Let’s just skip to the skinny: do you want to take your marketing efforts (and business results) to the next level in 2019? Then you need to master the art of mobile-first storytelling!
The trend for mobile-friendly marketing is only growing as Google rolled out mobile-first indexing, meaning it will adjust a site’s rankings based on how easy to use on mobile it is.
This is forcing many brands and businesses to reconsider how they tell stories in this mobile-friendly world.
The bad news is, many of the tactics and strategies marketers relied on before will no longer serve you in a more mobile-centered world. What’s been working for you in the past may not work for you in the future.
The good news is, the same classic storytelling principles are still alive and well on mobile… We just need to use some new ways to tell your business stories on the small screen.
And in this post, we’ll tell you exactly how to do it like a Pro.
Technology is not the only thing driving these behavior changes though.
The actual environment that mobile users are consuming your stories is different as well.
With a laptop or desktop, people are usually sitting at a desk, with headphones in and are usually (relatively) focused.
On mobile, that’s not the case.
People are out and about, sharing a coffee with friends and carrying on a conversation while simultaneously browsing through their phone.
Users on mobile have less patience and shorter attention spans than ever.
So how do we survive in this new mobile-centered world?
Understanding The “Mobile-First” Landscape
In this article, we’ll explore the 3 pillars of mobile-first storytelling to show you how you can tell stories tailored for mobile that are engaging and inspire action in your audience.
Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of storytelling in a mobile-first world, let’s take a look at what the rules are.
What Google Wants
Google has been pushing for a “mobile-first” indexing over the last few years and has been increasingly strict in enforcing this.
As of 2018 this means they will index the mobile versions of your site before the desktop versions of your site. Even if you rely heavily on paid traffic to sell your products, you should keep this in mind.
Google also keeps separate “quality scores” in its ad platform for mobile and desktop platforms.
You need to have a good mobile experience to keep your ads competitive.
What Facebook/Instagram Wants
First of all, no matter what the developers at Facebook want, it’s important to acknowledge the reality of the platform. There’s an overwhelming majority of mobile users.
Take a look at this data from Statista. The totals add up to more than 100% because it accounts for multiple device usage.
So, nearly everyone using Facebook is accessing it from their mobile devices. That means any business excluding mobile devices from their ad campaigns is shooting themselves in the foot.
Keep in mind that Facebook and Instagram are both highly visual platforms. We’ll dig into the nuts and bolts on how to make the most of that in the three pillars.
Mobile-First Storytelling Pillar #1 – Short But Sweet Text
The biggest impact that the mobile-first internet will have is on writing.
Overall you’re going to have to do a lot more with a lot fewer words to succeed on mobile.
Though you’ll have less space and fewer words to work with, your words are more valuable than ever.
Have you ever been browsing on your smartphone and land on a site that is not mobile friendly? It loads just like it would on a laptop or desktop. But on your phone all you see is some jumbled black lines that could be text… but you need to pinch and zoom to see anything. This is a terrible experience for mobile users and requires a lot more effort from them to stick around.
Your first priority in storytelling for mobile is to ensure your site and your message are easy to read on a mobile screen. The design and usability of your site should be seamless to your visitor so they can worry about the story you’re telling, not how to read it.
Take a look at this ad from Squarespace, the text is very simple and clear. They communicate the power of their tool in just a few short words, and reinforce their text with powerful imagery.
Here’s a couple of quick tips for readability for ads and landing page design:
- Use only two font sizes: Using three or more font sizes will make your site look messy on a mobile screen.
- Break up your text with lots of headers and bullets: Keep in mind people also behave differently reading on mobile than they do on a desktop. They’re much more likely to scan quickly for information. So be sure to break up your text often with headlines and bullets to make your key points stand out easily.
- Use short sentences: A long sentence on mobile could take up the whole screen and make reading difficult. Be sure to keep your sentences short to make an easy reading experience.
- BeThumb friendly: Ideally your mobile site should be easy to navigate using only your thumb to scroll up and down and click.
Headlines have always been essential for the success of any content or copywriting online. The shift to a mobile-first internet will only increase the necessity for a good headline.
Take a look at this ad from Headspace that delivers a simple promise and creates urgency showing how it’s ending soon. They reinforce it with the dripping ice cream cone image.
Headlines for your content should follow these basic rules:
- Appeal to emotions – You’re going to need to create an emotional connection quickly to capture the attention of your audience. Make sure your headline can trigger the feeling you want.
