Eric Karjaluoto

Storytelling or Story Making?

Whenever folks in the industry start repeating the same word, I tend to think something’s wrong. In fact, I often treat such behavior as a guide for what not to do. “Storytelling” is most certainly one of those words.

Storytelling is a funny notion, in part, because most marketers are so terribly bad at it. That’s not really their fault, though. Narcissistic owners, nervous managers, and serious legal teams are all adept at squelching good stories. And no wonder—they all have a lot on the line. But, that’s not actually the point of this discussion, is it?

Want to get past storytelling being just another line item in your résumé or services list? Well, that’s tough—because the stories people want to hear typically aren’t the ones you want to share. Want the front page of your local newspaper? No problem! Light the place of fire. There you go: instant press! (Aren’t you glad you read this blog?)

Of course, there are good stories you can tell without resorting to arson. Maybe you made a huge mistake and somehow rectified it. Perhaps you are obsessed with something that everyone else finds peculiar. You might have discovered something surprising, no one else even realizes. Or, could be that you took an uncommon path to where you are today. None of these are great examples of prospective stories; however, they’re all more viable starting points than, “we started in 1983, and we’re passionate about x.”

Nevertheless, none of this gets us past the obvious problem with most brand storytelling: you’re just taking about yourself. How exciting do you find this in real life? Tell me the truth. Do you enjoy going for dinner with people who only talk about what they do? Didn’t think so.

Want to truly engage people in stories? Help them find a story they can tell! The audience at The Vancouver Aquarium’s 4D theatre get splashed. Upon leaving, attendees all tell this story to friends. Diners at Chicago’s Wiener’s Circle get berated when they order their hot dogs. You can bet they talk about that. Some people go to a microscopic (and otherwise entirely forgettable) American outpost called Hyder, and get Hyderized. They’ll not only tell you this story, they might even sport a t-shirt to commemorate their “achievement.”

Maybe what I describe above isn’t about storytelling. Fair enough—those aren’t common stories pitched by their brand/PR departments. That said, I think the people behind these experiences help make stories—and that’s something. The story someone tells about their experience with your brand is infinitely more powerful than the “stories” you put in your brochure.

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