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Marketing is all about storytelling — but is that a good thing?

August 27, 2013

Storytelling, or to use crazy marketing speak, “story-driven online content” is the buzz-word of the new internet. It isn’t an app, or a solution, it is the way to add content to the ever-expanding web. (It is also one of the reasons I was so excited to go and work at a University full of stories.)

The University where I work doesn’t advertise in the classical sense. We tell stories. Which is good because the future of ‘advertising’ online isn’t sending ads to people, it is sending relevant stories to the relevant people and engaging in conversations.

Consider the word storyteller. Prior to the Internet, marketing was designed around the word tell. Marketing is ‘telling’ the target market something. In higher ed, it could be facts about the school or outcomes of alumni. Incidentally, it could also be images and movies. Images tell very distinct stories.

But what if the web isn’t all about storytelling as much as starting a story and letting the correct people add to it?

On the social web, it’s important to start with a story, but it’s less important to keep the focus on telling. There’s a moment where the story shifts and becomes a conversation. Yes, that’s a buzz word, but as a guy who has spent the last 6 years watching conversations develop, I can vouch for their power to inform.

It is important to map out possible lines of conversation, to listen (or monitor) and  watch and see how the conversation unfolds. From there, add elements to it, keep it going,

But we have to start it. 

I don’t pretend to know what will come next, you never know what the people will say or post. However, the strategy to start with a story and then let it unfold to a planned outcomes is the winning the direction. Assuming the brand can jump into the conversation without appearing needy and confused or telling (or selling).

This isn’t easy. As soon as the conversation starts, the message has to go off script. That is one of the reasons people fear social and digital media. It’s the rare movie that works without a script. Stories usually have scripts – If they don’t, they aren’t called stories, they’re called conversations. Perhaps that’s why people like the term conversations.

The age of storytelling will be the end of banner ads and e-mail marketing. We need to tell stories, and get those stories in front of the correct people. Chances are it will be with a platform that allows them to respond.

This is a bunch of thoughts that are full realized. What do you think? Semantics? Storytelling?


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