Storytelling in Marketing is Not the Answer


Tell me a story

When I was little, my dad and I used to have this ritual at night. Once all the 10+ dolls were properly placed along the bed and under the covers, in a very specific order, we would sing a song together.

Tell me a story, tell me a story
Tell me a story before I go to bed;
You promised me, you said you would,
You gotta give in ‘cause I’ve been good,
Tell me a story and then I’ll go to bed.

He’d sing the next phrase, and then the stories would start. The story was the reward.

It’s been a tough week. Across the land, law enforcement has been questioned and victimized, and victims of attacks have been further questioned and victimized.  It’s been a week of raw emotions, and immediate reactions.

Social media has erupted not only with reactions, but with live action video, bringing awareness and exposure to the deep dark crevices of the lives of others and asked us to question deep within us where we stand, and what the hell is going on.

These questions don’t have sitcom timelines. There will be no answers and a nice wrap up in 30 minutes or less. These are deep questions, deep issues, and deep problems we face as a people, and as individuals.

One trend that has stuck me as predictably consistent is the “But”.

  • But your side said this, and nothing happened.
  • So what if my side did this, your side did that.
  • But my side matters too.

It has become our only frame of reference, reaction, and thought.

Comparison has become a replacement for sympathy, empathy, and understanding. It’s the shorthand that we all use to help reconcile what we don’t understand.

As a marketer it made me think. And yes, that’s ok, because that’s who I am, that’s my perspective. I try to understand how people react and respond. It’s what I do, and who I am. But it made me think about the stories.

Marketers tout the power of storytelling, and we’ve seen that power this past week. It’s personal for all of us, because we all have a stake in this. I’ve always been a story teller, an avid user of metaphors, to help people understand the message, to force the comparison to a personal experience.

I was surprised by how the story is seen as the answer. It’s not.

The story is meant to get you to ask the question. 

We tell stories to connect with others. To raise questions, to identify concerns, issues, social problems, successes, all sorts of things. The point of a story is to connect.

And that’s what makes a story different than a case study or success story or a testimonial.

The power of the story is that it becomes part of someone else. A story gets the audience to ask the question of themselves. What would I do, how does it make me feel, have I experienced something like this, would it work for me.  And from there the thinking and research starts.

Storytelling isn’t providing an answer. It’s getting the audience to connect, and ask questions of themselves, …

(… and then discovering your brand as an answer that serves them. )

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