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Advanced
Storytelling
for Marketers
Advanced
Storytelling
for Marketers
Hello!
Ed Shimp
Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers
Story
Story
Narrative
Account
A story is … a form of
communication that
is comprised of a
series of reactions
that take place over
time.
Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers
Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers
Change
Time
Story
=
Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers
Spectrum of Academic Disciplines
Subjective Objective
Religion Arithmetic
Marketing
Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers
I’m miserable. I wrecked my
car, my wife is leaving me, I
have four kids in college, and
I’m twenty pounds overweight.
CUSTOMER
SALES GUY
Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers
CUSTOMER
COMPASSIONATE
MARKETER
Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers
I hear you buddy. That’s rough.
Let me fix you up with a beer
and I’ll tell you about a guy who
had the same kind of problems.
CUSTOMER
GREAT MARKETER
Birds do it, bees do it,
even educated fleas do it.
Marketers should do it too.
Fall in love
with your prospects.
Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers
Daniel Starch, founder of market research.
Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers
Pythagoras
Thales
Early Greek Philosophers
The Sophists
Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers
Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers
The
Head
Nod
Socrates
Socrates
“I cannot teach anybody anything.
I can only make them think”
Plato
Plato
“Will he not fancy that the shadows
which he formerly saw are truer than
the objects which are now
shown to him?”
“Human behavior flows from
three main sources: desire,
emotion, and knowledge.”
"Nobody wants a 1/4-inch drill —
what they want is a 1/4-inch hole.”
—Theodore Levitt
Logic Emotion Desire
“The greatest thing by far is to have
a command of metaphor.”
Aristotle
Aristotle
Oedipus Rex
Opsis Melody
Theme
Dialogue
Action
Character
STORYTELLING RECIPE
Vista – Everything you can see.
Marketers
Aristotle
Everything you can sense.
Opsis
Singing of the story.
Marketers
Aristotle
The conductor of the program.
Melody
The personalities that
populated dramas.
Marketers
Aristotle
Brand.
Character
The script.
Marketers
Aristotle
The writing.
Dialogue
The moral.
Marketers
Aristotle
The message.
Theme
A series of reactions.
Marketers
Aristotle
A series of reactions.
Action
Rota
Fortunae
(The Wheel of Fortune)
Fear
Pity
Catharsis
PLOTLINE
CHANGE
Primary
Stasis
Inciting Incident
Climax
Point of
Release
Denouement
Anagnorisis
The dramatic
question is
raised here.
The dramatic
question is
answered here
and the theme
becomes apparent.
Point of
Attack
When the
monster is
dead, the
movie is over.
– Roger Corman
TIME
Secondary Stasis
Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers
EFFICIENT
Thank you!
linkedin.com/in/ed-shimp

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Advanced Storytelling Concepts for Marketers

Editor's Notes

  1. Advanced Storytelling for Marketers Ed and Ginger Shimp
  2. Hello! I’m Ed Shimp Award-winning freelance writer, narrator, director, educator, and story expert   Now I want to tell you a story. It’s a love story. It’s about a little 7-year-old boy. He’s in the back of a red 1970 Ford F-100. He’s going down a dirt road … in Bolivia … at midnight. It’s a little cold with the wind howling by, but the moon is out and he has his puppy, a little yellow lab. His scuffed-up Nike’s give him some purchase against the rusted-out bed of the truck but his puppy’s claws just slide across the metal bed. The truck’s shocks are for crap but he hangs onto the side of the pickup bed … and to his puppy.   OK. Where is the boy? Who is with him? What time is it?
  3. For many years now marketers have been told that they need to tell a story, but no one ever explains how to tell a story. The assumption is that because you’ve been consuming stories your whole life that constructing a great story should come naturally. But that’s very much like saying you’ve been listening to music your whole life so you should be able to compose a symphony. It doesn’t work like that. Now, I admit that you won’t leave here in 45 minutes and be able to construct an effective story, but you will gain some insight into how it’s done.
  4. However, the first thing we must do is decide what a story is. Any guesses? If you Google it, you find a story is a narrative (which isn’t technically accurate) and if you Google “narrative” it will say it’s an “account” and if you Google that it will say it’s a “story.” Not helpful.
