Marketers are hearing a lot about “storytelling” these days. We’re told that the world is changing, engaging with customers and prospects is an always-on proposition, the brand isn’t a monologuist or — even worse — a pitchwoman swooping in for the hard-sell but rather a kind of tribal shaman weaving stories, stories, stories . . . and it occurs to me it’s a good point to hit the pause button on the DVR and ask, “What is a story, anyway?”
Before 2010, Google didn’t even register meaningful traffic for searches on “marketing” combined with “storytelling” — but, as you see, that’s changed:
So what’s a “story”? It’s an emotional journey that is primarily relational. “Relational” is a term sociologists and theologians use to mean “among people.” And it’s culturally conditioned. In the U.S., stories generally require a single protagonist with whom we identify; her changing relationships determine our emotional journey through the story. Other cultures feature group protagonists.
The biggest story business around is Hollywood, and it’s refined “storytelling” down to a science. For better or worse, there’s a formula. Herein, I reveal this secret formula — not so secret, actually, since it’s the subject of books, seminars, lectures, U.S.C. courses and Gartner blog posts. The following is my own version, developed during a misspent youth trying to break into the business.
Numbers are minutes — assuming a 120 minute movie (2 hrs):
0-10 — Hero’s ordinary life is shown
10 — Something happens to upset this life (“inciting incident”)
20 — Hero sets up his team
30 — Stakes rise to life and death; either Antagonist does a terrible thing or Hero does something stupid
40 — Hero and Antagonist spar and Hero seems to win; Antagonist vows revenge
40 & 80 — Change of scene; often literally a shot of the sun rising (new Act begins)
40-60 — A lull in the action when the Hero is given emotional depth
60 — Big physical event that causes a “reversal” — Antagonist hits out of the blue and an all-out war is declared
80 — Another confrontation where the Hero (this time) seems to lose
90 — Betrayal — the “Judas moment” — all the secrets are revealed at this point, with a person close to the Hero shown to be evil
100 — Hero has an actual or emotional near-death experience
110 — Final confrontation; Hero (of course) wins
That’s a story. You’re welcome.
Now, what can marketers learn from this? A few important elements come to mind:
- Protagonist — we the viewer (consumer) needs someone to identify with
- Relationships — stories are human; they can not contain only products, puppies, or pictures; they must involve people in relationship with other people
- Antagonist — if there is no conflict, there is no story; this is difficult to translate into brand terms, where marketers want to stay positive; but if there are no challenges in sight, what you’re doing may be marketing, but it’s not storytelling
- Scene Changes — Stories need signals to demarcate different sections; there needs to be a shift in emotional levels, or there is no journey
- Secrets — All good stories withhold information from the protagonist (us) and challenge our assumptions, firing up a natural sense of curiosity that engages us as we wonder “What are they hiding?”
What do you think marketers can learn from Hollywood? Anything?