The space shuttle Endeavor lifted off a few months ago, and its amazing speed and power has never ceased to amaze me. With a maximum speed of 19,000 miles per hour, it's fast. Awe-inspiring fast. It's a magnificent machine, highly complex. It took thousands of hours to build it, set it up, program it, and make it work. Mind-boggling.

But what do we do? We assemble to watch the final seconds of the countdown, the incredible liftoff, and the ascent through the atmosphere. About two minutes of video is enough to satiate the masses, though a small percentage digs deeper into written and video content.

Less is more

Twitter was born to deliver 140 characters per tweet. Early on, it was fascinating. As a Twitter user, you could follow people and easily catch up on what they were saying. Now, it's incredibly difficult to keep up with the 65 million tweets a day. Each tweet lasts a microsecond now before it is swept aside by the next. How do users keep up? They use filtering tools, lists, hashtag searches, and quick scans to see whether something catches their eye.

We're all walking around with more devices than ever before. At home, 94% of TV viewers are using some kind of "distraction device" while viewing TV, with smartphones accounting for 60% of that effect. More smartphones are now shipped than PCs, and tablets (led by the iPad) have taken off. Content aggregators like Flipboard and Zite have combined a single point of aggregation with beautiful, simple-to-use experiences. Users can easily and quickly navigate across stories until settling on one of interest.

In 2010, Nielsen's analysis of the Project for Excellence in Journalism's The State of the News Media found that users spent only six minutes per month per person on online sites for magazines (the epitome of long-form media). Leave it to the political news aggregation website Drudge Report to have the highest immersion rates, at roughly 60 minutes per user per month.

Quick response (QR) codes are popping up on everything from magazine advertisements to outdoor signage and business collateral. You can use a scanning app (such as RedLaser) on your smartphone, and quickly get immersed in an experience.

You can now stand in a store, scan a UPC code, and compare prices online and in neighboring stores. Location-based services, such as Foursquare, Groupon, and LivingSocial, rapidly facilitate a steady stream of offers and news items. And although more than 500,000 apps are available in the Apple App store, and thousands more with BlackBerry and Android, only 20% of apps are used more than once.

Why? We're now trained to sample: iTunes and the 30-second free sample, the $0.99 song purchase, and simple sign-ons vs. long registrations facilitate sampling. Our filters are strong, and our "easy meter" is on highest alert; if you're going to make me really work for something, it had better be incredibly worth it... because I have no patience.

Offer a marketing snack pack

So, what can marketers do? Take a page from the food industry. The huge Hershey's bar too much? Here are some bite-sized candies. The big bag of chips too big? Have a snack pack. Big bag of cookies too filling? Here are 100-calorie packages.

Why? It drives trial—and, as a parallel, engagement. It's easy to nibble and try without feeling that it's too much effort or the impact will be too negative.

Apply that analogy to content. Gone are the days when consumers wanted to download a PDF of an article, or read that 10-page whitepaper. Of course, the occasional in-depth research study may be useful, but I would suggest that nine times out of 10, executives now prefer a quick summary vs. 35 pages of data to find 3-5 nuggets.

We had clients in the healthcare industry who had surmised that they "didn't have much content ready to be shared." We suspected that they were probably not looking in the right places, or they were putting the wrong filter on their discovery process. And then we discovered a treasure trove: scientific papers that just needed a refocused storyline.

For example, why not take a powerful, 10-page scientific whitepaper on the "cardiological effects of stress on the female executive" and create a 500-word piece focused on the female executive? How many millions of readers would voraciously consume that information? How many of the 4 million Mommy Bloggers would love to discuss a post like that?

Good salespeople are taught to have their "elevator pitch" ready. That pitch is a tight, pithy, snackable piece of content. Guy Kawasaki, an incredibly engaging and inspirational speaker, offers a 10-20-30 mantra: Take a one-hour meeting and create 10 slides for 20 minutes of content at 30-point font. By doing that, Kawasaki stresses, you will spend more time storytelling and engaging your audience members as opposed to forcing them to read 40-50 dense slides crammed into the hour.

In other words, create the consumable story—snackable.

Here are other types of "snackable content":

  • The 60-90-second video vs. the eight-minute anthem video
  • Infographics that tell several stories using data in an easy-to-use interface
  • Motion infographics that unleash an infographic with sound and motion
  • Two or three paragraphs in a Quora-like environment that are quickly reviewed and discussed
  • The 500-700-word post that's perfect for a personal blog, corporate blog, or guest post
  • Polls and surveys that drive engagement and offer an opportunity to quickly weigh in and leave
  • Short posts in your "owned channels" on Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Quick nuggets and embedded links via Twitter
  • The 10-15-slide standalone POV (some quick factoids wrapped with a key takeaway that stands on its own with enough depth to make people pay attention).

* * *

On April 29, one of the most sought-after events occurred—the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Hours of commentary, countdown, and live footage and analysis occurred leading up to the wedding that apparently more than 2 billion people stopped their lives to watch. And considering that the wedding took place in the early-morning hours in the United States, one of the most popular videos from ABC was "The Royal Wedding in 3 Minutes": snackable content, even for the feel-good story of the year.

Sources: AdAge, Forrester, PEJ, Nielsen, ComScore, Compete, DIG analysis

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Glenn Engler is the CEO of Digital Influence Group, a Boston-based digital agency with social at its core. You can read Glenn's blog and reach him via Twitter @glennengler.