Back to insights

If you’re not telling stories, you’re not storytelling

By Chris Butterworth

Storytelling. If you’re in marketing, it’s a term you’re probably hearing just about everywhere. You may even be using it yourself.

If you are, stop it because 99% of what it’s used to describe aren’t stories at all. They’re just marketing assets under another name. YouTubers sharing what’s going on in their lives aren’t stories. They’re video diaries. Infographics full of graphs and figures aren’t stories. They’re graphic design. And that’s fine. Just don’t mistake it for storytelling. The designer Stefan Sagmeister has strong views on this.

Stories unfold over time. They take you on a journey. They tantalise and entertain. And they endure. We still know the biblical stories, Beowulf or Homer’s Odyssey thousands of years later. The census stats of Troy circa 2000 BC spring less readily to mind.

Storytelling definitely plays a key role in marketing. And particularly in B2B where products can be esoteric and facts overwhelming. By using stories, businesses can make inherently complex ideas both human and understandable. GE and Adobe are two notable examples of using storytelling in its true form.

Video is the prime medium of true storytelling in marketing. In effect, these are TV or cinema ads that, thanks to the internet, can be shown without heavy investment in paid-for media.

Which got me thinking. Are there any other opportunities for storytelling that digital platforms have opened up?

Well, here are two interesting examples that I’ve recently stumbled across.

If you’re not telling stories, you’re not storytelling

The first is Shield Five. It’s a crime drama done in 15 second Instagram videos – one released every day over a month. In between the videos are stills posts that fill in the background details to the story and characters. The creative discipline required to tell a wide-ranging story through 15 second clips while still building characters and tension is admirable.

If you’re not telling stories, you’re not storytelling

The second is an untitled story that is unfolding on Reddit (warning: NSFW). Posted via the user ID 9M9H9E9, the story is delivered in instalments as comments on random posts across the whole website. It’s designed to be discovered and stitched together (although even when it is, it’s pretty strange!). It’s a technique that has taken it viral across the Reddit community.

If you’re not telling stories, you’re not storytelling

Of course, the one that’s getting everyone excited is VR. One of the best examples I’ve seen is from The Mill and Google. Called Help, it’s the story of an alien landing terrorising downtown NYC. VR is, by nature, incredibly immersive which obviously improves the user’s experience of the story. However, on most of the VR storytelling I’ve seen so far, the action still happens in a fixed point of the 3D space. So although you can explore the rest of the scene, it’s not adding to the story itself. I’m sure someone will investigate this soon.

These examples show that digital can add another level of interaction to storytelling. If there are any others you’ve come across, I’d love to hear about them.

So storytelling is an essential tool. Not just for entertainment but for B2B as well. Just as long as you really are telling stories.

We are the digital experience company for business brands.

In today’s connected world, experience is brand.

So we help you create better experiences for your customers, employees, partners and stakeholders. Ones that work in empathy with them to achieve their goals, engage and delight them, and build brand loyalty.