Recently, I watched a webinar from Free Range Studios called “Lessons in Brand Storytelling from Winning the Story Wars.” Jonah Sachs, author of “Winning the Story Wars” and CEO of Free Range Studios offers some incredible advice on maintaining a brand image as “an unfolding story with its audience” in the new “digitoral” landscape. As an aspiring author with chronic writer’s block, I was particularly interested in this concept of representing a brand as a story. It never occurred to me that brands should think of themselves as stories, but Sachs makes a great argument. Back before print, we had to rely on an oral tradition to pass on stories. In this tradition, the audience decided what stories survived and added to the story, passing it on to future generations. Only the fittest stories survived, as Darwin would agree. Then, the broadcast era came around and big companies could pay big bucks to throw their messages in your face. We had no choice what messages we saw. We had no control over what stories we were part of, let alone the outcome of the story.
We are still constantly bombarded with media. There are advertisements in every place imaginable, whether on terra firma or in the digital landscape. There are now advertisements in the middle of especially long Youtube videos (That’s right. I’m calling you out Youtube.) Yes, the video actually pauses so that you can watch another ad similar to the one you watched just before the video, all based on your browser history.
It is interesting to be amongst the first generations to fully realize the impact that social media has had. We were brought up in time of rapidly changing technology. Our generation got to see social media explode to its current level. It has almost seamlessly crept into every aspect of our lives. This is because it is only natural. We all want to fit it and be accepted. This is why we are now in the dawn of a new oral tradition; also know as the “digitoral” era. People who were once merely consumers now have the power to be players in the media realm. Sachs claims that in order to survive, brands must treat all of their “touch points” (facebook, twitter, instagram, etc.) as the surface of their stories. These are the characters that make up your story and setting it is in. Good brands will connect with their audience members’ values through the story. But what types of stories will survive in this new “digitoral” world?
One story archetype that has seemed to stand the test of time is the Hero’s Journey. Aha. Yes, of Course. Everyone knows the Hero’s Journey (Trust me, you know this). An outsider (Neo in the Matrix) knows that there is something wrong in the world, but is not deeply connected with his values and doesn’t think that he can change anything. Then, a mentor (Morpheus, in his cool, clip-on glasses) comes along to guide the outsider to an ultimate destiny. The mentor may give the outsider a magic item or power (Neo has pretty awesome powers) to him/her to become the hero. Then, the hero rights the wrong in the world, connecting himself more deeply to his values. Humans resonate with the Hero’s Journey because it meshes us into society. It gives us a sense of purpose. Using this methodology, Sachs offers five tip for brands to win the story wars:
1. You are not the Hero. Companies like to make themselves appear better than the rest. Sometimes they promote inferiority amongst consumers to get them to buy something. In the new landscape, brands should stray away from these tactics. We want to portray the audience as the hero and let them shape their own story. So start treating your audience more like Luke Skywalker and less like Jar-Jar Binks.
2. Unleash your inner Yoda. If you didn’t catch that last Star Wars reference, you should at least catch this one. Become the mentor. Give your audience a goal. Give them a dream. Give them a destiny.
3. Mushy stuff aside, you should be a vehicle for values. What kind of values do your audience hold as most important. Let your audience share their values through your story.
4. Share something that matters. Simple enough. Find something that is relevant to your audience. What do you want your brand to stand for? Share this through your story.
5. Be a freak…or a cheat. Things that are different or go against the norm intrigue people. So be different or rebel against the “system”
Sachs has quite a few interesting concepts in this webinar and I think that the implications are profound, especially for our generation. We finally have the power to craft our own messages. We are finally the storyteller once more. What story will we tell?
Below is a link to the webinar: