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In B2B, Brevity is the Business

average human attention span

I have about seven seconds to get your attention – if I’m lucky. So while I’ve got it, let me tell you about something that’s close to my heart: If you can’t explain what your business does and why anyone should care within the average human attention span, it’s not just time you’re wasting. It’s customers too.

Give me a few more seconds and I’ll explain.

Impatience is rising

It’s well-documented that attention spans aren’t what they used to be. Microsoft currently puts the human average at 8 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. And mobile ad firm Jampp predicts that this figure will decline at a rate of 88% each year.

Recently, a friend of mine in the UK, so used to contactless payment, told me how uptight he got having to pay for something using a chip and pin, just because it took a few more seconds. And online, 40% of people will leave a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.

Impatience is the new normal.

Smart marketers are cottoning on to this and re-imagining formats to mirror our increasing appetite for urgency. TikTok is a global trendsetter for almost every imaginable subculture – just look at how a short-form video strategy has spiked language app Duolingo’s brand awareness in the last year. Meanwhile, Fox, NBC, and YouTube have all introduced six-second ads.

And in the music world, instrumental intro tracks have reduced from 20 seconds to around 5 seconds over the past thirty years so they can hook listeners quicker.

It’s not just media and entertainment brands that benefit from the shift to shorter and more engaging comms. It’s any business that wants to have a chance at maintaining its relationship with the people it serves. In today’s endless-scroll culture, brevity is part of the essential service ethic we all owe our customers.

Short is sweeter

Shakespeare once wrote that brevity was the soul of wit – but it’s more than that. I’d argue that brevity is the soul of successful communication.

Clever marketing people have always realized that the more rapidly they can land an idea, the more sharable it is. And the more people that share it, the less they need to spend promoting it. As well as being more authentically received, from peer-to-peer rather than via paid-for advertising.

A couple of years ago, when KFC ran out of chicken, they rearranged the letters in their logo to read FCK. A brilliant example of brevity in action. With a side-order of honesty, humour, and humanity to go.

If you think back, almost every impactful brand message you can remember hinges on brevity, from Nike’s Just Do It to Apple’s Think Different.

Benefits beat features

While many consumer brands have cracked the code on engaging their customers through brevity, many B2B companies are still behind the curve.

It makes sense. There tend to be more layers of complexity, and more rigidity, within these kinds of businesses. And, in the case of tech companies, in particular, there’s often a certain level of academic-style pride in promoting the complexity of what the tech does (the features) rather than what it can do for you (the benefits). But that doesn’t mean brevity isn’t possible. In fact, it makes concise, compressed communications all the more crucial, as well as refreshing.

Being brief doesn’t diminish the value of what you’re saying. It can enhance it.

By way of example, Pythagoras’ Theorem comprises just 24 well-chosen words. Or compare the Lord’s Prayer at 66. By contrast, the EU’s regulations on the sale of cabbage weigh in at almost thirty thousand. I’m sure it’s a fascinating read but surely fewer beats more, every time.

It’s also not a crime for even B2B brands to mix some levity with their brevity. To add charm to communication and even raise a smile. This can crucially help to create greater engagement between a business and its audience.

It’s ideas time

But brevity isn’t just the secret to effective comms. It can become a tenet of every part of your business, helping you stay agile, proactive, and responsive.

Mark Twain might have once joked “I’m writing you a long letter because I didn’t have time to write you a short one,” but the truth is that once brevity is baked into your business, it won’t just save your customers time and attention, but yours, too. Think about a bank introducing a new type of mortgage. Then imagine how much time would be saved if the employees at the bank could explain the advantages of that mortgage in 7 seconds. Standardised, clear, direct. It’s got echoes of the way an army encourages its troops to communicate with each other: Bottom Line, Up Front. Or BLUF for short. Less bluff, more BLUF can help us all.

Only by valuing and executing brevity in our work can we focus our attention on what really matters in business today: having more ideas.

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