This article presents objective data to show that CEOs and decision-makers read, people do read long-form content online, and it does affect their buying process.
“We’re no longer a reading society.” I hear this all the time. I’m sure you do too. You might even be hearing it from the leaders and partners in your practice, which is probably quite frustrating if you’re responsible for your firm’s thought leadership marketing.
Unfortunately, it appears to be a largely true statement. As a society, we do read less books and less literature today than we did 4-5 years go. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, while 73% of Americans read a book in 2016; that number is down from 79% in 2011. A short walk through Barnes & Noble highlights these facts — half the selling floor that used to be devoted to books is now crammed with toys and games.
All that said, and despite the presence of both objective and anecdotal data, I’ve routinely dismissed the facts for some time. As a society, we’re producing more original content than we ever have (today, there are over 1.3B websites; up from just 70M ten years ago). That’s nearly a 2,000% increase. It can’t be all web videos, content farms and product landing pages. There has to be plenty of written content too. Somebody has to be reading it. Don’t they?
Now, I’ll admit, I’m a little bit jaded. The backbone of our business has been built right here. On this blog. At a methodical pace of 3,000 – 4,000 words per month. The vast majority of our new potential clients come to us through the web. They read our thinking on how to market professional services firms — often, voraciously, I might add (more on that later). And, eventually we start a conversation.
Despite all that, I’ve slowly come to grips with the fact I’m wrong. We do read less.
The good news is the story isn’t as monolithic and one-directional as it appears on the surface. Yes, we are reading less as a society. But, that doesn’t mean everyone reads less. Some people read quite a lot. In fact, they read online, they read to research topics, and it does affect their buying process.
CEOs and Decision-Makers Read
The most interesting people I know, read a lot. Our most successful clients, the ones who get the most impact from our work with them, read a lot. And, decision-makers and CEOs read a lot.
So, there is good news here. That often-cited 2016 Pew Research Study highlighting our societal decline in reading, masks some nuggets of really useful information:
- College graduates are 2x as likely to read books (and 4x as likely to read eBooks) as those who haven’t graduate high school.
- 81% of higher income earners (those who make more than $75,000 per year) read books.
- And, here’s the real kicker for thought leadership marketers — the percentage of Americans who read in order to research a specific topic is actually going up (to 84% in 2016 from 74% in 2011). Of note, this percentage remains very high within all demographics most professional services firms hope to attract (with that coveted 50-64 age group; the age of the C-suite, reading to research at 84%).
And, there’s more. In their 2016 study on thought leadership marketing, Edelman and LinkedIn found that 50% of business decision-makers and CEOs spend at least 1 hour each week with thought leadership marketing; with 16% spending more than 4 hours:
While it’s hard to find any specific research around how much CEOs read, we know that some of today’s most successful ones are voracious readers. Warren Buffet has publicly stated that he reads over 500 pages every day.
They Will Read Longer Form Content (Even Online)
A lot of firms are scrambling to create shorter and shorter content. It’s an understandable thought given what appears to be our shortened attention spans and our propensity to read on mobile devices. But, its hard to say anything truly meaningful in 300-400 words. If you’re going to make a compelling argument it’s going to take at least 1,000 or 2,000 words. But, will anyone read it? As it turns out, the answer is probably yes.
In its 2016 study on consumer reading habits on mobile devices, the Pew Research Center found that cell phone readers will actually spend more time with longer form news articles (articles > 1,000 words). The study analyzed the reading habits of 71M unique visitors and 75k interactions with news publications. And, they found, on average, that cell phone readers spent just over 2 minutes reading the long-form news articles. This was 2x as much time as they spent with short-form content (articles < 1,000 words).
This backs up our own research on thought leadership marketing. In a recent analysis of one of our client’s sites, we found that readers spent an average of 2-5 minutes with our long-form content (articles ranging from 1,000 words to 7,000 words). While this doesn’t seem like a whole lot of time, it’s really plenty for you to get across the key points in your thinking as long as you’ve structured the page based on the needs and behaviors of a web reader.
Thought Leadership Affects Their Buying Process
For some time, we’ve stated the importance of using thought leadership to affect how a client thinks about a problem at the earliest stages of their learning and problem-solving process. In fact, this is one of the central tenets of our demand generation model. It’s hard to imagine that Joshua Cooper Ramo’s book on the network economy did not create meaningful conversations and business for him or his firm, Kiplinger Associates, when it showed up on 4 of 17 CEOs 2016 reading list. I can confidently say our own data backs this up. The clients that hire us are much more likely to have extensively read our thought leadership over an extended period of time. The clients that get the most impact from our work are often voracious readers of our thought leadership (and presumably voracious readers in general, as we’re surely not their only source of topical insight on professional services marketing):
Conclusion — Write (or Read) to Get Ahead
So, yes, as a society we are reading modestly fewer books today than we did a few years ago. But, good clients, the ones you really hope to attract, are reading as much, or more than they ever have. If you want to become a CEO read — a lot. If you want to attract a CEO to your firm, write a compelling book.