The term storytelling is bandied about under a thinly veiled attempt to make brands seem human. It’s often inaccurately associated with the task of creating something so saccharine and shallow that anyone anywhere can relate. The Dilbert of office humor. The sitcom reference. The Taylor Swift of music (sorry not sorry). There’s nothing more.
It’s a stupid way to write.
And marketers do it all of the time.
You operate under the incredibly arrogant (inaccurate) assumption that all of your readers are baby birds ready to be fed by your wisdoms. You underestimate their intellect. You pander. You don’t really tell a story, you just anthropomorphize an animal or a mop and call it a day.
What if you did it differently?
What if you truly dug deep and found the network connections of the human experience and zapped them to life?
What if marketers actually told stories?
They would include things like this.
While digital marketing claims to be at the forefront of messaging in the modern age, I actually think most marketers are clinging to the relics (metaphors and narratives) of a former age. No, moms aren’t generally harried and concerned with cleanliness. No, men aren’t idiots. No, kids aren’t awful and most of us don’t have white suburban homes and you’re not fooling anyone.
It’s tone deaf to portray these archetypes in caricature. Insulting, even.
So, who do you cast then? Characters are good. They’re important. They walk besides us in the looking glass of imagination.
- Who’s your Alice? Naive and misunderstanding and curious.
- Who’s your Cheshire Cat? Mischievous and wiley and equally in the dark.
- Who’s your Red Queen? Nefarious and bombastic and colorful.
- Who’s your flamingo, for that matter? The tools and props that are so piquant and punctuate the landscape brilliantly.
This is the gap between writers who do blogs AI will replace and those who weave enduring brand voices. Think about painting real characters, then using language to make them move through this or any world into endless possibilities.
People far more experienced than I am have said that the four most important words in a writer’s world are this:
And then one day…
Because no story is complete without the launch of a journey.
There is a very solid, in-depth treatment of The Essential Elements of Storytelling here.
I won’t dive into the monomyth or similar, but you should understand the elements that comprise a good story.
Spoiler alert: your characters have to change. Otherwise it’s a poor man’s underfunded Indie film of a message and it won’t resonate with most people. We crave transformation and we love watching it unfold before us.
No one's paying to watch someone do laundry. But if they get some magic elixir that makes the whites bright and magic characters dance? Well, they’re probably on drugs. Unless it’s a commercial.
This is harder to do than it used to be (thanks M. Night Shyamalan). The surprise factor cannot be underestimated and it’s so insanely underutilized in marketing.
Do something unexpected.
Zig when everyone else is zagging.
Go negative when everyone else is happy face emoji-ing themselves to death.
Find a twist. And don’t be afraid to use it. It’s a very specific kind of tool in the writer’s arsenal, and one that you don’t get many chances to use.
Bottom Line? Be Brilliant
But truly, too many writers are so incredibly content to be like, “meh, good enough, money pleeeeeease” and call it a day.
- Why not try harder?
- Why not push the boundaries of what’s possible?
- Why not get brutal about editing yourself?
- Why not crowd-test your ideas?
- Why not hone your powers of observation so you are always in intake mode, seeing how people behave, listening to their phraseology, and extracting their ways of walking through the world?
Bottle it all up. Shake it around. Stoke the fires of creative genius by trying again and again and again.
I always say to people I suspect are serious-minded about this craft: guys, we’ve got like 60 metnally sharp years. Why not see what we can really do?
It may be possible you’re the most brilliant storytelling writer ever born. I hope you are. The human experience needs narrators.