“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort” – Opening sentence of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
For thousands of years humans have been sharing the experience of life through stories. Before the “invention” of written language they were told orally by memory, perhaps around a fire. Storytellers held an esteemed position within communities and were relied on to carry forward the history of a culture. The first printed story was a poem called the Epic of Gilgamesh and was carved onto stone pillars for all to see. Eventually the written word took the place of oral storytelling and with the invention of the printing press stories spread far and wide. The first movies were silent with creative geniuses like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford and Harold Lloyd telling their stories silently in black and white.
Today storytelling is everywhere; in the TV ads we see, the movies we watch, the content on websites, blogs and the books we read. Brands tell their story every day and the best ones do it consistently and through cross-channels that support each another. Companies like Apple, the Dollar Shave Club, Starbucks, Dove Soap, Samsung and Lowes have found ways to share their brands that touch our hearts, make us laugh, create wonder and take us on a journey. And that’s what good storytelling is all about.
Without a story, a brand or individual is just another commodity. Stories define us, but they are also cumulative, meaning it’s not just what you write or tell others. We see brands and people as a total of all the elements they create including our own interaction with them.
For the first time ever, more digital content is being consumed on mobile devices than traditional computers. This means brand and personal stories must be told in ways that resonate with these users and fit within a mobile app. 2015 will be the year of the video as more people click the play button than ever before. From Vine videos (yes, great stories can be told in seven seconds) to traditional :30 or :60 second spots or longer versions, video will drive much of the content marketing as well as be a tool for lead generation, an integral part of email marketing and overall digital strategy.
It sounds elementary, but videos must first and foremost be something people want to watch, they need to engage the audience. And like any good story, they need to take us on a journey, to infuse wonder and follow the rule of the five W’s; tell us who, what, where, when and why. But most of all they must touch people hearts in some way if they are to be effective. AdAge annually honors the Best Brand Storytelling via videos and you can see the 2014 awards here.
As we go about building our personal and corporate brands this year keep in mind what filmmaker Andrew Stanton says is the secret sauce to storytelling, “Always set out to invoke wonder in your audience.” And Stanton should know being the writer of classic animated films like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, WALL-E and A Bug’s Life.
“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” Brandon Sanderson, an American writer.