Stories are how we learn things. Our earliest childhood memories are often of hearing a bedtime story that captured our imagination. Stories are how life lessons are passed on from one generation to another. They are how we try to make sense of a complex world, how information is shared and ideologies spread – all made more palatable and memorable by not being delivered as a factual lecture. As a child you can either be told bluntly, don’t tell lies; or you can be told the story of the boy who cried wolf, the moral of which is likely to stay with you for life. Novels, TV, cinemas and theatres all provide for our life-long, insatiable demand for stories.
Yuval Noah Harari, author of ‘Sapiens: A brief history of Humankind’, speaks about story telling as a cultural pillar, required for a society to function cohesively. He suggests that a stable society needs, amongst other things, a base of stories that everyone can agree on. In this wider context that includes ideologies, philosophies and concepts. Harari points out that if we questioned everything constantly, society would quickly collapse, so we are hardwired to accept certain stories that resonate with us.
Seth Godin has a very similar take on stories in his book ‘All Marketers are Liars: the power of telling authentic stories in a low-trust world’. For Godin, effective marketing is storytelling and storytelling is powerful so we should use it wisely. Hence his emphasis on telling only authentic stories. Clients and targets don’t want just to be told facts, they want to be told a compelling story too, and it is the truth of this story, and the skill with which it is told and starts to spread, that helps to differentiate successful firms from their competitors.
Godin advises that marketers should focus on telling stories that speak directly to the world view of their clients and customers. Not as a clever communications tactic, but as whole-hearted, fundamental approach to their business. Either you tell stories that spread or you will become irrelevant, he warns. Something for us all to ponder when we plan our next marketing campaign.
Charles Dalton-Holmes, Director, Script Consulting – professional services copywriting, marketing & PR