Do People Still Read? What Marketers Need to Know About Digital Reading Habits

People read all the time, yet they’re reading less than ever before. This is the great paradox of digital marketing, a challenge that plagues virtually every marketing campaign. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of non-book-readers has tripled over the last quarter century. Today, 23 percent of Americans haven’t read a book within the past year, compared to just 8 percent in 1978.

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Our reading habits (or lack thereof) go beyond books. We’re reading fewer newspapers, magazines, and even comic strips than the generations before us. Reading scores for American adults have dropped by 20 percent, even among the best-educated groups. 15-year-old Americans rank behind their peers in Canada, France, and Korea when it comes to reading comprehension.

Still, we read all the time. You’re reading this right now, aren’t you? Before you even clicked on this blog, you likely read a few text messages, emails, tweets, and Buzzfeed articles.

It’s not that Americans have stopped reading. It’s that the digital medium has changed everything.

To Read or Not to Read?

Today, marketers must strike the perfect balance between long- and short-form content, prose, and poetry. Though reading habits are difficult to pin down, it’s vital to understand these habits to effectively target consumers.

Don’t think digital devices have changed reading habits? Think again. Despite our understanding of behavioral marketing, few firms actually focus on how reading habits influence consumer behavior.

In today’s digital age, marketers reach consumers through focus on the following:

  • Visual content. Brand storytelling is key to any marketing campaign, right? When it comes to storytelling, you must “show, not tell.” What better way to show your target audience something than through visual content? Mobile devices reflect today’s culture of always being “on the go,” which is why a quick image is more consumer-friendly than a thousand-word blog post. Photos on Facebook, for example, receive 53 percent more interaction than text-based posts.

    However, visual content doesn’t mean your company should forgo business blogs and instead focus on taking pictures for Instagram. Rather, it’s a simple reminder that there are multiple ways to tell a story. Marketers must also remember to keep the content itself visual. Integrate pictures into blogs, use subheadings, incorporate bullet points, and find creative ways to make your content visual (which is different from visual content).

  • Sensationalized titles. Buzzfeed reaches over 130 million unique visitors per month – success so radical that even its CEO had to explain in an email why Facebook isn’t crushing the popular meme-sharing site. There was a time when sensationalism was a no-no in any form of respected journalism, so what changed?

    Digital devices display vast amounts of content before consumers each day. As technology continues to integrate into our lives, we become immune to the content that’s consistently shared with us. As a result, sensationalized headlines stand out from the crowd. Similar to Buzzfeed, however, businesses should never mislead with their headlines and always deliver on the promised content.

    This isn’t to say that sensationalized content is right for every business or every industry. A clothing boutique, for instance, might have more creative freedom than a law firm. Still, there are ways to push boundaries in your industry and create new perspectives on old themes.

  • Niche audiences and ebooks. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to read a book, you had to go out and find it. If the first bookstore didn’t have it, you had to drive to another. Now, tablets and eReaders provide books instantaneously, allowing readers to get their hands on content that interests them immediately.

    This is why the niche ebook industry has morphed into a $6 billion industry with a mammoth 109 percent annual growth rate. The reason there are fewer “blockbuster books” than a decade ago is because digital devices are segmenting audiences, establishing devoted niches that rabidly consume relevant content. One of the most reliable ways to establish authority, ebooks attract a new audience.

  • Social content. According to Business Insider, social media is now the top internet activity around the globe, and 60 percent of social users visit their profiles through their smartphones. Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Snapchat continue to boast impressive engagement rates that should catch the attention of any reasonable marketer.

    While it’s certainly important to invest in business blogs, don’t underestimate the value of social content; 140 characters have never been more important. Instead of DIY social media campaigns, businesses should consider working with a writing service with the experience necessary to write engaging posts. Followers are inundated with competing content on their newsfeeds. It’s vital for social pages to create content that sticks out from the crowd and can move prospects to learn more about your brand.

Predicting the Future of Reading Habits

The world of digital media is ever shifting, evolving as the technology that houses it evolves. No matter how robust a digital strategy, contents must shift with time. Audience behavior will change as device usage changes, so it’s important to think like “digital natives” and think beyond words. Consider your message and the various platforms and mediums through which you can reach your audience. Content marketing must transcend digital limitations and ultimately answer this question: where’s the audience I want to reach?

Do you know your audience’s reading habits?

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Daniel

Daniel Chioco is a writer living in Nashville, TN. He earned his Commercial Music degree at Belmont University, where he also studied creative writing and wrote for the student newspaper. When he isn't creating content, Daniel works as an actor and films YouTube videos. He is also a freelance musician and is authoring his first fantasy novel.

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