  5. At its essence, a story is a form of communication that is comprised of a series of reactions that take place over time. It begins with an inciting incident, then a reaction to that incident, and then a reaction to that reaction, and so on, until the climax – the ultimate reaction – is reached. And importantly this series of reactions changes things over time. All stories require change over time.
  6. Consider this painting. Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. Is this a story? Well, it’s very evocative, so it could inspire a story, but if we go away for a few hours and come back, it’s going to look exactly the same. It isn’t a story because it does not change over time.
  7. By contrast, consider the movie, Die Hard (1988). In the beginning John McLean (played by Bruce Willis) is a nervous flyer carrying a stuffed teddy bear that he’s going to give his daughter for Christmas. If you stopped watching the film and came back two hours later, you would find that he has single-handedly killed a half dozen terrorists and a large office building surrounded by police, ambulances, FBI agents, helicopters and so on, has been set ablaze. Clearly things changed over those two hours. That’s a story.
  8. If change over time sounds like a math expression – it is. In the post-modern world it is easy to think that relevance comes from self-expression, but we will demonstrate today that there are pragmatic best practices in story construction.
  9. And neither this infographic nor this feature and benefits list are stories. They don’t change over time. They’re information. So, think about your marketing, your website or your blog or your entire marketing campaign. Are you really telling a story or are you just relaying information? Understand that there is a time and a place for both stories and information, but you need to understand the difference.
  10. Now, let’s consider where marketing sits on a spectrum of academic disciplines that ranges from the most subjective discipline you can imagine to the most objective discipline you can imagine. At the farthest point out on the objective end I’m going to put arithmetic because two plus two always equals four in everywhere in the world, and it can be proven in an infinite number of ways. On the subjective end I’m going to put religion, because it requires a complete willing suspension of disbelief. If you ask for proof about something religious, eventually you come to the conclusion that it’s a matter of faith. So, marketing is surely somewhere in between but is it more to the objective or subjective end? These days marketing is often about measurable things like ROI, and clicks, and impressions, and conversions and so forth, but undeniably there are aspects of writing, and art, and brand, and even purpose and inclusion involved. I believe that marketing should be right in the middle and marketers need competence in a wide range of disciplines. So, it’s not only in the middle, but takes up a large chunk of the middle. Further, when you think about the marketing funnel or the customer journey, it should begin on the subjective side and then over time slide to the objective side.
  11. These days there’s a lot of emphasis on those objective metrics at the expense of the subjective arts. You’ve done all sorts of market research, you’ve optimized for the search engine, you’ve buttoned down the customer profile, and you know exactly what the customer needs, even he, himself doesn’t uncertain. So why not just tell him that? Give him a price and a delivery date and get on with it. Because prospects need to be convinced. They need to be romanced.
  12. This brings us to the paradigm of the marketer’s bar. Imagine a man walks into a bar and he says, “I’m miserable. I wrecked my car, my wife is leaving me, I have four kids in college, and I’m twenty pounds overweight.”
  13. If a sales guy happens to be tending bar that night he’d say, “We have 5 beers on tap and 12 in the bottle. What do you want?” Sure, the man walked into a bar and bars sell beer, but what he really wants is a little compassion up front.
  14. Now suppose a compassionate marketer who understands the customer was working at the bar instead. He won’t go straight for the sale. Instead ...
  15. … He pulls out an infographic and says, “70% of accidents happen within ten miles of the home, there’s $1.3 trillion of student loan debt nationwide, 2 out of 3 adults are overweight, and 40% of marriages end in divorce.”
  16. However, a truly great marketer will say, “I hear you buddy. That’s rough. Let me fix you up with a beer and I’ll tell you about a guy who had the same kind of problems.” You have to start with a subjective approach and get to the objective infographic and price list later.
  17. Think of this as a romance. Moving prospects from the subjective to the objective takes time. It’s corny, but you need to the flowers and candy before you can move onto a more serious relationship. Courtship is Darwinian. For the species to survive, the peacock has to first shake his tail feathers at the peahen. It’s necessary for the survival of the species, and your brand.
