The Real Definition Of “Story” – And Why It’s Important To Marketers

“Story” and “storytelling” have become buzzy.
Really buzzy.
Buzzy to the point where the buzz is louder than the words themselves. A meaningless hum in a cluster of identical honey bees.
So I have a question for you:

What is the definition of the word “story”?

Do you know? How would you explain it in your own words?
I’ll give you a second…
The Real Definition Of “Story” – And Why It’s Important To Marketers
…OK, time’s up.
I ask because it’s important. As marketers, we should know what the words we use mean.
Seems obvious, right? But when I see the words “story” and “storytelling” thrown around so often, I begin to wonder if anyone is paying attention.
And we should be paying attention. Because “story” has a pretty interesting definition.
definition of the word story from dictionary.com, important to marketers
(source: dictionary.com
What I find most interesting about this definition is simple:

It focuses on the hearer or reader. It does not focus on the teller or the writer.

This is a small yet critical point. A story is all about pleasing the audience.
A story is not about the teller’s ego or agenda. It is all about the intended response of the hearer or reader.

A story belongs to its audience.

So if we’re going to talk about “stories” and “storytelling” in marketing, let’s be real.
A press release announcing your latest news or greatest achievements is not a story.
A blog post recapping your volunteer work is not a story.
A case study of your recent work is not a story.

That’s propaganda.

definition of the word propaganda, by google, for marketers
(source: Google

So which are you producing – stories or propaganda?

Ask yourself these questions to find out:

  • Does it put your audience first? Are you focusing on helping your audience with an important need? Are you making your customer the hero of your story?
  • Does it demonstrate real impact? Are you sharing information that shows how you’re doing work that is meaningful to your audience (not simply your bottom line)?
  • Does it make it easy for your audience to connect? Are you providing your audience with both rational and emotional reasons to believe in and connect with your story, and adopt it as their own?
  • Does it put information into bigger context? Are you bringing facts and statistics to life by explaining them to your audience in a way that makes sense in the context of their own wants and needs?

If what you’re producing and sharing does these things, congratulations story master.
If not, it’s time to rethink your tactics, sergeant.

So the next time you sit down to develop a “story”, be honest with yourself.

Understand your own motivations. Then see if you can shift those motivations to make them meaningful from your audience’s perspective.
If you can’t, it’s OK. Business has to be done.

But please, don’t call it a story.

I want to hear from you on this. Do you agree with this take on “story”, or do you think the words can and should take on a different meaning for branded storytelling? Chat me up in the comments or over on Twitter and Google+

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