- Call out your audience – Make it clear in your headline who the content is intended for.
- Say what’s in it for them – Your headline must make it clear what your readers will get/learn after they read your content/copy. Make it clear what the value of the article is right away.
- Pose a question – Phrasing a question that accurately reflects and piques the curiosity of your target audience is proven to drive clicks.
- Create urgency – You’ve only got a few seconds to capture the attention of your audience and get them to take action. Try to create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) to keep your audience engaged in your stories.
Make content interactive and engaging
Instead of just piling more text onto your marketing to get your message across, tell your story with interactive content.
There are lots of tools out there to create interactive content, but often they’re expensive, bulky, and confusing to implement. I’ve always been a big fan of things that are simple and elegant in their design and use.
Online quizzes are one of the most popular forms of interactive content. You see them all over Facebook: “Which Harry Potter character are you?” or “What’s your spirit animal?” and so on. But there’s much more to quizzes than the simple clickbait you see circling around your Facebook feed.
They’re a powerful way to engage and understand the audience on your site.
Best of all, online quizzes look great on mobile with big images and short text. Instead of struggling to consume a lot of text, they are intrigued and engaged with every question and their own story gets revealed to them in the insights you give them in your quiz results.
Think beyond your ads and landing pages
Take your entire experience into account with a mobile-first storytelling. Think about what they will see after your users convert or take an action. Are your “Thank you” pages optimized for mobile? Are the emails you send to follow up set up to be easily consumed for mobile? If you’re delivering a lead magnet, is that something that can be easily enjoyed form a smartphone?
Mobile-First Storytelling Pillar #2 – Let Your Audience See Story
As we learned in the last section, in storytelling for mobile we need to create powerful experiences to capture the attention of our audience with a lot fewer words to work with. This is a big challenge and we can’t rely on good copywriting alone to succeed.
This is where visual storytelling comes in.
Use Visual Storytelling
Visual storytelling leverages the same strategies and formulas of classic storytelling, but conveys the message visually instead of with text. Visuals can make subtle cues in the minds of your audience and inspire the right ideas, emotions and desires to get them to take action.
Visual storytelling is the perfect compliment to the mobile-friendly text and headlines you’re writing.
Use visual storytelling to:
- Reinforce emotions – What are the emotions you’re targeting in your headlines and copy? How can your create visuals to enhance and align with that emotion.
- Show a process or result – Visuals like before/after images, or comic strip style illustrations can show a process unfolding and convey a lot of information quickly.
Take a look at this ad from Daily Om. The skeleton is something that catches your eye quickly and draws you in with its somewhat strange orientation.
Take a look at how Interseller does this on their mobile homepage by showing a complicated system and a problem in one image, then scrolling down and contrasting it with ease and simplicity with the next.
This allows them to dramatically reduce the amount of copy they need to explain the problem and the solution, yet they still capture the core feeling of satisfaction they want to convey.
Use the 3 Act Formula
There’s many storytelling frameworks out there. Some are very reliable, but can be too complex and bulky for the micro-stories you want to tell on mobile.
One of the most used (and effective), The Hero’s Journey, can be distilled from its classic 12-step formula into a simple 3 Act Formula to cover the essentials of storytelling.
Here’s a breakdown of the 3 Act Formula:
- Act 1 – The “old” or the current world is described and a problem or confrontation that arises for the hero.
- Act 2 – This is the journey. The hero must learn a lesson or skill to overcome the challenge.
- Act 3 – A key decision is made, or a “new way” of looking at things is discovered. The hero faces their fear, and they live happily ever after.
This structure focuses on the conflict and its resolution. The conflict is what keeps us interested, and its resolution is what gives us a sense of relief and satisfaction at the end.
Since you only have a few lines of copy on mobile to tell your story, I suggest a slight variation. Show your viewers the world without the problem early to build the desire to continue reading your ad, or take further action. Move Act 3 in front of Act 2.
Here’s how that would look:
- Act 1 – The “old” “old world” with all the pain and drudgery of a problem.
- Act 3 – Happily ever after, the world without the problem.
- Act 2 – Present your way to arrive at the solution and the journey your customer will take with you.
By moving Act 3 forward, you give your viewers the chance to experience the positive emotions of their problem being solved or their desires fulfilled.
You may be asking, “How can I fit all of that information into a single image?” Let’s take a look at an example to see how it is done.