  18. And note that complex communication is another Darwinian adaptation that is unique to humans. Other animals communicate, but humans are the only species that tells stories. It’s an essential part of being human and because of that, great marketers who tell great stories can reach their prospects on a primal level.
  19. Fun fact: Do you realize that the objective science of market research is only 100 years old?
  20. Other fun fact: we’ve been perfecting our understanding of the subjective philosophy of aesthetics for more than 2,500 years. We can and should judge writing and art. Some of it is better – more effective – than others. And while it would be instructive to talk about the entire 2,500-year history of communication, philosophy, and marketing, for now we’ll zero in on the ancient Greek philosophers. We appreciate that some people have a negative view of Western culture, but the fundamental observations of the ancient philosophers are instructive and not exclusive to Western culture.
  21. The earliest philosophers such as Thales or Pythagoras were interested in metaphysics. They attempted to discover the ultimate truths about existence, and they tried to prove things empirically. However, the meaning of life is beyond the scope of this presentation, so we’ll move on.
  22. The next group of ancient Greek philosophers was called the sophists, and they believed that truth was relative. One person might suggest that the temperature is hot, and another might say that it’s cold even though they were in the same room, and they could both be right. Thus, the sophists believed that having the most persuasive argument was more relevant than being right or wrong. In the same way, no product or service is right for every prospect, but for a marketer, being persuasive is essential. It’s worth noting that the sophists came on the scene as the Greeks were developing democracy and the need to train politicians to be persuasive was necessary.
  23. The art of persuasive communication is called rhetoric, and in its most basic form it works like this: You begin with a speaker – a marketer, or more accurately a rhetor. The rhetor has a message to deliver. And then there is a receptive audience – a prospect – to receive that message. The message flows from the rhetor to the audience through a medium and when the message is received – Bingo! – you have persuasive communication. Which is all very straightforward until something goes wrong.
  24. What if … your audience isn’t listening? What if you’re speaking the wrong language? What if it’s loaded with jargon or it ends up in their spam folder? What if they no longer work or live where you’re sending the message? What if it doesn’t come up in the search engine or it’s drowned out by pop-up ads.
  25. In the old days when there was bartering or door-to-door sales, there was a reliable method of knowing if your message was getting across – it was the head nod. If you send out your message and you get something like this back, you know you’ve put your message across. Today, in our modern technological world, your message goes out, but how do you know if they’re nodding on the other end? Of course, there are a lot of ways to track that with technology, surveys, clicks, customer feedback and so on, but that data should not be regarded as an end itself, but rather as a tool for refining the message. However, if you leverage the art of effective persuasion / storytelling you’ll have a significantly better chance of achieving a positive result.
  26. The next big philosopher was Socrates. He is sometimes considered a Sophist and was interested in the art of persuasion. Among other ideas, Socrates suggested that you cannot actually educate someone, but you can persuade them to learn. If you’ve ever raised a child, you’ll appreciate this. You can’t just tell them something; you have to make them understand – there’s a subtle difference. This is at the heart of the Socratic method. Rather than try to download knowledge into another person’s brain, it is more effective to ask leading questions that will allow them to discover the truth for themselves. Note that stories are also Socratic. At the core of every story is a central question. (e.g. Will the boy get the girl? Will the team win the game? Will the detective catch the murderer?) That central question will lead the audience to draw their own conclusion, which will be the message.
  27. The next philosopher is Plato, who was Socrates’ student. You’re probably familiar with the allegory of Plato’s cave. Plato made a distinction between “concepts” and “objects.” For example, an automobile is a machine with wheels, but the concept of an automobile is a mode of transportation. You market a concept, but you sell an object.
  28. This harkens back to the axiom that no one wants to buy a drill; they want a hole. Market the hole and sell the drill.
  29. Another Platonic concept that’s important to marketers is the “tripart soul.” Just as there is a distinction between objects an concepts, there is a distinction between the body and the soul. Plato suggested that the soul was in three parts and consisted of the head (logos), the heart (thymus), and the gut (eros). Thus, a marketer, through their art and their words, can make a logical appeal, an emotional appeal, or a visceral appeal.
