be viewed on a screen, make sure that your first and second sentences contain the information that’s most essential to your families. Don’t waste their time with lengthy introductions or sharing things they already know, like “You have many choices in selecting a funeral home when a death occurs.” Be sure to make your point early!
4) Finally, if you’re planning to tweet, don’t feel like you need to use Twitter’s entire 140-character limit. If you can get your point across in less than 100 characters, that’s wonderful, and it’s a sign that you’re an effective writer. Filling your tweet to get closer to 140 characters will actually make it less effective.
Don’t waste words or your family’s time trying to satisfy misguided ideas of how long or short copy should be. Just make sure everything you write achieves the goal. After all, it was Mark Twain who said, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” FBA
Joe Weigel is the owner of Weigel Strategic Marketing, a communications firm focused on the funeral profession that delivers expertise and results across three interrelated marketing disciplines: strategy, branding and communications. You can visit his website at weigelstrategicmarketing.webs.com. He also can be reached at 317-608-8914 or firstname.lastname@example.org.