Have you ever met someone whose story sounded so deep and inspiring, only to discover they lacked the depth they claimed? I have. They were just good at storytelling.
There’s also that company that their social media pages look so fantastic, only for you to find out that you’ve been done in by great storytelling. I’ve been there, both as a storyteller and a recipient.
I remember the first SOP I wrote for someone. I’m a word weaver, and as expected, I did a perfect job. But after getting paid, I felt guilty. This precious gift of storytelling I have, had I just abused it?
As a storyteller, when I create narratives, these are the inner ethical battles I fight when I try to find a balance between flat out lying, stretching the truth and telling it as it is.
We think storytelling is all about emotions, clever wordplay, verbal nuance and choosing the perspective that most favours the brand we are building. However, we can also get caught up doing the absolutely necessary to sell a convincing narrative that we shift so far away from the line of reason, caution and truth.
From the perspective of the audience, stories are powerful. Whether they are true or not, we react to them with a sense of wonder and longing. Either we want to belong somewhere in it, or we want to bask in the beauty of their story, in the belief that we can be like them or draw parallels with our own lives, we aspire to have a similar trajectory. That is not bad at all.
But something breaks when we find out they are false. We discover that these stories have been carefully chosen, curated and shared in a way to deceive us.
We feel defeated, deflated and unable to give our trust to the source, and rightly so.
Once stories are concerned, people react emotionally first, then verify later, if at all. Here is where the problem starts. Most people need multiple red flags to happen along the course of a brand story and put them in a very tight corner (say the loss of money, damage, etc.) before they attempt to verify.
People can go as far as excusing multiple mistakes as a lapse in concentration. It’s a natural default to truth. We do not want to believe that we are being lied to. Intelligent brands can always rely on this. It’s social conditioning at its best.
Except a trusted ally can go over and beyond to convince them otherwise. Think Ponzi schemes.
Storytelling has become a buzzword in today’s marketing that a lot of people have abused.
Great storytellers abound, and they can tweak any scenario to generate the kind of emotions they want to see. It’s the bane of an excellent copywriter and the exclusive preserve of well-thinking designers, video creators and social media magicians.
The way we use stories today is slightly different from the way we have always used them. They are no longer bedtime stories of yesteryears. Instead, we now use them to push brand stories, create individual and brand perceptions, and engender a feeling and longing. No marketing repertoire is complete without storytelling; no marketing team is complete without a creative storyteller.
Even public relations has got a fair share of strategic storytelling. It’s no longer about creating the narrative, it’s about sharing them actively, starting from easily impressionable minds to the more strategically inclined, like you do a blockbuster movie (think about political campaigns of any grade).
The prize has always been the same. The bag has only got bigger. Stir the right amount of emotion for people to take the desired action.
But as we tell stories both for our corporate and individual brands, we need to ask ourselves a question most people rarely do today.
As you turn words, pictures and videos into weapons of emotional modelling and brand messaging, are you window dressing or can you back up your claim with indisputable and non-refutable facts? Can your story stand the test of time? True factual stories are easier to share, manage and maintain. But falsehood, controversy and all that comes with them are incredibly difficult to keep up. The truth might be slow but you cannot underestimate its potency.
This is very important because eventually, people will interact. In as much as we try to structure our brands’ perception in the minds of people, the experience they have with us reigns supreme.