  30. Plato’s student was Aristotle, who described many useful ideas for marketers, including how to tell a story. Aristotle wanted to “discover” the “rules” for good storytelling. If we believe that storytelling is Darwinian and those who told bad stories didn’t survive, then there must be innate rules for effective stories. So Aristotle wasn’t writing these rules but discovering them. It’s also important to note that Aristotle was writing for the benefit of the ancient Greek playwrights because this was the only form of mass communication back then. At the time, the Greeks would hold annual Dionysian harvest festivals, not unlike spring break or some of the art or music festivals we have today, and theatre would be part of that festival. Originally, theatre was more like a religious ceremony that preached at the attendees. Naturally, the drunken masses were not too interested in that, but in time the Greeks learned that if they put their morality lessons in the context of a story, they could get people to pay attention. The way stories work psychologically is that the audience will associate themselves with the actions of the central character, and thus they experience those actions vicariously.
  31. For example, let’s suppose for some strange reason you’re wondering what would happen if you killed your father and married your mother. You have two choices. You could kill your father and marry your mother or you could read Oedipus Rex and experience it vicariously, which is a lot safer because the end isn’t pretty. When you provide your prospect with a story, you’re giving them a vicarious experience – a chance to safely try your product or service.
  32. Aristotle also noted that all stories are made up of six elements that are like a recipe for storytelling. The dramatic elements are the ingredients. They are: Opsis, Melody, Character, Dialogue, Theme, and Action. Some people, including Aristotle, will rank order these elements by importance. Don’t do that. It’s like baking a cake. Flour might be the “main” ingredient but without the eggs or that teaspoon of salt, you don’t have a cake. Further, the whole is greater than the parts. You don’t eat the flour first, and then then the eggs, and then the salt. You consume all the elements at once.
  33. Opsis and melody, are production elements. They deal with the presentation of the story. These elements tangible and the other elements are conceptual. Aristotle didn’t talk about these elements a lot because they were about the staging of the play and he was focused on playwrighting. Opsis, is an obsolete word that has the same root as words like “optic” or “synopsis” and it means “vista.” Most people will translate it to the Latin word “spectacle” and write it off as the “wow” factor – fireworks, car crashes, glitter, sex appeal, etc. But Aristotle was clearly referring to all that you see on the stage. In the film world they refer to this as the mise-en-scène – the arrangement of everything you see in the frame. For marketer’s, it’s everything you see on the page or the screen, but we can take it even further, and say that it’s everything taken in by your senses. It’s what you see, and what you hear, but maybe if you’re handing out free samples, it’s what you taste, or smell or feel.
  34. Next, we have “melody” which in Ancient Greek was the “melic” (the singing) of an “ode” (a song) – the singing of a song or story. Again, most people take this very literally and assume Aristotle was talking about music. However, a closer examination puts more emphasis on the singing than the song. It is the pace, the rhythm, and the volume at which the content comes at you. It’s the performance of the story. In the film world this would be the editing. Marketers need to construe the delivery of their content as a performance. Whether it’s on a single marketing piece or an entire marketing program, you need to orchestrate how the customer consumes the content. And be mindful of the pauses and the white space. When might you refrain from delivering content? Do you send out an email every day or once a month? Marketers are the conductor of their marketing programs.
  35. Now we shift from the presentation elements to the actual content, and we look at character. Yes, we think of the people who populate books and films as characters, but originally, the term referred to a mark that a craftsman would put on their work (such a clay pot) to identify it as theirs. These marks are similar to letters of the alphabet and that’s why say there are “280 characters in a Tweet.” But these marks also established authenticity when you went to a market to do some trading. Thus, they became known as “trademarks.” However, in the livestock industry, these same kind of marks were called brands. Does that term sound familiar? Yes, Aristotle used the term character to refer to the unique personalities that populated stories, and yes, the people and products that you talk about in your content should be considered characters, but more broadly your brand is a character. When you say something is “off-brand,” you’re saying it’s out of character for the brand.
  36. Aristotle’s mentor, Plato, invented dialogue when he wrote the supposed conversations between Socrates and others. The term “dia” means between two things, and a “logue” is a collection of words. If you think about the rhetorical situation, these are the words that travel between the rhetor and the audience. There’s no point in describing here how important language is to marketers, but this element includes all of the best practices of grammar, linguistics, vocabulary, and composition.
