Storytelling: What does it actually mean?

The art of telling a compelling story that audiences connect with is the heart of all marketing and advertising. In our digital world, stories can be told with a simple image shared on Instagram. In order for consumers to have a long-term relationship with a brand, they need to have an emotional connection with the product or company. These emotions always come from some form of storytelling by the brand.

Effective storytelling works off of the “show, not tell” principle. As Robby Rettew says in his article, “Great storytellers find the nuggets that touch people’s souls…then capture and share them in a way that brings a new dimension to the conversation.” Storytelling is about putting written copy into something compelling — and usually visual — that resonates with the intended audience.

I agree with Shane Show who wrote the article “Why Storytelling Will Be the Biggest Business Skill of the Next 5 Years.” Storytelling is an essential skill for any marketer, advertiser, or public relations practitioner. There is simply no denying that.

The only issue I have is the concept that storytelling is this new, revolutionary way of thinking. Storytelling has been the backbone of advertising for years and years. To frame storytelling as a new skill — or a buzzword — in my opinion, is incorrect.

In an article, Once Upon a Time: Is Storytelling Just Another Buzzword?, Porter Novelli staff writes, “ the act of storytelling is not exactly a radically new concept, as it literally dates back to our stone-age ancestors.”

Think about traditional advertising — take this print ad for cigarettes for example. Even without reading the copy below, the image tells a story. He is a man — calm, cool, and collected. Women are flocking to him. The consumer sees him and sees his story. They are compelled with jealousy and admiration for him — they want to be like him. This is the key to driving sales: to be like him, they smoke the same cigarettes.

Nowadays, storytelling is much more complex. With the development of multimedia and digital marketing, there are so many new avenues in which to tell a compelling story.

In terms of content marketing — or more native advertising — storytelling is key. In order for content marketing to seem organic, natural, and authentic, the story needs to be believable. I definitely think that storytelling nowadays has to be more creative and inventive. There are so many new channels such as influencer marketing, YouTube, social media, live-streaming, and more that allow for more creativity and diversification of storytelling than it used to.

So, yes, storytelling is incredibly important and always will be. And yes, the landscape for storytelling has changed dramatically with technological advances. But claiming it is a new, revolutionary skill, is incorrect.