The Storytelling Problem

“We think in pictures. We remember in stories.”

Cindy Krum, Mobile Marketing: Finding Your Customers No Matter Where They Are

Thanks to the respiratory flu and plenty of over-the-counter medication, I’ve had an unplanned opportunity over the past two weeks to slow down and reflect on this blog. I used this time to really question what value I could deliver to you, the reader, through this blog. My big hairy audacious question, while under the influence of Dayquil, became: How could I move beyond “just another WordPress blog” to provide helpful content – content that would improve your day job – over the next 14 days?

In my fever-induced stupor I concluded that as an economist at heart, what I could bring to the table would be the discussion of production and consumption (my Twitter handle is @produceconsume) of the value created, delivered, and consumed through emerging media.

Emerging Media & The Market (IMC 619), as you’ll remember, is the focus of the fantastic class I am currently taking through West Virginia University’s Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) Master’s program. In our first lesson, we learned that emerging media tactics are now key components of the IMC approach, complementing ongoing efforts by focusing on creating sustainable engagement that allows us to

1. Talk to & connect with consumers
2. Create conversation
3. Amplify the discussion
4. Stimulate sharing
5. Redirect negative comments
6. Drive brand recommendations

And in order to achieve this desired engagement, we have a menagerie of digital tools that we can pick and choose from to deliver the most important aspect of new media content – INFORMATION.

More times than not the discussion of emerging media centers on the latest and greatest techno tools. What are they? How do we access customers via these tools? How do consumers use them? What technology powers the tools? In fact, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed by or even lost in these conversations. Many panic fearing they can’t use them all or that they’ll use the wrong technology or that it will be outdated before they get the hang of it.

Granted these conversations are both exciting and equally full of anxiety and consequently receive quite a bit of press. How do we use smart phone apps to engage TV viewers on the second screen? How do we use gamification to impact health behavior? Or how do we use short films to tell incredibly gripping (and viral) stories? But the excitement can stop dead in its tracks if we don’t have a compelling story to tell and we *gasp* don’t know how to tell it.

And thus this becomes the focus of this post… the problem with storytelling, or perhaps, the storytelling problem.

Held up at home with Kleenex in one hand and hand sanitizer in the other, I used my “down time” this past week to follow Social Media Week via Livestream and Twitter. For those of you unfamiliar with Social Media Week, #smw12 (the chosen 2012 global Twitter hashtag) describes its purpose as:

Reflecting the global impact of social media – and its role as a catalyst in driving cultural, economic, political and social change in developed and emerging markets – Social Media Week is one of the world’s most unique global platforms, offering a series of interconnected activities and conversations around the world on emerging trends in social and mobile media across all major industries.

While there was an incredible diversity of presentations – from What Real Time Marketing Really Takes to Who Owns this Sh#t Anyway to Leveraging Gamification to Drive Engagement – every Livestream presentation I joined online (and out of germ-sharing range) shared a recurrent theme – the power of storytelling. Expert presenters emphasized time and time again how important it is to tell a good story, or better yet, a great story. While they used new words like “curation” and “transmedia” to discuss technique and process (we’ll talk about these over the next few days), the fundamental need for great storytelling – that need for cultural connection since the beginning of time – used words we’re all familiar with and need to re-engage in our own marketing communication efforts.

Perhaps storytelling is a lost art. Or perhaps listening is the lost art. Or perhaps both are true and the lack of patience is the story killer.

We’ve become so focused on productivity and consumption that “art” feels like a waste of time. Even though break-through creativity is demanded now more than ever to raise the brand voice above the incredible amount of noise that we hear daily, we seem to dismiss the time, effort, and energy (and yes, people power) it takes to create the art of the story. We want results yesterday. We want ROI now. We must produce faster. But as human beings, you know, the consumers critical to the production and consumption process, are we processing differently? Are we no longer impacted by stories? If you were to return to Social Media Week and watch even a handful of the presentations, the answer would be a resounding “No!”

We as a people still process information in basically as we have since the beginning of time. We think in pictures. We remember in stories.

Storytelling in Real Life

With each post I’ll add a favorite example of story as told in real life. For this post, I’ve chosen General Electric (GE) Stories: Healthcare. While viewing this story, think of how GE has created a story, a deeply impactful story that connects some of the mystery of what GE does with the real lives of the people that GE and its employees impact through their work.


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