On a recent trip to the UK for my uncle’s funeral, my family got a chance to escape the frenzy of the city and properly slow down. We rented a cozy apartment in a small village called Chipping, surrounded on all sides for miles by fields of sheep. It’s the kind of place where the entire village knows each other, and they’re all in the pub on Friday night.
I was miles away from the stresses of thinking about content marketing strategy, storytelling tactics, and upcoming deadlines. The nights were totally silent except for that unrelenting English rain.
Lying in bed, practicing a poem I was going to read at the funeral, I was reminded of when my dad used to read me poetry at bedtime as a child. He would read it slowly, lingering on each sentence, giving it the attention and gravitas it deserved. I was so glad to be in a place where I had time to recall that memory, and I didn’t feel guilty about wanting and needing to slow down.
When it comes to planning an effective content marketing strategy, we are inevitably faced with the fact that we live in a world of severely reduced attention spans and instant gratification. News has to go out before it’s been fact checked. Social media responses are expected immediately. Binge watching is the new norm. We want it all, and we want it now. We are not a patient audience.
But some trends in other industries suggest there may be hope for the emergence of a “slow content” movement. Just as we have been conditioned psychologically for instant gratification through the manic evolution of technology, we are also beginning to feel the effects of cognitive overload and burnout.
It happened in the restaurant industry. The fast food frenzy exploded into being in the 50s with brands like McDonald’s and Burger King. They became wildly popular. But today, the interest in fast food is waning. For a number of years now we’ve been seeing a negative reaction to fast food chains as people connect heavily processed, sugary foods with negative long-term health effects like obesity, diabetes and heart disease. We want real, homemade, local food. The kind that’s made with time, effort and love, not on a mass-production factory line. We’re beginning to internalize the idea that faster food isn’t always better, and the slow food movement is gaining serious traction.
In his book In Praise of Slow, Carl Honore cited numerous examples of how our culture of speed is killing us: stress, burnout, lack of sleep, health problems, and yes, even literally death. We are well overdue for a reexamination of the pace at which we are living our lives.
Marketers are constantly trying to come up with winning ideas that will make their content marketing strategies shine. They’re expected to deliver these continuous strokes of brilliance faster than they did before in shorter time periods. But what if we’re missing something here? What if the answer isn’t faster content? What if it’s just the opposite?
Just as the slow food movement is growing, there could be a slow content movement coming. A movement where people begin to distrust and turn away from soundbite news and begin to yearn for long-form content. Content that’s well researched, well written, thoroughly fact checked, and thoughtfully delivered. Content that appears on real paper with real ink, content that you can sit with and absorb more deeply. Content with depth, authenticity, integrity.
There’s a reason why I still read real, printed-on-paper books. In fact I may enjoy reading them more than ever. When I spend my entire day in front of a screen, flitting between news stories, scientific papers, social media feeds, email, and my own writing, it is thoroughly refreshing to climb into bed with a book I have to hold up and physically turn the pages to read. Even the simple act of not reading off a screen makes it worthwhile, no matter what the book is in my hands. But beyond that, spending time with an idea or a story taps into an entirely different part of my brain and my emotions. I often remember the contents of books much more readily than content I read online. This is even corroborated by psychological research that finds that the things we learn quickly we also forget quickly, and that longer, more well-developed ideas that form a story or a narrative are better remembered than short snippets.
As people frantically search for what is real and struggle with the overwhelm of fast food media, we will turn to length and depth for the answers, if only for a much-needed psychological break from the digital frenzy we’ve worked ourselves up into.
1. Make time for bigger, slower content ideas. Set aside a specific time just to discuss your longer-term content ideas, not just the daily grind of work that needs to get done at your organization. Consider people’s nostalgia for the past. Think about the power of print in a digitally saturated world. Consider the psychological effectiveness of well-developed stories over bite-sized content.
2. Practice slow thinking. It’s easy to get caught up in the notion that we need short, snappy headlines and sensational media efforts to reach our audience, by default. But when they’re fed this level of loud, fast content on a daily basis, another shouting brand isn’t going to distinguish itself. Slow down your ideation process and give yourself time to sit with an idea. Explore it in depth, discover what the significance of the story is you’re trying to tell. Write out the long-form version. You may just find you tap into something you’ve never given yourself time to consider before.
3. Stop multitasking. One of the biggest barriers to creating successful long-form content is being bombarded with distractions and interruptions throughout your day. It cuts your creative thinking short, it cuts your writing short, and it alters the way we go through our days. When we’re aiming for depth, we need to give ourselves a space in which to develop that depth. Set aside time for brainstorming and writing where you turn off social media and email notifications, unplug your phone or physically remove yourself from a space where you could be interrupted.
As we battle the maddening frontiers of content that have birthed such ugly realities as a fake news epidemic, we need to consider what the tipping point looks like and what role we ought to play in reclaiming the integrity of our profession as content creators and marketers.