The Future of Storytelling

by Dare’s Creative Partner Brian Cooper.

Our world may now be built of 1s and 0s, but our lives are still made of stories. Stories connect us with each other, relate us to our experiences and help us make sense of the world. Wherever you go stories are a constant that define what it is to be human. Story themes are largely constant too. Everyone knows there are only 7 archetypal story lines. How these stories are told, however, is a constantly shifting evolution of form. The invention it seems is in the telling, not the story. And what often dictates the telling is the medium the story is told in, or method of delivery; the cultural context of the time; and technology.

From the beginning of human language, when stories were told in the great oral tradition, the method of delivery has dictated the form of the story. Stories told then were often synonymous with song, chant or epic poetry or they were composed from a bank of stock phrases committed to memory. This form was designed to help storytellers remember the narrative thread so the tale could be passed from one person to the next. Every media it seems dictates it’s own art form.

Cultural context too has had a big effect on narrative form. The rise of the middle classes in the 18th century and the subsequent advent of leisure time gave birth to the popularity of the novel. Its realism, its democratic spirit, and its concern with the everyday psychological problems of real people appealed to the cultural palette of the then nouveau riche. They wanted art that was about them, not the royal court, and no other form can get you into someone else’s consciousness quite like the novel.

From the printing press to the creation of the Web, the effect of technology on storytelling has also been evident throughout the ages. At no other time has this been quite so dramatic as in the twentieth century. The invention of the motion picture, to use one example, has given rise to a whole new narrative form. Style and genres may have changed according to the mores of the day, but the protagonist versus antagonist narrative arc and 90 minute to 3 hour time length are largely unchanged since film grammar was invented over 100 years ago.

Radio, TV, the internet, all twentieth century inventions, have further changed the nature of the content produced. The creation of the 3 minute pop song was dictated by the demands of commercial radio. Whilst TV drama has often been very plot focused, with cliff hangers at 11 minute intervals to take account of the ad breaks. As streaming has become more popular, making the ad break largely irrelevant, dramas like Netflix’s House of Cards have evolved the format further. Longer, and without the need to land major plot points, the episodes now focus more on character development and multi-stranded storylines.

There has, of course, always been an overlap between these drivers of media, cultural context and technology, and one often drives the other. But never have all three together driven such radical change as in the digital age. This is because of one very significant difference between now and the past: everything is connected. Our devices are all connected together. We are all connected together. The content we consume is all connected together. Each one of us is a node, in one giant conversation, consuming content whenever, however and wherever we want. And out of all this connectivity has emerged a digital ecosystem around which the both the content and audience all whirl. Like every media system before, this too now demands its own art form.

Like their biological counterparts, digital ecosystems exist where the living (story) and non-living (story environment) are completely interrelated and interdependent. Through this interdependency, a new overall art form has started to emerge, and the result, which could be termed a story ecosystem, is so much more than a traditional narrative story. This new art form is particularly pertinent when it comes to creating brand stories. As everything is connected the story ecosystem can easily encompass every marketing objective into the same narrative journey. Engagement, consideration and action can all be seamlessly entwined. The line vanishes as every story becomes a direct piece of communication, and every direct piece of communication becomes part of the story. Add in context and the story ecosystem can rapidly be tailored to the individual, whether that’s based on where you are, what you like or, as wearables become more prevalent with biometrics, how you actually feel.

A good example of a brand that creates good story ecosystems is Disney. From Marvel comics to Star Wars to Princesses, all their franchises demonstrate the power of creating a story line around which a universe can be created to tell both a great story and build lasting relationships. Smart brands like Red Bull and LEGO have also taken note, and have started to change their narrative form. They have thought about content in a completely new way. For them, it’s now about taking someone on a journey through their story ecosystem. The more touch points in that story ecosystem the more likely the consumer will stay there for longer.

Social media, video, apps, experiential, etc are all still important, but they are all ingredients that hold a story ecosystem together and help it self-perpetuate. Doing any of these things on its own is really just tactical advertising, which is what so much digital content out there is.

Brands that create story content shaped around the digital ecosystem will get a march on others. They will build story ecosystems, which give their customers a better, consistent experience and build lasting relationships. They will still create stories, as much as we will still be composed of molecules. How these stories will be told, their art form, will never be the same.

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