Everything around you is a story (or an advertisement)
We are surrounded by stories.
As I look out the window, I see a two men.
One is holding a lit welder’s torch. He has a white hard hat and a bright yellow vest.
The other is holding a janitor’s brush. He’s wearing a red hard hat with a bright orange vest.
“What did you say?,” says the man with the torch.
“You heard me,” says the man with the broom.
Boom! A story!
White versus Red. Torch versus Brush. Fire versus Straw.
According to the internet, a story must contain between 5 and 7 different elements to be successful. That doesn't mean your story will be good, but it means your story will meet the minimum requirements to be called a story by a third party. Lucky you.
I come from a creative marketing background, so I see things through a slightly skewed lens (some call it psychosis). Anytime we are asked to come up with ideas for clients, we need to know a few key things first. This is often called the creative brief. In a strange yet not surprising fashion, it runs parallel to storytelling.
- Who is the client (and what are they all about)? This is central to the communication. This is the brand. It is the hero and must to be sympathetic to the audience. In story language, this is the protagonist.
- What is the challenge? This can be in the form of a goal or something to be overcome. Most often the challenge is to increase awareness, shift a belief, or cause an action. In a story, this is called the quest, or plot. A good plot contains conflict (the problem) and resolution (the result).
- Who are we talking to? This is sometimes called the audience, the target market, or the demographic. We use this information to decide where to put our messages. In story language, knowing who we are talking to allows us to pick our setting.
- What is the key message? This is what the product or brand is trying so desperately to say. It is constrained by brand guidelines, and may include a tagline. In story terms, this would be called your theme.
- Who is the competition? Which brands play in the same space? Who is competing for the same clients/users/customers/consumers? What diabolical plans are they up to? In storyland this is the bad guy—the protagonist.
- BONUS: Is this part of a larger campaign? Marketing campaigns shift and change over time. The brand changes and evolves. Different yet intertwined stories emerge on different platforms. It it good to know how your idea fits into the bigger picture, the lexicon, the brand canon. For long-form storytellers, this is called a series (or sometimes chronicles)
For example Dune, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, A Song of Ice and Fire (which includes The Game of Thrones), Riverworld, Discworld, Wheel of Time, Harry Potter, Oz, Sherlock Holmes, The Adventures of Tintin, Malazan, The Dark Tower, even Halo and Star Wars are all series fiction. An entire world, sometimes an entire universe, was built to house these stories and invite you in.
How do these compare to your memories of Just For The Taste of It, I’m Lovin’ It, They’re G-r-r-reat!, Go Ahead, Get Dirty!, For the Joy of Cola, Where’s the Beef?, Eat Fresh, Got Milk? Finger Lickin’ Good, Think Different, Zoom Zoom, Melts in your mouth, not in your hands? These were series too, just with different characters and a self-serving plot: get you, the reader, to become part of the story (and spend your money).
How did this turn into a lecture on marketing? Oh yeah, I saw two guys on the street. Then I had an agency flashback and could only think in dogmatic marketing metaphors.
See, we are surrounded by stories.
7. What is the brand voice? The most important element that I forgot to mention is your style. What is your voice? What is your lens? The way you see the world—your unique synapses, your original perspective, the connections in your brain—gives you a style that is different from everyone else. You need to dig down to find it, because it’s covered in a bunch of insecurity and expectations. But it’s there for you to find.
You just have to keep looking.
Just do it.
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