“How Long Should We Make Our Business Video”? is a question that unsurprisingly comes up at most meetings where video production and video strategy are discussed.

Some social platforms limit the length of video that can be uploaded, whilst some video content must hit a specific length to fit within a presentation or time-limited advertising slot.
Assuming this is not the case, it’s better to avoid thinking of ideal video length as being some arbitrary figure at the project preplanning stage. Instead consider…

What do we want to say in our video?
Is the video being made for brand awareness or to help launch a new product? Perhaps it’s about giving a valued customer the chance to share their experience with your company through a filmed testimonial?
In any case think about the desired outcome once someone has watched the video. What would you like them to think or feel, and what would you like them to do having watched it?
Generally it’s best to restrict the scope of the video to just a core message, because attempting to squeeze too much in can dilute the overall effect.

What does our audience want to see?
A video that is not useful or entertaining will offer no value to a viewer. Businesses cannot be selfish and talk about the things they want to talk about, simply because it makes sense or is of interest to them. Effective content creation will always satisfy the needs and interests of the intended audience, so take their perspective. Talk to them, listen to what they say on social media, look at Google trends and do keyword research.

Positive business outcomes resulting from content creation, only ever follow a positive audience response to that content.

Will the video represent a fair exchange of value for time?
Effective video always offers a fair exchange of value for time. That is to say, if we find the video interesting, entertaining or informative throughout its duration, then it’s length is probably OK. If we find that after 2.5 minutes we are bored and switch it off, the video did not offer a fair exchange and should be reexamined. Of course what constitutes fair value will change based on the person who is watching the video, and whether they are interested in the video in that moment. If I need to replace the seal on my oven, a video showing me how to do this on Saturday might be very useful. By Monday however the oven is sealed and this video offers absolutely no value.

Context is incredibly important.
Top of funnel content is typically more effective when shorter, and videos destined for social media specifically, even more so. In a persons social feed your content is competing with updates from friends and family, and so it needs to be attention grabbing and to the point. Video in a social feed is usually unanticipated.

Videos that are further down the funnel can generally be longer. For example, if I bought a home office for my garden and am now watching an instructional video to see how it should be assembled, length of video is almost irrelevant. I need clarity and detail, with each step of the assembly process broken down into clear sections that I can follow easily. Brevity is of course still ideal, but not at the expense of complete information. A video should be long enough but no longer than it needs to be, especially when its purpose is to inform.

Generally it does not cost more to deliver a longer video. This is liberating.
Although our attention spans have decreased, and there is certainly more competition than ever for what attention we have, long form content is ideally suited to the internet. Firstly, to show video as an advertisement on television requires a slot. The longer this slot the higher the cost to run the advert. Compare this to pre-roll advertising on Youtube, where there is no cost difference between showing an advert of several minutes versus one of just a few seconds.
Consider also that Television is a broadcast medium. You are watching a favourite drama which every 10-15 minutes is interrupted by advertising. Although some of the products being promoted may interest you, the vast majority do not. Advertisers ultimately are paying for these wasted viewer numbers, whereas online, people can generally skip advertising that does not interest them, or at that moment in time they find bothersome. These skipped views often do not cost anything to the advertiser.

This is powerful because companies no longer have to fit their content to arbitrary lengths. They can tell bigger stories because technically it’s possible, it’s generally cheaper, and they know that people who are not interested can opt-out. Moreover, they can target these adverts to play not only in the places their audience participates, but also based on behavioural data. This moves well beyond inaccurate demographic targeting. Video adverts focussing on beauty products for example can be served in front of popular make-up tutorial videos. Or if I have searched for shoes on Google, Jones Bookmaker might run a preroll advertisement in front of the next piece of content that I watch on Youtube. Because I am actively interested in buying a new pair of shoes, they can deliver content that in this moment I find useful. Online video done well is about responding to audience intent.

We can know what success looks like
When hosted properly video offers massive amounts of behavioural data. We can see who is watching the video, how much they watch, where they are based and what they do after they’ve watched it. You or I can speculate on ideal length, and to edit and deliver a video initially we must, but our choices can be tested. We can know absolutely once the data starts rolling in whether the message is working. Videos of differing lengths and with alternate messages can be split-tested.

If necessary re-edited versions of the video can be uploaded in place of those that have not been so effective. Video is unique in this regard. The video might be showing on your website and whatever 3rd party websites it has been shared to. Within a few minutes a new re-edited version can be uploaded without breaking any embed codes, skewing any statistics or requiring any intervention from these 3rd parties. Try doing that with an article you’ve shared – not possible!

We use intuition, past and collective experience to decide how long a video should be. We use data to tell us over time whether that choice we made was correct.

It boils down to this: Can we say what we need to say for this video to make business sense, in a way that offers use value or entertainment to our intended audience? How we answer this question will ultimately determine the success of a video.