  37. Theme may be even more important to a marketer than dialogue, but first let me tell you what theme isn’t. It’s not a party theme. We’re not talking about luaus or Halloween parties. A story’s theme is its message, and marketers always have a message to deliver. But be careful. Don’t confuse the theme with a call to action. “Click on this link,” is not a message – It’s not a theme. Further, themes must take a position on something. So you can’t just say the theme is “love” or “money.” What about those things? “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” or “Money is the root of all evil” those are themes. In marketing, slogans are frequently used as themes. “Nothing Runs Like a Deere,” or “Because you’re worth it.” Factual messages can be themes too, but you may have to be creative to make them compelling. “15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance.” That’s kind of boring, but it’s a theme. You may need a gecko character with some humorous dialogue to put that message across, but it can be done. Another important thing to remember is that you get one theme to a story. If you have more than one you’re in trouble. If you’ve got a list of bullet points, you no longer have a story, you have information. Many marketing efforts have gone down in flames because it didn’t have a focused message, or the marketer drifted away from the message. When you decide what your theme is, write it on a piece of paper and post it someplace prominent so you can maintain your focus.
  38. Finally, let’s talk about “action.” Many people will refer to this as “plot,” but that’s not the word Aristotle used and it’s inaccurate because there is a distinction between action and plot. Action is what causes a story to change over time. In fact, “reaction” would be a better term because every action in a story is a reaction to the action that came before it. That’s why actors always want to know what their motivation is; they need to know what they’re reacting to. And that’s why they’re called actors. The actions they take create change and move the story forward. For the record, a plot is a plan. Just as you would plot a crime, you can plot the action of a story. Originally, it was a medieval term that referred to measuring out a piece of land, such as a burial plot. This concept was then taken up by sailors who would plot a course, and mathematicians who would plot an algebraic equation. Well, it turns out that stories can be expressed as an algebraic equation too. As we’ve said change over time equals a story. So, yes, you could and probably should map out your marketing stories on a graph like this, and I would love to show you how, but we’re out of time.
  39. There are exactly 4 kinds of stories you can tell. This is the Rota Fortunae – or “Wheel of Fortune.” (This picture is a medieval representation of a Babylonian concept.) The central character’s fate is fixed to a wheel that the goddess of fortune spins and one of four things can happen. The guy on the left is like a young lover archetype. He begins the story in an unfortunate way at the bottom of the wheel and over the course of the story, his fortune rises. The lover gets the girl. At the top, you see the king. He’s fortunate at the beginning of the story and he remains fortunate at the end. On the right is a soldier – stalwart at first, his fortune falls, and at the bottom is a serf. He will be unfortunate at the beginning and end of the story. So those are the four plots. Either the fortune of the central character of a narrative rises, remains fortunate, falls, or remains unfortunate. And when you think about it, there are no other options. Here are some more modern examples . . . Harry Potter starts as a hated orphan boy and ends up saving the wizardly world. For marketers this could be something like a customer success story. Superman is powerful at the start of every episode and remains powerful to come back and save the world over and over again. For marketers this could be the story of a trusted product that has saved the day over and over again. Dr. Frankenstein begins as a brilliant well-respected scientist, but he has a tragic fall in his fortunes. For marketers this could be the story of the prospect that used a competitor’s product with inferior results. And the ever-hungry Wyl E. Coyote tries again and again to catch the Roadrunner, but his fortune never rises. For marketer’s this is about perennial problems customer’s face. Note that the unfortunate and rising fortune stories focus on customers, while the fortunate and falling fortune stories focus on products or solutions.
  40. Aristotle also said stories should evoke three emotions in order – pity, fear, and catharsis. In the first quarter of the story, you learn about and feel sorry for the central character. In the middle half of the story, you develop an empathetic fear that they won’t succeed. Finally, in the last quarter of the story, there is a vicarious catharsis – a release of emotion If you’ve ever been in the middle of a story and decide that you don’t care about any of the characters, it’s because there was no pity established at the start of the story. This happens to marketing stories too. This often happens with customer success stories. Marketers don’t take the time to evoke pity for the customer and instead jump right to the success. That’s not a great story because there is less change over time.