Here’s how Digital Marketer’s ad for their guide on building a rockstar marketing team captures this 3-act formula:
Know The Goal Of Your Visuals
Your visuals should support a goal you want to achieve. Once you understand your goal, it’s easier to determine what emotions and messages you want to convey to support the action you want your audience to take.
- Tell your personal story – Show your audience that you’re relatable and human. Personal images and vulnerability are important here.
- An inspirational manifesto – Get people excited about your big vision for the world. Employ high-energy, bright colors and lots of movement.
- A practical “how to” guide – Teach someone something useful. Use minimal and practical visuals that help clarify and reinforce your points.
- Product promotion – Get people excited about your upcoming launch. Convey a mixture of pain related to their current problem and opportunity for a better life once it’s solved.
Mobile-First Storytelling Pillar #3 – Use Video. Period.
If you’re targeting younger demographics then video needs to be a core part of your marketing strategy.
Nearly half of millennials are only watching video on their devices. Without video, you won’t hold their attention for long.
Facebook, Google, and other big marketing platforms are aware of this trend as well.
Youtube. is already the second biggest search engine online and Google weighs video engagement heavily in their SEO rankings. Facebook has been pushing much more video in their newsfeed, and should we mention Instagram (and Facebook) Story?
Explainer and Summary Videos
There is a bit of a contradiction with the shift to a mobile-first internet. Search engines love good long-form content, but mobile users aren’t likely to thumb through a multi-thousand-word article on your site.
One good tip if you create a lot of content like this is to develop short videos for your content that a mobile user could watch to get a summary of your content without having to read through the whole thing.
This video strategy can be applied to many different areas of your site where you would normally only rely on a good copy:
- Create a short explainer video for your homepage to make it easy for mobile visitors to learn about you.
- Create a video at the top of sales pages to make your offer without forcing your audience to read all the copy.
- Add a summary to the top of long-form content to make it easy for mobile users to learn.
Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat Stories
Stories on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have quickly become one of the most popular forms of content, especially for mobile. People enjoy their dynamic feel and fast pace.
Mastering this format of content is essential for marketers looking to stay relevant in a mobile-first world.
- Make silent stories – If you create ads or stories in this format, make sure you can get the point across without any sound. Most users will see your stories in “silent’ mode so you need to make sure you tell a full story using only visuals.
- Use boomerang – A boomerang works similarly to an animated GIF image. It takes a short video clip and loops it going back and forth. Use this effect where repetition is engaging and interesting (like pouring more coffee, doing a dance move, or splashing through a puddle)
- Tell 95% of a story – Sometimes telling almost all of a story can be more engaging than telling the whole story.
A good example is this story from Noom; we see a hammer about to splatter some eggs, and our curiosity is piqued. But since we don’t get to see the eggs smashed it feels unresolved and we want to click to find out more.
There’s so much to cover and master when it comes to using video in your marketing and storytelling. For a deeper dive into using video for your marketing, I recommend: The Ultimate Guide To Branding With Facebook Video
While people these days generally have a much lower tolerance for lots of text-heavy websites, they are generally more open to “authentic” types of communication.
What I mean by this is you don’t have to have a perfectly polished video to succeed in mobile storytelling.
Using Facebook and Instagram live for video is a powerful way to create video content that’s engaging without a big budget. People are generally more forgiving on a live video, so as long as you’re engaging and energetic you can make a few mistakes without losing your audience.[Source]
Let’s say you’re a fitness brand; film a video like the one above to show viewers how your product works and people using it. The idea is to get your audience excited and eager to try your product.
Being “on air” live, also allows you to get dynamic feedback from your audience.
Ask your viewers questions and find out what they want more of. See what is exciting them live and then take that information to make better videos in “non-live” formats based on your live conversations.
Storytelling for the small screen is your key to competing for attention in the rapidly changing world online right now. Make sure your text, visuals and videos are all optimized to get your message across on mobile.
Remember the three key pillars when creating stories for mobile:
Keep your text short, to the point, and emotionally engaging.
Use visuals to enhance your text and say more.
Use video to get your message to those who don’t want to read.
Learning to leverage these mobile-first strategies will allow you to reach a wider audience and stay relevant in the rapidly changing marketplace.
Kyle Gray is an entrepreneur and bestselling author who helps startups and small businesses grow with storytelling and content marketing. He has helped hundreds of startups and small businesses create scalable content marketing strategies. His book The Story Engine outlines his process for making content marketing and brand storytelling easy and effective.