What the Heck is Storytelling?
Updated: Jun 26, 2019
By Cat Hood - Content Producer
"Storytelling is no longer a nice-to-have skill for marketers, it's a necessity!" - Cat Hood, Content Producer, 4CP
When I was a kid, I loved listening to my teacher read from Roald Dahl’s The Twits. Captivated by the story and her Australian accent, I would often go back home and reenact scenes for mum. But that was back in the eighties when storytelling was for auteurs and not for marketers. Fast forward to the twenty first century and storytelling has become a bad word that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. Not because we don’t love stories, but because it is no longer a skill that’s nice for marketers to have but a necessity.
So, why do stories captivate us so much? How do we take a product or service and turn it into a story? And what the heck is storytelling anyway?
In On the origin of stories, Professor Bryan Boyd at the University of Auckland Australia also suggests that storytelling is a part of our evolution and thus our DNA. He believes that stories are just one of the things that make us human and are necessary to understand our behavior and psychological development. So, in truth, our attraction towards stories is rooted in our genetics.
But we can’t talk about storytelling without talking about Joseph Campbell. His seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, combines psychology and mythology with literary device to identify the key pieces that every engaging story must have, and how to knit them together. If you’re a writer or storyteller, this book is the thread from which your storytelling skill is weaved. But for marketers, it can be a heavy read. So how can marketers transform service or product into story?
FIRSTLY, IDENTIFY YOUR AUDIENCE
In B2B marketing we often forget that a business is made up of individual people. Human beings who face the same challenges we do - putting food on the table, having a secure place to rest at night, a partner to cuddle with. And those are just the basics. Society is a complex knit of relationships that go beyond our innate needs and desires into our need to belong, to have a greater sense of purpose, the desire to achieve our highest standard of self-fulfillment. The characters in The Twits embodied those desires - of a kid who just wants the freedom to explore and be dirty, but also, be the hero and save the day. Roald Dahl knew it when he wrote the book. My teacher knew it when she chose to read it to us.
Before we start telling stories, we have to understand our audience and what message will resonate with them most. Roald Dahl knew it when he wrote the book. My teacher knew it when she chose to read it to us. So, before we start telling stories, we have to understand our audience and what message will resonate with them most.
SECONDLY, DETERMINE YOUR MEDIUM
The delivery is just as important as the structure. Is it a book, is it an article, is it a video, is it a cartoon? My teacher knew that we didn’t like reading but wanted to encourage us to start reading. To do this, she had to engage us with a piece of written literature by making the story jump off the page.
It wasn’t just what she read, it was how she read it. And as a six-year-old who couldn’t have cared less about reading at the time, I can’t say that my passion for the art would have ever evolved had it not been for her understanding of who I was and who I wanted to be. And for her awesome accent.
THIRDLY, DIRECT ATTENTION TO A SINGLE MESSAGE
Every business, product, service has a story behind it. That means you already have a story. The key is to break it down in a way that builds suspense, shifts focus, and pleases viewers. Don’t glance over hardships or skip past juicy details - embrace them. If you’re going to keep the attention of your audience, you must focus your story on the emotional bits.
LASTLY, THERE ARE NO RULES
Stories are barrier breakers, bridge builders; a way of connecting people with purpose and each other. They can build communities or tear them down. They are a tool ingrained in our DNA that ignite our imagination and build trust. To attempt to define storytelling is to deconstruct the very fabric of how we came into existence. But for us as marketers, we believe that storytelling is a scientific art with an inexact formula limited by individual skill.
While everyone is born with the ability to tell a story, not everyone can do it well. That, like any other skill, takes time and practice. It’s an ongoing process of edits and shifts in perspective. Of applying story “formulas” and adapting them to fit a need. It’s a dance with words that weave together to shape an imperfect version of a samba, mambo, or a waltz. It’s a redheaded Papua New Guinean with an Australian accent and a flamboyant personality to match.
When our clients ask us how we do it, we don’t always have a straight answer, but we do have a process that we follow.
Curious about that process?
We’re happy to share! Get in touch for a storytelling discovery session.
We’ll help you find your voice.
Written by Cat Hood, Content Producer, 4CP