Storytelling in the Mobile Millisecond

“Wrong number,” says a familiar voice.

Lost my wallet, found my desires.

Sounded much better in my head.

I should have brought a GPS.

What do these sentences have in common? They’re all six words long. And they all tell a story. With forums and Tumblrs devoted to it, and anthologies published each year, you’ve likely heard of the six word story phenomenon. It’s a deceptively simple exercise: tell a story in just six words or less. And it’s captured a huge following of writers and readers who love seeing just how much punch can be packed in one brief sentence.

The six word story can teach us several things about the art of content marketing, especially on mobile devices. The story may be little, but its impact can be big. Sometimes they even surprise you with a twist -- the full meaning hits you right at the end. The sparse stories make you fill in the gaps with your own imagination, which is exactly what makes them powerful, humorous, and engaging. They can linger in the mind and emotions of the reader for a long time.

Less is Mobile

Responding to customers’ preference for visual content and entertainment, brands have been ditching mobile banner ads in favor of video and rich media. Unfortunately, companies are mostly shelling out marketing dollars for 20-30 second videos, even though completion and clickthrough rates at this length are dismal. How often do you stop what you’re doing to watch 30 seconds of video content on your smallest screen? 10 second video ads are proving much more effective -- 65 percent more effective to be precise.

The mobile millisecond is that momentary window of opportunity to reach a customer on their mobile devices. People expect mobile searches, services and transactions to be instantaneous. Seventy-five percent of adults believe a mobile transaction should be completed on the first try. When it fails they’re far more likely to abandon the app or mobile site and switch to a competitor.

It’s not that all your content and engagement needs to pared down to a moment -- that would be impractical and unhelpful in many situations. It’s that what happens in that first encounter -- the first impact of an experience -- is crucial. Your chance to grab a customer’s attention and hook them in for more in-depth experience is brief (and getting briefer).

Crafting a Mobile Moment

Just because six word stories are short doesn’t mean they’re easy to write. The best often come from a deeply personal place, and were honed over multiple drafts like poems. They don’t feel lacking. Quite the opposite, they feel full of interest, questions, emotion and potential. That’s the beauty: they invite people to think, imagine and share the story with others, and might even inspire them to write a story of their own.

Mobile users want speed, efficiency and convenience without sacrificing depth, quality and entertainment. They want delightfully engaging multimedia content that’s compact enough to squeeze into those fleeting breaks between meetings, phone calls, commutes, emails, texts, tweets and status updates. It sounds demanding, but it’s what we all want: we’re increasingly hungry for substance and significance in the media we consume, while at the same time we’re striving to simplify and minimize our intake.

Is Content Over Six Words Dead?


The seemingly contradictory truth is people are equally as obsessed with long form content as they are with listicles and animated GIFs. We’ve all binge watched episode after episode of a Netflix or HBO Go series. We look forward to long flights and vacations when we get to sink our teeth into piled up New Yorker issues or our latest book club pick. After our hectic days and on-the-go searches, we settle down and seek out stories to get lost in, content to challenge and refuel us.

There’s a reason we have hashtags like #longreads and #longform on Twitter: it’s a signal to people who are on the hunt for a substantive read. And short videos may just be a gateway to deeper research and viewing -- like discovering a new band and going down a YouTube hole, or seeing an ALS Ice Bucket challenge clip and searching the web for information about the disease.

Don’t Sacrifice Depth

Where does this leave the mobile content marketer? With the unique challenge of creating both bite-size and long-form experiences. You don’t have to throw out long form altogether. You do have to be thoughtful about how you present and deliver it.

The art of the hook -- the totally intriguing I-can’t-wait-to-learn-more teaser -- is more important than ever. You can give people the six word version while indicating that they can delve deeper whenever they choose, whether that means clicking through right away, or bookmarking a page for their bedtime read.

Title image by Michael Semensohn (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license