How Many Words Do You Need?

3 min read

words in soup

Last week, I heard a radio interview with a local media personality that made me sad, but didn’t surprise me. When the host asked “What was the last book you read?” this person laughed and coughed and made up an answer. It was pretty clear they probably hadn’t read a book in years.

They’re not alone. Book reading has been declining for a long time. One in four Americans didn’t read a book in 2015. Today, according to Pew Research Center, the average American reads only four books a year (although audiobooks are increasing—slightly—in popularity).

But just because people are reading fewer books doesn’t mean they’re not reading. At least, we presume they’re reading—because today there are more words bombarding our eyes and ears from more channels than ever before, and we in the marketing business are responsible for launching a whole lot of them into the world.

Sometimes, that makes it feel as if words are cheap. There are so many of them, and they are everywhere: in email and social media and websites, in our earbuds and on our phones. We hear people talk about words as if they’re a commodity—for example, referring to a section on a website as a “bucket” to hold “content.”

And the idea that people don’t read persists, even as we subtitle every video we post on Facebook. We’re continually urged to make our messages shorter and more pointed, because who has time for all those words, anyway?

Now Read This

Actually, what it all means is that words are more important than ever—and the right words are more valuable than ever. Now more than ever, you need your words to stand out and make a clear and compelling impression.

Because words can be powerful. Words can lift people up or destroy their confidence. Words can render calm or incite violence. One person’s “terrorist” is another’s “freedom fighter.” The words you use really matter.

In marketing, the words you choose should differentiate you from your competitors. Too many marketers sink into the alphabet soup of industry jargon and platitudes and miss their chance to engage and influence their audience.

And engaging and influencing can mean using a lot of words. Not every story can be told in under a minute, and some of the best-loved books and films of all time are long. Those 4,224 pages covered with words didn’t stop a whole lot of you from reading every Harry Potter book (even many of you who’d shake your head at me for reading just 4,215 pages of In Search of Lost Time).

In fact, with our eyes glued to all those screens for so many of our waking hours, we’re probably reading more now than ever. We may be reading fewer books. But American adults age 18 – 24 send and receive an average of 128 text messages a day—and that statistic is five years old. There’s a lot of reading going on here.

So…How many words?

The answer is the same as it ever was: Use as many words as you need. Choose every one carefully. Don’t use any extra.

How do you know when you have it right? That’s where smart copywriters and editors come in. If you don’t know any, give us a call. We’d be happy to give you some names.