Why shorter is sweeter for video

Micro videos from Vine and Instagram have made a huge splash in 2013. In a world where consumers' attention spans keep dwindling, these short bursts of creativity hold a ton of promise.

There are now over 200 million users on Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat combined, even though a year ago most people had never heard of two out of those three brands. Today, five people per second tweet a Vine link. Instagram videos are twice as likely to engage people as Instagram photos. And, perhaps most interesting for brands, a branded Vine video has four times the likelihood of being seen than a regular (read: YouTube) branded video.

For videos, short is indeed sweet.

This success isn't by accident, either. The short-form video isn't just a gimmick. It's a powerful medium that gives creators a chance to send a message in an amount of time that won't upset even those with the shortest attention spans. It allows users on social networking sites to digest the content in a way that doesn't disrupt the natural flow of social media. And most important, it still allows the creator to tell a compelling story.

But can brands take this medium and turn it into compelling storytelling? Will these videos become less of a gimmick and more like a legitimate advertising channel?

The answer is: they already have. Some brands have proven that short-form video is a powerful complement to their existing advertising strategies. A successful brand is able to utilize it to shape its brand image and cast a new glow on its product or service. But success isn't a given. Successful brands do the following.

Embrace the limitations

Limitations drive true creativity. In a world where everything is metaphorically at your fingertips, finding creativity in small doses is often more impressive than working in an unlimited supply of materials.

As in any other form of advertising, successful short-form videos distill just one idea into its essence and then communicate that one idea to the audience. The pure, distilled single idea rarely takes two seconds to illustrate, let alone six.

As Mark Twain once famously said, "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."

Find an insight

Even though the execution of a short-form video might be under 7 seconds, it doesn't mean the preparation should take the same amount of time. The fundamentals of concept creation don't change with the short-form video. Brands that are successful still execute short-form videos based on insight. Short-form video certainly isn't the easy route, but the benefits of succeeding in this medium are enormous.

Make the story compelling

It's important to note that the compelling story doesn't need to be the entire story. It can be a way to capture the imagination of your audience. For businesses, you might introduce them to your brand or remind them of why you are more relevant than ever. Disney Park's Vine videos capture the imaginations of their followers by asking them to envision their "Disney Side" in various locations. Tide, on the other hand, used seven strategic Vine videos at Halloween to remind people that a detergent company was still relevant. Tide's videos didn't necessarily compel the audience to think critically, but they provided engagement through entertainment. And though these two examples are very different, both brands are telling a compelling story and are engaging its audiences effectively.

But engagement doesn't rely solely on telling a compelling story. Target showed that you could successfully engage people by urging them to create a story of their own. Their "#SummerUp Decision Maker" exploited the technology of Vine and created a tool for users to create their own story. Clicking the video pauses it, and thus makes a decision for you. Then it's up to you to make the video relevant by finishing the story. Compelling storytelling, like these examples, show that brands are successful by giving meaningful content to the audience, no matter how the story is told.

Understand the medium

Though the possibilities for short-form video seem endless, successful brands have been careful not to lean too far on the medium for support. The short-form video is meant to be an important touch-point, not the only one. With any successful communications strategy, one must rely on complementary tactics and touch-points to tell a proper brand story. It's not the only way to communicate, and it needs to be paired with longer-form content that can expand on the short-form video in more meaningful ways. Whether or not the definition of "long" changes, the short-form video will still need support from other touch points to create a meaningful understanding of the brand.

The short-form video became more interesting and better executed last year, but its real test in 2014 will be whether or not a brand can successfully integrate its short- and long-form content to create a really meaningful impression with its audience.

Todd Henderson is the founder and president of INK.

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