The just-right length for your video

publication date: Sep 24, 2014
author/source: Jonathon Grapsas

“A letter should be as long as it needs to be”. Most fundraisers are familiar with that adage. And most happily abide by it.

Jonathon Grapsas photoYou’d hope so. It’s wisdom that’s been wheeled out at fundraising conferences for years, and something I can proudly declare having split-tested and proved.

Yes, great long letters will always beat great short letters.

So why don’t we uphold the same philosophy when it comes to new media?

“Emails should be short.” “Videos shouldn’t be more than X minutes.”

Errr…. Why?

Last time I checked, your supporters (well, most of them anyway) hadn’t completed a diploma in interactive media. When they open that video, their first thought isn’t, “If this is longer than three minutes, I’m outta here.”

You may very well lose them if your content is rubbish. But then, the issue is your rubbish video, not their attention span.

What can we cut that doesn’t detract from the story?

When we develop a video and the feedback received is “it’s too long,” my first response is, “Tell me which parts you’d remove. What can we lose that doesn’t detract from the story?”

“Hmmm… nothing, it’s just too long.”

Wrong answer. A video should be as long as it needs to be. Yes, that says video, not letter.

We develop a lot of video content and monitor all of the available viewing data in YouTube. If a video isn’t getting the results we’d expect, and people are turning off, invariably the issue is the video. Not its length.

Remember Kony? 30 minutes long, 100 million views.

What works for letters will work for videos

The techniques that get someone to open and read a letter apply to videos too.

  • Tease me enough to get me to open it.
  • Create a brilliant intro to keep me interested.
  • Take me on an emotional rollercoaster.
  • Guide me: show me the path so I know where I’m (broadly) headed.
  • Clearly explain what you want me to do (why, followed by when and how).
  • Make that action easy to follow through.

People are happy to have their day interrupted if you give them a reason to be interrupted.

Don’t confuse that with having their time wasted. 

Follow the checklist above and you’ll find yourself with compelling video that your supporters are failing over themselves to watch.

Every last minute of it.

Jonathon Grapsas is the founder and director at flat earth direct, an agency dedicated to fundraising and campaigning for good causes. Jonathon spends his time working with charities around the world focused on digital, direct response and campaign tactics. For more information, email him, follow him on Twitter or check out

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