The importance of storytelling
Updated: Aug 24, 2021
Is it just me, or has everything in marketing, branding and advertising all of a sudden become all about storytelling? I don’t mean to be sarcastic, or flippant (or maybe I do, can’t quite work that out yet), but lately it appears that everyone is talking about storytelling as if it is some ground-breaking revelation, something we have just stumbled upon as the next earth-shattering consumer engagement concept. Every brand and marketing article literally scream: If you want to make an impact, and engage the consumer you need to have a story. This has appeared as the most touted, shiny new concept in marketing and advertising for the past two to three years, and counting.
Since when is storytelling a new concept?
Here’s a tip for young players – storytelling is as old as history itself, and it has always, always been a necessity for consumer engagement.
Storytelling is how we actually commenced communication. Back in the cave dwelling ages, thousands upon thousands of years ago, those little stick figures they used to scratch into the cave walls with the burnt ends of fire sticks - that’s right, that was storytelling - without words, but through images (they do say a picture speaks a thousand words, and this is what they mean). Then along came language, and oral stories, passed from generation to generation to keep traditions and cultural know-how, let alone survival anecdotes, alive.
But somewhere along the line, it appears that storytelling was relegated to the background. I remember reading Talk like Ted, and within one of the chapters was the tale of a forecaster/futurist who was struggling labelling herself, and her profession. Interviewed by a journalist, and explaining what her role as a forecaster entailed (still incredibly confusing to most), the journalist turned to her and said: Ok, I am going to refer to you in the article as a Storyteller.
The forecaster was less than impressed. Storyteller? It held negative connotations, it appeared to minimize the importance of the work she performed, the science and research behind it, not to mention the incredibly complex array of patterns and analytical hypotheses her work entailed. It also smacked slightly of lying - perhaps due to the modern-day adjunct with fairytales as stories.
Don’t tell tales – or don’t tell stories. (In clear text: Stop lying).
We’ve all heard that one, when we were being admonished for embellishing a truth, usually to get out of being in trouble…. No, only me?
But when the futurist really started to investigate the word “storytelling”, the semantics, the historical meaning, what it actually stood for - a communicator, a sharer of information, an account of past events and/or the development of something – it started to appeal. She decided she was proud to wear the mantle of Storyteller, and so it appears in the last few years, are so many others - if the title Storyteller, appearing in people’s professional profiles, is anything to go by.
I personally love that storytelling is getting the recognition it deserves. It is an incredibly important part of every brand, the cohesive narrative that weaves together the facts and emotions that a brand evokes, and it is a must for any product, and campaign, let alone person.
But new it is not.
Articles from 2019 and 2010, espousing the virtues of storytelling state how you must foster relationships through storytelling, as it humanizes your brand and develops trust, or emphatically express that businesses can no longer afford to be faceless, they need to connect with audiences, engage on a deeper level… and that’s where brand storytelling comes in. The bolder among them scream: Brand storytelling isn’t just important, it’s critical.
And I concur. Most emphatically. Yes. It is.
So why are we - as writers or storytellers - still defending our prices, our charges, our necessity, our profession, even our skill base?
Writing was - I dare say still is - often considered a soft skill. Relegated to the “creative arena”, whatever that means (actually I know what that means, generally less pay). But without writing, without a story - what is anything? And more importantly, why do people still not truly value - or at the very least understand - the extreme importance of storytelling (not just paying lip service, but putting their money where their mouth is).
So, in the “new” concept of without a good story you are nothing….
Once upon a time there was a brand that sold amazing potions, they called themselves Abracadabra. One day a customer visited the store where everything was laid out beautifully. Milling around the store, the customer surveyed the product, opened lids, tried out testers and smelt the amazing aromas.
Seeing the Store Manager at the cashier desk, they wandered over.
Why is it called Abracadabra? they queried.
It was the name they chose, answered the manager, as they busied themselves behind the counter.
The customer walked out, uninspired.
After a few weeks of no sales, the manager was fired, and a new recruit took up the position.
One day a customer walked into the store, looked at all the beautifully laid out product, opened jars, tried out the testers, and spent time smelling the various potions. The new manager approached, asking solicitously if they could help, or would they rather that they let the customer continue on their journey of discovery? (Ok I definitely made that bit up - but that is what I wished people would do).
Actually, replied the customer I was wondering, Why it is called Abracadabra?
Ah, replied the manager knowingly.
The name stems from the founder’s time in the desert sands of Arabia. They were trekking through the vast desert with a group of like-minded souls, on a journey of self-discovery, and one night under a velvet sky illuminated with stars, their guide pulled their camels into a dwelling, seemingly in the middle of nowhere in the undulating desert. Inside was a large room, dominated by a huge stone kitchen and a weather-beaten solid wood table strewn with desert flowers, all manner of plants, and an array of aromatic herbs. Around the table a group of women were weaving back and forth, creating myriad aromatic concoctions.
An old woman approached the group. Their guide translated for them: Tell her whatever ailment you have. She will fix it. No matter what the group came up with - chafed skin from riding for hours on end, wind-burnt cheeks from the abrasive sand, stomach aches from unfamiliar foods, burning eyes from the desert sun, wind-chill from the desert night… the old woman would silently hand over a cream, an oil, a tonic and watch them apply or drink it down.
As they felt the soothing relief, looking up at her in surprise and wonderment - Abracadabra, she would softly whisper. It was the only English word she knew.
So that Sir is why, when the founder decided to create these beautiful organic products from long-whispered recipes that have stood the test of time, she called it Abracadabra, in honour of that wonderful old woman.
And when you buy any of the range, you are supporting that exact same group of women and their descendants that she herself encountered in the desert all those many nights ago, as proceeds from each product go to supporting their work, their families, and keeping their community - and ancient secrets - alive.
The customer walked out with a big bag full of magic potions.