We’re inundated with content daily – some helpful, but the majority is just noise. Launching a new product, reaching stakeholders, and starting a thought leadership campaign all require good communication in the form of articles, whitepapers, reports, social post, and more.
To help audiences grasp big concepts and pressing news, Axios (publishers of my favorite tech newsletters) developed the Smart Brevity formula and released a book: Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More with Less. It explains concepts and best practices for introducing brevity into writing. For example, it includes using a snappy “tease,” a solid first sentence or “lede,” context or “why it matters,” and a link with the option to learn more.
Essentially, it’s a succinct way for writers, communicators, and marketers to grab an audience’s attention. However, it’s not without its shortcomings and objections – mainly that it oversimplifies things and loses vital context in the process — which can be important across a variety of more technical fields. But like any formula, it works in the proper context.
So, if you’re a tech marketer interested in embracing the Smart Brevity approach, let’s examine some of the situational pros and cons.
- It’s good for starting conversations with media and analysts. The best subject lines are five words or fewer. The best pitch body length is 150 words or less, according to the Q1 2023 Propel Media Barometer. It’s a good idea to employ Smart Brevity to your subject line and get to the “why it matters” immediately.
- It’s helpful when updating stakeholders and customers. Customers and stakeholders are inundated with tons of emails every day. So, like the media, it’s essential to get the big ideas across quickly. Using Smart Brevity allows you to summarize that important piece of information and get it across quickly. But don’t forget to offer some sort of link to more detailed information.
- Abstracts and Key Messages Need Brevity. If you aim to get a case study featured in a trade publication or land a speaker at your industry’s biggest conference, you’ll need to sum up your ideas or announcement in a few words. By combining the “lede” with the context in a manner like Smart Brevity, you can get to the point immediately while providing enough information to gather interest. This holds for crucial messaging, briefs, and slide decks as well.
- Social Should be Short. Like the point above, social media – primarily for those in tech— is a means to an end, not the end itself. Good social posts, no matter the platform, are meant to provide enough context and include call-to-actions like clicking through to a website, requesting a demo or downloading a new e-book. Give them a strong ‘tease’ some context and a reason to learn more about how your solution differs from your competitors. Practice Smart Brevity.
- It’s Impossible to Explain Complex Topics. Smart Brevity’s goal is short, not shallow. But the more complex the subject (for example, in the technology space), the easier it is to forget about your audience’s base understanding and accurately explain big subjects like quantum computing, high-end fiber optics, or generative AI. Sometimes, more is more. Suppose the goal of the content is to provide deep insight and technical knowledge. In that case, you must dive in deep to accurately describe concepts, features, differentiators, and technology dynamics.
- Smart Brevity Won’t Replace Long-Form Marketing Narratives, e.g., Whitepapers and Case Studies. I think Smart Brevity can be a brilliant formula – but only if used in the right context. However, you can still use brevity in long-form narratives in the abstract, key facts and figures, and the recap section.
- Smart Brevity isn’t Applicable for an Entire Press Releases. 42% of readers believe press releases to be the most trustworthy type of content, according to Meltwater’s 2022 report. While it is important to keep press releases succinct, the Smart Brevity format overall doesn’t give the writer the freedom to deliver a comprehensive narrative. Smart Brevity principles are great for keeping the headline and introduction brief; then, it’s time to dive into details.
- Difficult to Use in Personal, Customer Narratives. Whether you’re in the tech sector or not, there are times when we must add a personal touch to our communications. Building a narrative around a complex subject humanizes it and leads with benefits over features. Getting customers to speak in short 6 word-or-less sentences is just not realistic.
Communicators are often expected to be aware of every new trend and hot-button tool of the trade. Knowing how and when to implement them separates the amateurs from the pros. Smart Brevity is a great read and hasn’t reached its full potential in business yet – there are many meetings I’ve attended in the past that would have benefitted from a Smart Brevity formatted agenda. Is there a time and place where Smart Brevity can help us get to the heart of the matter more effectively? Yes. Does it work all the time? No. There will continue to be opportunities to tell smart stories, brief or not.