062 Do Millennials (Really) Hate Long Copy?

Allow me to tell you a story. A story that you will probably be able to relate to in some sense. It’s about a stout, whiskered man who thinks sound decisions can come only from a cool head. And that copy should always be short.

“I would never read this. It’s too long.” That’s a pervasive sentiment that will never die. I run into it all the time.

I ran into this recently with a young man asking for studies, suggesting that Millennials would not read long copy. That they all have ADHD.

That thought is baloney. Here’s why …

In this 10-minute episode you’ll discover:

  • The surprising study about the reading habits of Millennials
  • The people group behind the ever-growing consumption of news
  • A hilarious quote about relativity (you can use to defend long copy)
  • The two things Millennials do differently when it comes to reading

The Show Notes

Do Millennials (Really) Hate Long Copy?

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at RainmakerPlatform.com.

Demian Farnworth: Howdy dear podcast listener. This is Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I am Demian Farnworth, your host, your muse, your digital recluse, and the Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media.

And thank you for sharing the next few minutes of your life with me.

Allow me to tell you a story. A story you will probably be able to relate to in some sense. It’s about a stout, whiskered man who thinks sound decisions can come only from a cool head. And that copy should be always short.

This story begins in an ill-shaped conference room — wide at one end, narrow at the other — with a concrete glazed floor and about a dozen halogen lamps hanging from the ceiling. Down the center of the room is a long black conference table.

Around that table sits the CIO, VP of IT, a program manager, two project managers, the marketing manager, an art director, three designers, an editor, a proofreader, several people I didn’t know, and me.

We were all gathered to kick off a bi-annual drive to focus attention on the organization’s humanitarian division. The campaign decision makers included an executive and two of his assistants.

The executive was short, stout, with large eyes, sandy hair and whiskers, wide but pleasing mouth, fine teeth. He was frank, but warm-hearted.

My job was to present rough creative and copy. The concept was simple: It spoke about the plight of poor children in the global south — the design amplified that emotion. Could the reader spare $50 to build a well in Sri Lanka? Feed a child in South Africa for a month?

This was content marketing designed to produce an action. We were eager to test it. But the division executive wanted nothing to do with it.

He said he never wants to feel like he is being forced to make a decision. He didn’t want to “feel” when he gave. He just wanted it to be a logical financial decision.

And then the clincher: “It’s entirely two long,” he said, pointing his pink finger at the page. “I would never read this.”

Ha. “I would never read this. It’s too long.” That’s a pervasive sentiment that will never die. I run into it all the time … from both copywriters and non-writers. But most recently I ran into it in a new shape: after I wrote an article called “The ‘Short Copy’ Trap When Offering Free Opt-In Content.” And that trap is this: some copywriters think they can skimp on the copy when they are offering something free.

That’s just not going to work. The goal of “free” is to flag down the reader. You still have to convince her to exchange her email address.

You, dear writer, have to sit yourself in your writing chair, assume nothing, and pile on as many benefits as possible so your ideal prospect feels silly walking away from your offer.

Even if it’s for something free.

You want your ideal prospect to encounter at least one thing she must know when she reads through your copy.

More than likely, though, she’ll discover other things she must know. This, in turn, increases the value of the offer while decreasing her resistance to handing over her email address.

Still, in spite of this, there’s a pervasive thought (typically from non-writers) that sales copy should be brief … a paragraph or two … and I ran into this recently with a young man in the wake of this article I just wrote asking for studies, suggesting that Millennials would not bear long copy. That they all have ADHD.

That thought is baloney. What he’s suggesting is that Millennials need less information to make a decision … but it has nothing to do with the demographic and everything to do with the trust you have with a business.

It’s not the length that matters. People will read forever if you make it about them. If it’s interesting and solves a meaningful problem, it will get read. We have no problem reading a 3,000-word article in Sports Illustrated or Vanity Fair or a 70,000-word novel.

Including Millennials.

The Surprising Study About the Reading Habits of Millennials

According to a September 2014 Pew Research Center study, Millennials are actually out reading their elders. Sure, they love their Instagram and selfies, but they like their books, too.

Granted, it’s not a lot of books. I’m quoting an Atlantic Monthly article here: “Some 88 percent of Americans younger than 30 said they read a book in the past year compared with 79 percent of those older than 30.”

The People Group Behind the Ever-Growing Consumption of News

Furthermore, and I’m quoting an article on the Millennial Marketing website which I’ll drop the link in the show notes: “A study by McKinsey in the U.K. reports that the average person consumed 72 minutes of news a day, compared with just 60 minutes in 2006. They further report that the increase was driven almost entirely by people under the age of 35.”

So they are reading a lot of stuff they are interested in.

For anyone with any doubts, a Millennial is anyone who became an adult around the year 2000. In other words they were born in the 80s, early 90s. It’s a rough definition, yes.

A Hilarious Quote About Relativity (You Can Use to Defend Long Copy)

When it comes to copy, everything is relative. I love this quote by Ira Kalib, at the Marshall School of Business, USC:

“Good marketers know that only members of the target audience can decide what is “too long” and what is “too short.” When I saw the movie Titanic, it was over 3 hours long. I thought it was too long. Teenage girls thought it was too short and watched the movie over and over again.”

He continues: “One of my favorite T-shirt’s of all time has a picture of Albert Einstein on it with a headline that reads, “Sit on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit next to a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”

The Two Things Millennials Do Differently When It Comes to Reading

One thing is true for Millennials though: they read differently: they read with purpose and they scan. But I think this is true for anyone with massive amounts of exposure to online reading. Not just digital natives. It’s just something you adapt to. Jakob Nielsen has the studies to prove it. I’m forty-two years old, and I read with purpose and scan.

So the moral of this story is that don’t let anyone trick you into thinking that people won’t read long copy. One thing that is true: I will say this: the long-form sales letter is dead. Yes. It is dead. The 23-page scrolling single column sales letter is dead.

What’s taken it’s place is chunking and links and modules with loads of information … so people continue to click and move forward and feel like they are progressing … as long as you maintain the relevant information scent. They will follow it. No matter how long it is.

True, people don’t read advertisements for fun. But they will if it is meaningful and interesting. Even Millennials.

Until the next time. Take care.