There’s something comforting and engaging about a story. As children we hang on a parent’s or grandparent’s every word as we drift off to sleep. At social gatherings we joust with outlandish anecdotes to shock, amuse and impress our friends and colleagues. No teenager’s campfire is complete without a ghost story (with upturned torch under the chin obviously) and the most common, benign beginning to so many people’s evening, “How was your day?”, is that same urge from sleepy bedtimes, decades past, to share and bond over a story.
So much of human interaction and communication is, underneath it all, one form or another of story-telling. Because, at it’s most basic, a story is a sequence of events and occurrences, that is “told” and “listened to” in the infinitely varied shapes and forms that that can take… you might argue that any effective communication is storytelling.
And you’d be right. We’ve been using narrative to deliver hugely important components of human civilisation ever since we developed language. And probably even before then, by using gestures and props. The role the story has played in our society for the last 150 thousand years is still visible in the derivation of the modern word itself. The ancient Greek histor – “learned or wise man”, and historia – “finding out, narrative and history”, are echoes of the oral tradition enabling the development and passing on of knowledge, morals and ethics, philosophy, law and religion. Before anything was ever recorded in writing, the combined folklore, songs and stories of any group of humans contained everything of any importance to each group or tribe and it was taught and passed on by being told, sung, narrated and performed.
Today our communication methods may be a little more sophisticated and the volume of what we’re exchanging may be so much larger, but we’re still using the same brains, relying on the same subconscious make-up with all those affects and heuristics that we have almost zero awareness of but that dictate how we think, feel, act, communicate and relate to each other. We haven’t changed much at all. It’s still the story that does it for us, and it’s because that’s how we’ve evolved to process and perceive everything. Our memory works by association and sequence. The best way to remember a large quantity of information is to create a narrative out of the component parts, attaching contextual and symbolic elements to represent each of them and making connections involving circumstances and events with causality gluing them all together… because that’s a story.
If you want to get a point across, change or form an opinion, convince someone or generally have any kind of influence on someone else… it’s going to have to be a story.
For marketers storytelling has come and gone and come again as the latest thing over the decades, but it’s short-sighted to consider it just a transient advertising technique. Your brand is a story. Or rather, it should represent a story. There are characters, background circumstances, aims and ambitions, jeopardy and peril, interactions, cause and effect and reasons why. When we’re hoping to look and sound like the right solution to someone’s problem and show the value of what we can achieve in our customers’ worlds, we should remember that our audience is listening in a particular way.