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November 22, 2017

Melissa Baratta


Senior Vice President

I recently had the opportunity to do a quick, 36-hour trip to New York City to attend a Storynomics seminar. While I got to enjoy wandering the streets of Chinatown upon my arrival, finding a hole-in-the-wall dumpling restaurant and trekking to an Instagram-famous fro-yo shop, the real highlight of my trip was learning a new perspective to the art of storytelling from renowned screenwriting and brand communication expert, Robert McKee.

The primary focus of the traveling Storynomics seminar series is to teach marketers how to apply “story form” and “purpose-told story” in business communications – whether through advertising, brand messaging, or even internal communications.  While I learned so many valuable takeaways from this day-long event, I wanted to share three notable themes that McKee touched on throughout the seminar in order to help you understand the most important components of a compelling story, and how to use the power of story to build connections with your audience in order to drive them through the buyer’s journey.

Stories Do Not Equal Narratives

Before attending this seminar, it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to use the terms “story” and “narrative” interchangeably. But as McKee pointed out, “all stories are narratives, but not all narratives are stories.”

What does he mean by that exactly? Narratives are typically an accumulation of facts, data points, etc. aligned in chronological order – they follow a flow of “and then… and then… and then.” A story, on the other hand, is the result of people pursuing what they want, combined with information of the difficulties experienced along the way. Data and facts are still valuable parts of a story, as they tell us what has changed, but stories go beyond that – they tell us the how and the why.

This concept can be especially confusing to those in the business world. McKee mentioned that often when he speaks with CEOs, he asks them to tell him the story of their business. Instead of a story, CEOs tend to respond with a narrative – outlining the organizational chart, highlighting key business milestones, etc. Instead, he suggests companies use these data points to support their business story – which would articulate the how and the why behind the formation of the company, its growth and its future.

EXAMPLE: The following IBM ExperienceOne ad uses facts, but it doesn’t necessarily show the “how” and the “why” behind its platform, which is why it would be classified as a narrative vs. a story.

 Stories Must be Dynamic

To tell a purposeful story, the core character (the brand, the customer, the product) must face an inciting incident that throws everything off balance. This disruption, whether negative or positive, is what hooks an audience’s curiosity and makes them ask “how will this turn out?”

A compelling business story can’t solely rely on the positives – it must also offer a negative that incites some sort of reaction so that a positive outcome can be achieved. This can be a hurdle for marketers, as most of us are taught to downplay negatives and highlight positives. But, if you’re only giving an audience the positive outcomes, you’re missing a huge opportunity to hook your audience.

EXAMPLE: Google’s annual recurring “Year in Search” ads do an excellent job of balancing the highs and the lows of events that transpired in the previous year. Although they aren’t necessarily telling their own brand story, they are using the power of story to build the audiences’ affinity with its brand – see below:

Successful Stories Emotionally Connect

To drive an audience to action, it’s not enough to just show the journey between inciting incidents and the struggle to return to balance. The story must also connect to the emotions of its intended audience. If an audience is able to empathize with the protagonist of the story, they will become emotionally invested in the outcome, and more likely to be inspired to make the change or support the underlying message intended by the purpose-driven story.

During the seminar, McKee shared a number of ad examples from brands that successfully leverage the power of story to communicate with their targets audiences. The following short film advertisement from DSM does a great job of incorporating each of these themes in order to build a purpose-told story.

This example exemplifies the story arc that organizations should follow when communicating its brand’s story to a target audience. Imagine if this ad didn’t start with negative inciting incidents, and instead only highlighted the positive endings. Or, imagine if instead of explaining the “how” and the “why” behind its inciting incidents, the ad only relied on facts and data points to layout the narrative. There’s no doubt that it would have been much less inspirational and less engaging.

You don’t need to necessarily create a short film to have the same impact of DSM’s ad – you simply need to know how to frame your narrative, and how to use dynamic and emotive storytelling to effectively communicate your story, intended message and overall value. Once you have a story-fied and cohesive message, you can then use this message throughout media relations, content marketing, social media, marketing and so much more! In doing so, you’ll be able to more effectively create relationships and meaningful connections with your target audience, building a more loyal customer base for years to come.

Need help articulating your brand story? Alloy’s Uncommon Crew messaging and branding experts use the aforementioned tools and more to ensure that you are telling the stories that matter most to your target audience. You can read more about how compelling content truly helps to #MakeNews and #DriveLeads or contact us to learn how to schedule your brand’s next messaging session!