Talking Content Marketing looks at the importance of storytelling with Anthony ‘Tas’ Tasgal.
Tas is author of The Storytelling Book and trainer for organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) specialising in Storytelling, Behavioural Economics and Insightment. He is also a lecturer at London College of Communications, Bucks New University, Nottingham Trent and Beijing Normal University Zhuhai.
He is also a Trustee of the Phoenix Cinema, the oldest continuously running cinema in the UK.
Six questions on the role of storytelling within our businesses. What do we need to know? lets go!
Why do businesses need to tell stories?
Because consumers, or people as I like to call them, like dealing with people. It is an endemic fault within the business (marketing, sales, and comms) world to assume that we need to use the language of maths, science and rationality to ‘persuade” people to buy our brands, service or company.
Story is liberating and (more importantly) it works without us even knowing, because it has little to do with what Behavioural Economics calls System 2 (the slow, rational, calculating part of the mind) but operates on the emotional, instinctive level of System 1 and it is universal.
Story makes us feel, story makes us care. Most businesses need to appreciate that rather than trying to message their consumers, customers and suppliers into submission we should massage their sense of self worth and impression management by making them feel good about themselves.
Do people know how to tell a story (in their personal lives), just not very good at it when it comes to business?
Absolutely yes. We are as a species hard-wired to be super-social and share information through the medium of storytelling. We learn about our universe, the world, our place in it, our tribe and our faith through story: this is something that we don’t have to be taught, as it comes pre-loaded. There is not a culture, race or tribe that does not have some form of storytelling culture.
Most humans – and I realise I am on controversial ground here – do not have an operating system that is designed to run Excel or PowerPoint.
The problem comes when we start working in “business”. Then we come under the provisional wing of what I term the “arithmocracy”, a system that believes in “safety in numbers’ and that messaging people with repetitive campaigns based on steroidal media strategies is the way to encourage purchase and loyalty.
I see it as part of a bigger issue to do with restoring the primacy of emotion to business in general.
Where would you suggest a business needs to start if the plan is to have a clear narrative with an audience?
You can do worse than to start at the very beginning (it’s a very good place to start, as someone once sang). Most company stories have something that is equivalent to what is known in the trade as a “creation myth” or “origin story”.
Many companies have in their foundation a tale of a hero, a vision, a challenge, a series of obstacles and a central conflict: think of Apple, (see the “Steve Jobs” movie, currently showing at the Phoenix Cinema, East Finchley).
Otherwise, the marketing basics still apply- find a role, a place, a need, a UHT (Universal Human Truth) – but make sure you use Storytelling techniques to communicate them and not bleed the life-blood and humanity out of it as most companies tend to.
Does a story have to be factually true? Or is it better to be believable (true to the company)?
Believability or credibility is essential: think how many stories work for us that on further analysis look implausible and silly but seem to have their own internal storytelling truth which overrides this.
But I don’t see it as a dichotomy. Be very careful about “factual truth’: there are ways you can manipulate truth (again witness how Hollywood plays with the truth) but this can never be a licence to be wilfully dishonest. In this age of 24/7 transparency, the truth will always out and companies that ignore this will be found out and pay for it.
Are there examples of businesses (from your perspective) who are doing it well?
Some very obvious ones spring to mind, which take purpose, cause and vision and tell human stories off them.
I have always loved IKEA’s approach to its brand and culture: from “chuck out your chintz” to their campaigns in the US, they emphasise the founding values of Ingvar Kamprad in wanting to democratise design and bring the brand (and advertising) into people’s everyday lives.
Virgin started as the vehicle for Branson’s values and he still appears as the embodiment of the brash, British and cheeky company he started. I may not know what the message of Virgin is, but I can certainly appreciate its feel and personality.
A campaign I worked on a few years back for the Bahamas Tourism Office in the UK eschewed the usual travel and tourism clichés of blue sky, sea and imported 27 year old Floridian models waking hand-in-hand in favour of letting people from each of the main islands tell their own stories. It was the most successful campaign they had down in years.
Jack Daniel’s is another beautiful example of using a brand’s history, heritage and “foundation myth” to mine a very long and deep storytelling campaign. It gives it a distinct and powerful sense of the man behind the brand: what I especially love about it is that it often uses small, unexpected details rather than the more usual grandiose gestures.
I could also talk about Innocent, Apple or Specsavers, but maybe another time.
How can storytelling help improve our presentations?
In a similar way, the arithmocracy has a favoured way for presenting: lots of information, a litany of data and ‘one damn chart after another’.
A large part of the book is concerned with undoing most of the damaging defaults of this approach and encouraging us all – from students, to teachers explaining Key Stage 4, to marketing, sales and research professionals presenting data or recommendations – to understand the learnings of Behavioural Economics and make our presentations more emotionally loaded so they become more memorable and compelling.
Massaging rather than messaging, again.
A couple of examples.
The brain needs coherence and consistency, so we need to create a “Golden Thread” for our presentations, which traces the path to and from our central insight or recommendation. It allows our brains to feel like it is being accompanied on a journey and know here it is and where it is going.
And we need to appreciate the value of surprise. One of the six universal human emotions, surprise has immense evolutionary advantages as it prepares us for anything that might threaten evolution’s key imperative: that we survive and thrive to propagate our genes. So ensure that your presentation has something genuinely surprising in it.
Together with other hints from storytelling, this is more likely to engage the audience and avoid falling into “attention spam”, the 99% of material which is filtered by the unconscious because it doesn’t think it worthy of bringing to the attention of the conscious mind.
Massive thanks to Tas for sharing his storytelling insights and taking time out to put his thoughts to the project. Why not connect and find out more from his side.
Tas on Twitter: click here
The Storytelling Book: click here