How many pages should my printed material be, is a similar question.
Attention spans are getting shorter with the consumption of all media, so while shorter is better online there is no ‘correct’ length for an online corporate video. A two page product brochure and an eight page whitepaper have very different purposes. Similarly, a one to two minute corporate intro video has a very different purpose than an in-depth four to six minute video case study. Video whitepapers which highlight (in a product and company agnostic format) the solution to an industry problem can run between five to ten minutes and incorporate narration, information graphics, video and a host of other media to outline the solution to a complex problem.
Purpose, context and relevance determine the length of an online corporate video:
Purpose. From your perspective, what are you trying to achieve with this media asset? What is the goal, who is the audience and what exactly are you trying to communicate to the audience. Shorter is definitely better because you have to assume that online attention spans are limited. If the goal is to give people a brief overview of your entire suite of products or services then two to three minutes is sufficient. If the goal is to provide an in-depth description including the benefits (with examples) of one of your products then three to five minutes is a reasonable time range.
Context. Where will your audience be consuming the video? On your site, on a business portal, on YouTube? If you control the environment – on your own site – what other collateral will support the video. If you have print whitepapers and product brochures that deal with the detailed specifics of the offering then the video may only need to be two or three minutes long. You can provide direct links from the video or on the same page to the support material. If you have no other support material then you might want to add a minute or two to the video to provide some of that information.
Relevance. From the customer’s perspective, what do they get out of the video? The more relevant and valuable it is to them the longer the video can be. (If it is really valuable to your customers then five to ten minutes is not unreasonable.) Relevance should be the primary factor guiding the development of every video and this, I believe, is what will drive the length of videos to increase (marginally) over time. Too many corporate videos today are internally focussed: Beauty shots of the buildings, talk about the company history, clients and processes all peppered with the ramblings of an important executive. Like desktop publishing before it, these videos are the first wave in the evolution of a new communications medium – an artefact from industrial videos which were shown at annual meetings and large presentations. Today, online videos need to be much more tactical.
In broad strokes, one to two minutes is a good starting point. If you have a lot of relevant material then you might want to consider breaking the video into smaller chunks – a minute or two each and present them in a way that allows the viewer to easily move between the sections. A flash player that automatically moves from one section to the next, but also provides the ability to jump between sections is ideal for longer videos. The ability to control the viewing experience is often enough to encourage viewers to watch a longer presentation in its entirety.
The very nature of this frequently asked question – how long should a web-based video be? – speaks to the nascence of this new corporate media type. As different web video media types evolve (product demos, product overviews, video case studies, corporate presentations, video whitepapers, video case studies, video testimonials, commercials, video press releases, etc.) specific standards will emerge for each specific media type.