Storytelling: How Anyone Can Effectively Tell Their Own Story and Cut Through the Noise
August 21, 2018 by Sean Schroeder
In an age of information overload, how do brands and individuals stand out from the crowd and reach their target audience in a lasting way?
According to brand story expert Park Howell, the key to everything digital is storytelling. As noted in part one of this two-part series, humans are hard-wired to understand the world and their environments using stories, and the most successful brands and personalities acutely comprehend this. It's no coincidence that the most financially successful entrepreneurs and brands - and their sites - are underpinned by a compelling story.
...what makes a good story so different and memorable from a bad one? How do brands craft not just stories but truly amazing narratives within and throughout their site? How do developers, marketers and other make their ideas heard internally?
Today, digital experiences are the cornerstone of any lead acquisition and nurturing effort. While content personalization goes a long way towards these goals, even the best-crafted content or website may fall flat if it's not underpinned by a good story.
But what makes a good story so different and memorable from a bad one? How do brands craft not just stories but truly amazing narratives within and throughout their site? How do developers, marketers and other make their ideas heard internally? The key, Howell noted, is to take a cue from myths and the movies.
Following Joseph Campbell
Who is Joseph Campbell? The author was one of the very first people to talk about the universality of the hero's journey.
...the hero's journey is so common because it plays into how we as humans use stories to understand our world.
He noted that in so many cultures, there are stories and myths in which someone embarks on a quest against all odds to vanquish a foe of some kind and make the world a better place. Think Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings trilogy to get a sense of how this plays out.
According to Campbell and others, the hero's journey is so common because it plays into how we as humans use stories to understand our world. And according to Howell, the structure and flow of the hero's journey can and should inform businesses as they craft their own narrative and site, and how people communicate with their business peers.
Howell's 10-step approach to the perfect business story
To develop the ideal story arc, Howell recommended thinking about stories and sites like a three-act play, and then using that formula to follow the hero's journey and craft a larger narrative.
Act One is the introduction, setting the scene and introducing the main characters and themes.
Chapter One highlights where you've been, where you are now and where you're heading. This should be focused on your core audience and the industry at large, not on you or your business.
Chapter Two introduces the hero, aka your customer or audience. In this story, you and your business are the mentor, not the hero.
Chapter Three explains what's at stake, diving into goals and aspirations.
Chapter Four is the Call to Adventure. This is an exciting incident that jumpstarts the action. In a corporate sense, it can be a market disruption or other major paradigm-shifting incident.
Act Two is where the central conflict happens, where the antagonists are revealed and the main journey begins in earnest.
Chapter Five introduces the villain of the story. In the corporate story, the villain can be a competitor, or something else that inspires fear or dread like the unknown.
Chapter Six is when the mentor appears to provide strategic guidance and support. This is when you and your business finally appear in the picture. In Star Wars parlance, while your customer is Luke Skywalker, you are Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda.
Chapter Seven is the Road of Trials. This is the part of the story where you should explain precisely how you work with customers or peers to help them resolve their challenges.
Chapter Eight is when victory is close, and success is near. In your business story, customers should know the exact steps, however small, they need to go through before achieving real results. On the personal level, this is accomplished by spelling out the specific actions requested from peers.
Act Three is the resolution of the story.
Chapter Nine focuses on the moral of the story. This should stress what success feels like for the hero. In this chapter, your values and beliefs become fully intertwined with your audience's values and beliefs.
Chapter Ten, the final chapter, is where your story becomes fully shared with, and part of, your customers' stories. By the end of the story, buyers and listeners should feel compelled to tell the world about the story.
...too many don't get it totally right because they're afraid of highlighting any conflict
In a simplified manner, Howell recommended thinking And, But and Therefore (or ABT). Using "and" helps set the scene, using "but" helps to introduce the conflict, and using "therefore" provides a meaningful conclusion to the story. To see this in action, consider the chorus to the hit song by Carly Rae Jepsen, Call Me Maybe:
Hey I just met you
And this is crazy
But here's my number
So call me maybe
She doesn't directly sing "therefore" (too many syllables for a hit pop song) but the same core structure is there. It works for a hit single, and the same format will work for you and your organization.
On the surface, all of this can seem quite simple and straightforward. That's part of the point, as the story template is universal for a reason. But, too many don't get it totally right because they're afraid of highlighting any conflict, Howell noted. By letting go of their fears and fully embracing the power of the hero's journey, anyone can more effectively cut through the noise in the marketplace—and the conference room— and leave a lasting impact.
More from Blueriver
[Video] Storytelling, Digital's Most Disruptive Hack
So, what's the antidote? According to noted business storyteller and author Park Howell, it's the anecdote. By using our natural proclivity for storytelling, anyone can more effectively get their message across and be more effective in marketing, web development or anything else.
In this MuraCon keynote presentation, Park explains what make and effective story that sticks, and how to ensure the right story is told.
Storytelling Part 1 of 2: