Last week we were guinea pigs for a brand new course being developed by Craft of Communication, a theatre-based communications training agency. It was on storytelling – the art of telling a good story (in this instance, for brand engagement). Storytelling is the mot du jour among marketing circles – the idea of developing a narrative that engages consumers, pulls them into a brand’s sphere and creates new routes to a lasting relationship is irresistible. But do many marketers understand what a good story really entails? Is it as literal as telling your brand’s history – like The Lego story, made in 2012 for its 80th birthday? Is it about using different media to engage with consumers wherever and whenever they are?
The story of stories – as old as humanity
The workshop took us on a journey to understand the history of the story and the profound way that storytelling is woven into humanity’s cultural narrative. And it was fascinating. Did you know, for instance, that Romeo & Juliet (which, rather preciously, was the first story I remember being told – one of the exercises we did) is based on a series of motifs that are old as humanity itself? The story of winter vs summer, dark vs light, the beauty and potential of youth. Or that every fable and nursery rhyme you can name has a vast folklore tradition? We looked at Cinderella, which is estimated to have over 1,000 different versions across the world – the theme of a wicked stepmother is grounded in the reality of a past where childbirth was extremely dangerous, mothers often died and children were left in the care of other women, while men remarried for financial gain. Although there is no evidence of glass slippers.
Dialogue – not just a two way street
We also explored Greek theatre – the Ancient Greeks invented the Second Actor, opening up a world of possibility in narrative development. For many thousands of years, folklore tales were passed down through oral tradition – in other words, monologues via one protagonist. But the Greeks brought in deuteragonists (two voices) and tritagonists (three voices), breathing life into “dialogue” (literally = the flow of meaning). This also made me think that while we business types use the word “dialogue” as a catch-all for ensuring we’re not just shouting messages at consumers, there is a lot more depth involved – dialogue is about conveying meaning, about owning the story.
Brand as hero
Finally, we had a think about the ‘hero’s journey’ – the narrative journey from ordinary world, via crossing a threshold and lots of sword seizing, to returning with an elixir – a story that George Lucas’ Star Wars took entirely literally. Our final task for the day was to recast our brand as the hero, exploring ways that we could take Future Foundation on a hero’s journey of its own. How could we tell our story as compellingly as Star Wars? (Answer: lots of Ewoks and NO Jar Jar Binks).
So what does all this mean for brands? I think it means that we can learn a lot from taking a step back and thinking about storytelling, not as a marketing buzzword but as a profound, inbuilt human prerogative. When you’re thinking about how to tell your brand’s story, think about your audience – how can you create empathy and genuine, meaningful connections? What do your characters look like and how can you make them loveable? Think about the archetypal narratives such as comedy, tragedy, overcoming an obstacle, a quest and see whether they create new narrative (obviously I am not suggesting you suddenly start casting your organisation as a Hobbit). Consider how you can communicate your story – new technologies, platforms, devices?
I’d love to hear your brand stories. In fact, Ernest Hemingway once won a bet by crafting a complete story in just six words – it was simply “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn”. Absolutely beautiful. What’s your brand’s six word story?
Have you seen the Future Foundations’s Native Marketing trend on storytelling? It’s packed with thoughts and data on creativity, storytelling and brand engagement. Contact Karen Canty for more firstname.lastname@example.org
Some links for more thoughts on storytelling that I found interesting: