Sep 25, 2016

Is Story Doing (Vs. Storytelling) Just Hype?

Alarmist headlines claim that storytelling is dead, as if the power of words are now somehow lost in the ether of our digital world. As if interpersonal communication — even between a customer and a business or brand — can be void of the building blocks that define our language.

These alarmist marketers argue that 21st century companies should be more concerned with what their brand is doing versus what their brand is saying. If you close your eyes, you can imagine these very marketers fidgeting in their seats. They’re leading a business meeting, Slacking coworkers and encouraging their B2C client to join the Pokémon GO bandwagon all at the same damn time.

It’s overwhelming. And it’s not because technology and trends should be avoided, or that the adage actions speak louder than words is all for not. The reality is, we’re trying to do too much. We aren’t always good storytellers. And for those who think that a story is without action — without drama and engagement — well, quite frankly, you’re telling it wrong.

Talkers Vs. Doers

Southwest Airlines Founder Herb Kelleher is a wordsmith.

“We have a strategic plan. It’s called ‘doing things.’” — Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines

Critics like to use comments from Kelleher and other titans of industry to draw a line in the sand between the talkers (storytellers) and the doers (story doers). Is there a difference? Yes. But there doesn’t have to be. Marketers would argue that storytellers have crafted the message, “Red Bull gives you wings.” By contrast, story doers host the Red Bull flugtag — an event where competitors attempt to fly homemade, human-powered flying machines.

The concepts of storytelling versus story doing converge when a company does more than simply talk about their story — they live it. Companies that successfully blend the two put their core messaging at the center of their business, products and services. From this foundation, content is always actionable because it was created with a mission. This driving mission creates more than just words on a page, but rather an invitation for customers to become part of that brand, part of that story.

The goal of telling a great story isn’t communication, it’s engagement.

The Relationship Era

Smart, active storytelling connects us to one another, to the products we love and the services we need. When done well, it helps foster this notion of “The Relationship Era” — a concept in which companies can no longer hide behind flashy visuals and creative slogans.

For years, corporations could hide behind spendy public image campaigns. Thanks to social media and The Relationship Era, they now need to actually walk the talk.” — Bob Garfield & Doug Levy, authors of Can’t Buy Me Like: How Authentic Customer Connections Drive Superior Results

To shift away from storytelling to story doing implies that businesses should think less about brand narrative and think more about brand action. In short, they should walk the walk — but faster — and by doing so, customers will pay notice and walk with them. But people are always going to wonder, “why are you walking?”

If you want them to join you, show don’t tell. It’s the oldest writing technique, but one that gets lost in a digital age. The changing landscape doesn’t mean we do away with storytelling. It means we strive to do it better.


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