A marketer I follow, Tara McMullin, recommended a podcast by Willa Paskin “How Storytelling Became A Product.” It’s an episode of the Decoder Ring podcast.
Willa shows how storytelling went from being something people “just did” to becoming “the thing.” It got me thinking.
She opens with a story (!) about her father telling stories to her five-year-old self many years ago. She bookends her piece with another story, where she used fairy tales to calm her young daughter in a noisy hospital Emergency Room.
Willa seems to be making two points, if I understand correctly.
First, she suggests that we lose some intangible quality of stories when we use them for commercial purposes. Microsoft, Nike, and other big companies have assigned storytelling functions to executives. The stories she tells her daughter operate in a different context.
She quotes Rachel Hammer from New York Magazine, who suggests companies try to be folksy even when they’re not. She explains that today’s customers want to know the company’s story as a way to relate to their values.
That’s true of some companies and some customers.
But I’d say a lot of corporate storytelling is designed to create positive associations with the brand. You see a beer commercial with the cute puppies. When you see the beer advertised in a store, presumably you feel the same warm fuzzies, consciously or unconsciously.
Second, Willa points out, stories aren’t magic. Many stories don’t work: “No story about a giant business could excite me.”
I’d say your story will be filtered through your audience’s backstory. That doesn’t make the story less effective: it just means you need to know your audience.
In the end, Willa sees storytelling as a business fad that will ultimately fade.
I see storytelling as a business tool. After all, we can use graphics to send a marketing message or to design a birthday card. We can use music to induce a mood or to express our artistry.
We’re also seeing games applied to marketing as well as to organizational design. The term “gamification” has become widely used. Does this application detract from six-year-olds playing jump rope or jacks or whatever kids play these days?
Willa questions whether stories will follow the trajectory of other fads. She feels the trend has “crested.”
I think we’ll begin to be bored with “how I got here” stories and stories of hardship and struggle. We’ll learn to be more strategic.
But I don’t think using stories to make a point will ever be outdated or trendy. We find parables in the Bible, in both Old and New Testaments. They’re very purposeful stories – usually concept stories…one of the most effective formats in modern marketing.
Learn more about concept stories – Stories That Preach, Explain or Deliver A Tough Message.
Episode #22 of the Strategic Storytelling Podcast
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