I'm about to tell you a new story about stories—one you need to know because of all the other new things, social and digital, going on in the world. But before I do, let's make sure we're in sync on what has made "story" the stuff of life since the beginning of time.

If you're a marketer, a blogger, a politician, an entrepreneur, a teacher, a parent, a corporate executive, a lawyer, or a human being in today's hyper-messaged world, you don't want to miss this.

Ronald Reagan, the late actor-turned-president who was known by Republicans and Democrats alike as "The Great Communicator," didn't start speeches on "the multi-lateral imperative of deficit reduction" with facts and figures. Instead, he'd tell you a story about a little girl in a yellow dress. Within a minute or two, when even the most cynical listeners were unconsciously disarmed and pulled in by the parable, Reagan would move over to the hard business of the day's talk.

He knew what a great sales trainer once told me: Spend two hours telling a prospect every fact about your product—and he'll forget 95% in 10 minutes. But tell him a story, and, 20 years later, he'll repeat it to you word for word.

How Come?

Linguists and anthropologists generally agree that storytelling has been the most effective way to penetrate mental defenses and stick a message in the human mind. Something in our hardwiring actually hypnotizes us when we hear the words: "Let me tell you a story…."

Our unconscious can't resist letting stories in, and their stamp on human nature is everywhere. We're all born to be instant, natural storytellers whenever we have a great movie to recommend, we are excited about an idea, or we have an excuse to give our kindergarten teacher.

We're also massive economic consumers of story each day. Worldwide, we pay a staggering amount of disposable income for books, movies, TV, videogames, and other media—enough to prove Robert McKee's point that story isn't just entertainment, it's an indispensible psychic need for people that must be replenished like food and air. Good tip for any communicator...

Which now leads us to the new stuff about stories that I promised to tell you. Stories matter to marketers today, more than ever. But not just any kind of story. We need to master a super-concentrated kind—an instant, metaphorical kind that the greatest communicators have known for thousands of years: what we now call Micro-Scripts.

What's a Micro-Script, and Why Do We Need It?

A Micro-Script is a very short set of words, usually a sentence or even less, that people not only like to remember, they like to repeat. They are not just sound bites, they are story bites. They always contain a metaphor or rhythmic words, and they work instantly because they trigger full stories, or they connect with prelodged stories already running in the brain.

The following are taglines, bumper stickers, names for legislation, or simply conventional wisdom—but they are all Micro-Scripts that people love to pass along to others:

  • What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
  • What would Jesus do?
  • Pork is the other white meat.
  • Location, Location, Location.
  • No Child Left Behind.
  • He's a Flip Flopper.
  • The Domino Theory.
  • The Bridge to Nowhere.
  • Guns don't kill people, people do.
  • Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.
  • The Oreck 8 lb. Hotel Vac.
  • Where there's smoke, there's fire.

That is how we need to tell our stories today because although our brains haven't changed... the volume of messages and information has; it's now constant and unrelenting.

The digital revolution and social media are a wonderful, democratizing solution for human communication. But if you're a marketer, they also come with a problem: It's generating 500 billion distinct messages a second! And it has shrunken our attention spans. Today the average attention span is about nine seconds—down from 29 seconds a few years ago.

Such unprecedented super-clutter calls for the fastest, sharpest, most powerful form of communication we can find. That means story. But stories that are miniaturized, like computer chips. There's an amazing amount of information in every story bite. Humans can remember an unlimited number of them. They work on minds like magic words. I've even had the examples listed above repeated to me by audiences in India!

And the greatest news is that anyone can create Micro-Scripts—for their brand, their business plan, their platform, their blog, and their tweets—by understanding a few simple rules and formatting stories the way the brain loves to process them.

There's no way to give you the practical, step by step rules in a 750-word article. But they're in a new book, The Micro-Script Rules: It's not what people hear. It's what they repeat....

But let me tell you why I know you can do it. A great rabbi was once asked, "Can you tell me what the Bible's about?" The rabbi replied, "I can tell you the entire Bible in one sentence: 'Do unto others as you'd have others do to you.' All the rest is commentary."

That may be the greatest Micro-Script of all time. But the lesson is, If we can do this for the Bible, we can do it for our products, our personas, our blogs, and our brands.

Humans need their stories to be fast, frugal, and fascinating. That's why marketers need to tell their stories in Micro-Scripts.

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Today's Greatest Marketing Secret: Telling Stories in Eight Words or Less

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Bill Schley is author of The Micro-Script Rules: It's not what people hear. It's what they repeat... and president of the branding firm, David ID. Find him at www.billschley.com.