I had the great fortune this week of coming across a book written by celebrated fiction author, Phillip Pullman, called Daemon Voices.
Pullman is most well-known for the ‘His Dark Materials’ Trilogy, a celebration of high fantasy that, in my opinion, thanks to the richness of its themes, the complexity of its world and characters and the way in which it was masterfully written, should be read by everyone. But I digress…
Daemon Voices, is a collection of essays and talks given by Pullman on the subject of writing, or more accurately, the gruelling and often emotional journey of being a writer.
At the very centre of this monumental account of the profession, is the idea of the three responsibilities of the storyteller:
The responsibility he/she has to themselves and their loved ones; the responsibility they have to the language they work with; and the responsibility of protecting and nurturing the story once it makes itself known to the storyteller.
In finding a wealth of knowledge interwoven in these three simple concepts, I have decided to look at the responsibilities of the storyteller in terms of marketing; since brands themselves each have a unique story to tell.
Marketers as Storytellers
Those brands that are most effective at winning over audiences are those that find a way of fitting snuggly into the lives and head-spaces of the people they are communicated to.
Marketing, when looked at from any angle, is therefore storytelling; because it is generally through the sharing of stories that the human experience, along with all of its challenges, diversity and joys, comes to make a connection with an event, object, icon, or any other form of imagery.
A brand, a campaign, even a simple logo, should always be able to leverage off of this type of storytelling; because at the end of the day, they are, themselves, also stories.
So are marketing practitioners storytellers? Absolutely. If they weren’t then adds would just be dull lists of benefits and functions. By telling compelling, emotional stories that relate to the human-spirit, marketers allow their brands to get into the lives, minds and hearts of their audiences.
So should marketers adhere to the responsibilities of storytellers as listed by Pullman? Without exception; but in telling stories for another function, a different audience; marketers may consider a few extra responsibilities as well.
A Responsibility to You and Yours
It was quite a relief to hear an established writer like Pullman echo an opinion that I have silently kept to myself for years.
The number one reason why a writer tells a story, or indeed why a marketer does, is not for the love of the industry, not for loyalty to the brand, not for the sake of art or art-forms; but it is, plainly and simply, to make an income.
As Pullman puts it; the best thing about being poor and happy is the happiness, the worst thing about being rich and famous, is the fame. Money changes lives, we all need it, and we all want it (even if we spend our lives trying to convince ourselves otherwise).
So as a marketing storyteller, your responsibility to yourself and to your family, is to ensure that you, and they, can live comfortably.
There is no shame in wanting your stories to make you as much money as they reasonably can. Those that tell you that you should be doing it for the love of it, are simply not to be listened to.
If it makes you a metric ton of money each year, I promise you, you will love telling stories.
Why do marketers tell stories about brands? To generate leads, sales, and profitable actions on behalf of their clients or brands.
The ultimate goal of telling stories in the context of marketing is to make as much money for the brand as you can. That is the bottom line in plain and simple words.
There is an expectation of return-on-investment to be met, and a storyteller should never forget that if they want to lead a sustainable career.
This puts a charge on storytellers (especially marketers) to know their worth, and to put this worth forward when dealing with clients.
If you feel like you aren’t getting the money you should out of a campaign, then your heart isn’t going to be in it.
A Responsibility to the Tools of Storytelling
With that truth-bomb out of the way, let’s move on to the next responsibility, and it is one that can either make a huge difference to a small portion of your audience, or a small difference to most of it; the responsibility of protecting the language or tools you use to tell stories, while also protecting the integrity of the marketing industry, by giving it your best efforts, falls to the marketer.
Language evolves as years go on to represent the needs and experiences of people through the ages. This may happen for the best, or could be the result of wide-spread laziness that results from people not really putting in the effort they should.
If you use language as your primary tool for telling stories, you had best keep that tool properly sharpened, oiled and honed if you want it to stay reliable.
This means a few things.
Firstly, brush up on the language you use to tell your stories whether that language be English or the conventions of digital design and animation. Know your tools well, but above all, strive to preserve their sanctity and condition by using them correctly.
‘But most of my readers and viewers aren’t that savvy to the nuances of these tools.’ You might shake your fist and shout at me, and you would be correct.
But why risk upsetting a small portion of your audience who expect to see the rules followed, by giving way to laziness, when you can keep even them happy by simply applying the tools correctly; that way everybody wins.
Without paying attention to this responsibility, you will be partly responsible for the gradual watering down of these tools, until they are one day devoid of any elegance and sophistication; rendering designs as nothing more than doodles, and language as nothing more than meaningless Orwellian New-Speak.
You are Responsible for the Story
And so we get to the story, the heart of the matter. The lifeblood of a marketing campaign.
Perhaps the greatest responsibility a storyteller has is that which he/she has to the story. At its very beginnings, the story is a fledgling; uncertain, distrustful and fragile.
It bestows its trust upon the storyteller and no one else, in the expectation that it will be nurtured, protected, cared-for and guided into maturity.
Pullman uses the analogy of an orphan baby being found on a storyteller’s doorstep. He/she cannot push their conscience aside, ignore it and simply close the door or give it to someone else. They feel like they alone have been entrusted with its care.
They must take it inside and rear it into maturity, protect it from prying eyes until the story can come into its own and start guiding the storyteller and his/her audience.
The storyteller is its guardian, teacher and parent; and in the mind of the storyteller, the story will trust no one else with this task, and so decency calls them to do it.
Your Responsibility to the Client
This is where Pullman stops talking about the responsibilities of storytellers (as novelists), and I start applying the responsibilities to marketers.
Before any story starts to develop in the world of marketing, there is first the commitment to the client. I’ll use the term ‘client’ loosely here, but for now let’s consider the client anybody who has commissioned a marketer, a storyteller, to get their message across.
They have certain expectations and goals that need to be met independently of the story you want to tell, and their needs will always take preference and guide the story.
The truth is that marketers don’t have full creative freedom in this regard, not in the way that novelists and practitioners of fine-arts do. They need to meet someone else’s agenda; someone else’s goals.
They need to work within the confines of a brief. You could see these confines as shackles that stop your story from reaching its potential; however the best storytellers out there see confines as guidelines that give the plot a little extra structure.
So, as a marketer and storyteller, your biggest responsibility to your client is to learn to love the limitations that their requirements set out for you, and to use them to structure your work in a way that tells their story, and gets the results they are looking for.
Your Responsibility to the Audience
When engaging with ads, audience members have certain expectations, and as we move through this digital era, these expectations become more entrenched.
They, first and foremost, seek information; which means that your story needs to be able to not only be emotive, but informative as well.
Secondly, not every one of your audience members will be literary or artistic geniuses, which means that you need to reign in your smarts a little and spend more effort on telling a story than trying to establish a masterpiece.
They likely don’t care about literary theory, the perfect camera angle or a truly unique design.
All the client wants is results.
If you want your audience to stay with you while you tell your story, you need to straddle the fine line between simplicity and sophistication. Ensuring that it is exciting enough to capture and hold their attention, while being accessible enough to be understood by your entire audience.
Have your Brand’s Story Told by Us
Storytelling is a fine art, but we all have the capacity to do it. Those who find the most joy out of creating and sharing stories are those that end up making the best careers out of them, whether they be painters, novelists or even marketers.
People need stories to experience the richness of humanity, and your brand needs a story to become a part of the human experience. If you would like us here at Right Click Media to tell your brand’s story in a way that truly captivates your audience, contact us or visit our website for details.