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Good stories, not noise

Posted by andrew.mockridge | 13 May

Despite the promises that gaming, the internet and choose-your-own adventure books would destroy linear storytelling, it seems to be here to stay. Maybe more than ever before, we're drowning in stories: from clever tweets and status updates to bloated Super Bowl spots to multi-season, 60-hour-long serialized cable dramas. The efficient single panel gag comic strip has lately morphed into single image memes—the kind that usually feature cats and clutter up your newsfeed. Experiential strains of storytelling are also on the upswing: live standup comedy, improv shows and The Moth-style story slams have all become ubiquitous. All of these stories are neatly boxed and packaged and are just a click away from sharing with all of our friends. There's so much to sift through in all of those boxes and so little of it contains much, if any, value. But we keep looking because we're hungry for something good. We always have time to be blown away.

Creating, telling and consuming stories is how we process our experience of the world and how we make sense of our lives. We always need to know how we're doing in our own story, so we check ours against everybody else's constantly. Marketing has an opportunity in all of this and it also has a choice: to contribute to the noise or to cut through. Smart brands embrace good storytelling, not just "communication." Smart brands know that stories aren't data sets or "messaging" and they're not written by a committee. They're about a specific protagonist who wants something and struggles to get it. To quote Adam Gopnik in a 2012 New Yorker piece, "Good stories are strange… they make claims so astonishing that they seem instantly very different from all the other stories we’ve ever heard. Good stories are startling." In other words, good stories grab you by the throat and don't let go. We don't care much who's telling the story—a major brand or a trusted friend—as long as we're startled, woken up. We want to get excited so we can get back to the business of living our own story with renewed vigor.

Some say we've become so inundated with stories that we've lost our ability to discern. But our bodies know. When the hairs on the back our necks stand on end; when we're doubled over in laughter; when we feel that punch-in-the-gut surprise and tears flow—that's a good story. That's the kind of story we want to spread and share with everyone we love. Let's put something in those boxes worth experiencing!