  41. A plot is not a story, it’s an outline – a plan for a story. Just as a map of Philadelphia is not the city of Philadelphia, a plot is not a story. And just as you would plot a crime, you can plot the action of a story. Originally, it was a medieval term for measuring out a piece of land, such as a burial plot. Then it was taken up by sailors who would plot a course and mathematicians who will plot an algebraic equation. Stories can be expressed as a sort of algebraic function too. First get some graph paper and create some axis. We will put “Time” on the X axis and “Change” on the Y axis because stories require change over time. You might wonder what will be changing over time. Well, it could be any of the elements except “theme.” The theme must be consistent throughout the story. Now suppose we already worked out the function for our plot and put the resulting curve in place. The first point at the origin the “point of attack.” It is the first instant of the narrative. It really is an instant in time – a point. Following the point of attack we have the primary stasis – or what I call ordinary life. The next thing on our plotline is the inciting incident. This is the thing that interrupts the ordinary life. It is often accompanied with words like “Then one day . . .” or “All of a sudden.” It is also important to note that this incident gives rise to a dramatic or central question. This is the question that drives the narrative forward. Will the boy get the girl? Will justice prevail? Will the knight slay the dragon? Will the hero find true happiness? This is followed by the rising action, which can have all sorts of things. It often starts with some training session with a mentor, but the hero can also encounter things like shapeshifters, threshold guardians, amulets or potions, secret maps, the bad guys lair, or all kinds of other things, but note that the tension continues to rise. Each successive incident creates an escalation of commitment for the hero and vicariously the audience. Next is the point of anagnorisis. Anagnorisis is a moment of critical discovery. This is a point of no return for the story’s hero. It is a point where the hero knows he will either win or lose, but the final battle has not been fought yet. He has all of the tools and experience necessary to answer that dramatic question, but has not done so yet. This is where the big battle scene begins. When people say, “cut to the chase,” that’s a movie term that means go to the point of anagnorisis. Notice that it can come very close in time to the climax, but it’s not the climax. The climax is the moment of greatest dramatic tension – the greatest change. It is also the point when the central question is answered, and the theme is revealed. The inciting incident creates asks the central question, and the climax answers the question and reveals the theme, so those things are all tightly connected. Those four pieces must work together. The great movie producer / director Roger Corman always tells his proteges “When the monster is dead, the movie is over.” This is great advice not just for narratives, but for life. When it’s done, it’s done. After the climax comes the denouement – French for the untying of things. We would call it tying up the loose ends but look how fast that drops off. If you have Hercule Poirot pacing around for thirty pages telling you things you should have put in the first half of the story you will bore the audience. Tie it up quick and be done. There is a little space for a secondary stasis – the new normal. It should really just be, “The end.” Or “High ho Silver Away.” Or “They lived happily ever after.” Or “the king is dead, long live the king.” And finally, there is the point of release. The last period in the last sentence, where your customer disengages.  
  42. You’re likely familiar with the project management good-fast-cheap paradigm which states that you can have any two things, but that it is impossible to have all three. When it comes to marketing communications, there is no point in tossing bad content out there because it’s ineffective and destroys the brand. And in today’s world everything moves at the speed of the internet, so fast content is pretty much mandatory. The default answer then is to throw money at the problem. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work either. Creativity – all acts of creativity – require time. You cannot bake a loaf of bread in three minutes by cranking up the heat, nine women working together can’t gestate a baby in a month, and you can’t play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in under 30 seconds no matter how good the orchestra is. It takes time to create good content and spending more money will not help.
  43. However, there is a way forward. You need to become more efficient. Yes, more money could mean you hire a team of creatives to work on a project, but that compounds the problem. It may not be faster if all those people don’t work together efficiently. You cannot bake a loaf of bread in three minutes, but a bakery can turn out 30 loaves of bread in the same time it takes to bake one. Marketers can turn out great content fast if they have superior knowledge about creativity, communication and aesthetics, and are capable of relating that knowledge to team members. It requires having a common language, a clear understanding of the objective, and the unbridled enthusiasm to get it done on time and on budget.