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The secrets of storytelling

Posted by Octopus Group - August 9, 2016

“People don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.”

Jonah Berger, Contagious


Every day we are confronted with thousands of pieces of information. The news, social media, written, video and pictorial content – all of it is trying to tell us something. And the competition to cut through is increasingly fierce.


I believe that the secret to creating a message that people will hear and remember is storytelling. Simply because by giving your audience a reason to care about your message you stand a greater chance of getting them to engage with it and, crucially, act on it.


But storytelling isn’t easy. And it’s not necessarily quick. For brands to make stories work they have to know why people tell them, how they work and who’s good at spinning a yarn.


Just give me the information!


The quote at the top of this blog comes from a writer and academic who I think perfectly defined the need for stories.


By telling a story I am trying to get across a piece of information in a compelling way. Because if I do it right, the people who read, hear or watch my story will feel or do something.


Understanding that is important for a storyteller working in any medium. But it’s absolutely essential for brands, who more than anyone else depend on their audience ‘getting’ the information they are putting out.


Of course, there is an argument to say that people want information on its own. We’re time poor and salient facts are easier to digest without a load of narrative around them. However, that’s like giving people the 15 pages that make up the end of a book, without the 285 that preceded it. They might have a passing interest in those 15 pages. But will they care about them? Probably not.


That’s where storytelling makes the difference in how people consume and engage with information.


The nuts and bolts of a story


Stories thrive on structure. On a beginning, middle and end, with motivation, thesis and antithesis.


In his book Into the Woods John Yorke talks a lot about structure, and the common shape present in so many stories that people engage with (regardless of whether the teller is John Lewis or John Updike):


Flaw > Challenge > Resolution


Think about that for a second. How many stories do we find built around that basic structure?


It’s certainly in Macbeth, where we have a man who is unhappy with his station in life and wants to be king (flaw), the drive to do it (challenge), and his eventual failure and unravelling (resolution).


But it’s also in the X Factor, where we’ve got the idea that the world needs a great new singer with something no one else has (flaw), the journey to find that elusive person (challenge), and the eventual failure and unravelling (resolution).


Who’s telling it?


Today we can find stories anywhere, from the back of a wine bottle to a billboard.


That’s because brands understand the value of stories is their ability to turn passers-by into prospects, prospects into customers and customers into advocates. Brands love to promote their story, through a variety of mediums. Yet for the same reason autobiographies are invariably less interesting than biographies, they’re not always the best people to tell it.


When the subject is so close to the subject matter their vested interest means they can lose a bit of perspective and honesty. Not to mention potentially the most interesting part of their story.


By engaging a third party to tell a story, brands get someone who has the necessary distance to think about where the most compelling angle is, and to talk about the information with meaning, honesty and passion.


That’s why agencies exist. And it’s why agencies tell stories.


Think it’s time to tell your story? Talk to us at Octopus Group:

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