The Evolution of the 6-Second Marketing Story

six secondsThis is an evolutionary tale for marketers, full of dinosaurs, dragons, and other extinct species – and lots of fast-talking.  It is also a cautionary tale for marketers who are unable to adapt to the foundational need for simplicy, clarity and alignment (and now speed and efficiency) in brand storytelling, lest they too become an extinct species.

I’ve been doing brand strategy work for most of my career, ranging from helping refine the story of very large global brands and emerging nascent brands to selling a brand story to, and for, complex government entities.  Initially this would involve “packaging” — the packaging of both the story, and the packaging of the product or service.  It would include things like how the design on the outside of a physical product held in your hand would make you feel, and make you act (and hopefully buy), and what it says about you.  The brand design was all about how people felt about themselves when they carried  or wore the package around, or used your service,  and then shared their response to that brand with others, positively or negatively.

Later, as our lives became more digital, I started to think about branding as a marketing story.  How a brand story could come alive, or not come alive, in the minds of the target market – even if there was no package, no physical product to identify with. How the story then had to emerge from the digital screen, prompted by the user’s input or a very broad search or query. How storytelling had to now rely largely on audience participation. If the person on the other end of that keyboard wasn’t putting in the time to get to know you, didn’t know what they were really searching for, or the right questions to ask, there was no story being told —  just a lot of information coming at them which they may or may not even care about.  Not surprisingly, the response was too often one of information overload and frustration.

How then do we tell a brand story — a marketing story that gives the customer and every audience a reason to care —  in this new, distracting and digital context?

Marketing storytelling in the early days of broadcast and print fueled many great campaigns that could take the time to tell a story (if done well) that spoke to, and resonated with, the audience.  The story was long form, complete and left the reader or viewer with a richer understanding of the brand heritage and promise of what that brand could mean to you.  Digital storytelling initially followed much of that same pattern (as that is really what marketers knew how to do) but in new formats and with new levels of interactivity.  Marketing started to become more of a conversation with the audience than a communication to the audience. At least that is what we all thought was happening.

But, what has now happened to those conversations as our digital lives have become massively cluttered through the explosion of always-on mobile devices and always-on social media, is that the time for telling our marketing story has shrunk — dramatically. We all knew that long-form stories kept shrinking in the online marketing world and there was very little time any longer for reflection, or building up to a response. But now, with the way media is viewed and consumed, and the overwhelming volume coming at us every day, what does that shrunken timeframe to tell a story look like?

Welcome to the world of the 6-second story. Yes, 6 seconds. We have about a 6-second window for making a connection. 6 seconds to give our customers, our audience, a reason to care…a reason to want to learn more. And if that connection is lost in those first few seconds, then it is  really lost, and they are most likely not coming back. Think I’m exaggerating? Think about how you consume information or messages over your own networks or devices. If someone has not captured your interest in 6 seconds, you are most likely moving on.

We are now spending a lot of time with our clients in developing and working through how to develop the “art of the story” in a 6-second story for every brand.  In that window of time, the storytelling must be simple, clear and aligned with the customer’s needs and wants.  It must make a bold statement. It must encourage exploration.  And it must lead the customer and audience to a question… “How do they do what they say they do?”  Or a pause…”I actually think I need to know more about this.”

Today’s marketing storytelling must:

  • Simplify a complicated issue or problem that your customer is wrestling with.  You (or your brand) are the guide that helps them identify and solve their problem.
  • Stir emotion. People buy on emotion and then rationalize their decision with facts.
  • Be memorable in striking a chord that prompts an internal question or reflection.  People can more readily relate to a story than fact-laden statements about the wonders of a product.
  • And do this in about 6 seconds. Because that is all the time you will get as they quickly move on the next site, the next message coming at them, the next digital or social interruption.

One caution:  While the length of the brand story is changing, the work of developing the “art of the story” does not.  No matter how short the message, never short-change the depth and complexity and richness of the story.  This new stage of evolution requires that you completely, fully and deeply delve into, understand, and refine where necessary, what that full story is. Only then are you really able to keep distilling it down further to finally reach the 6-second story capture.

Ask any kid waiting for ice cream… six seconds can be a lifetime!  This column is not meant to lament where we are in the world of marketing storytelling.  Indeed, there is no going back.  Here we are. And whatever one’s view about it, you still only get 6 seconds to give your customer a reason to connect with you, a reason to care…a reason to want to learn more.

At TopRight we help you develop and work through the right combination of Story, Strategy and Systems to tell your story better, and deliver your story more effectively. And, in this case, very quickly.


Leave a Comment