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To Become a Master Marketer, First Become a Master Storyteller

Published: August 24, 2018       Updated: April 23, 2024

3 min read

It all started with Adam and Eve.

Not just humanity's creation -- but also our way of telling stories.

When God found that Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit, he was keenly aware of the transgression that had occurred -- but he still allowed the first woman to vocalize her defense. To tell her side of the story.

Storytelling, the sharing of stories, is where our sense of justice begins. It is where our sense of legitimacy, of rightness, begins.

Storytelling has never been a one-way street. It is equal parts talking and listening. Stories are flares rocketed into the early-morning sky, demanding our response. They seek out relationships with us; they ask us to make choices.

Unfortunately, from the time of the manufacture of the printing press through the era of broadcast television and newspapers, too many of us have abdicated our role in sharing stories beyond our small circle of family and friends. We have ducked our heads to shield ourselves from the bombardment of one-way messages.

Too many marketers have forgotten how to tell stories and communicate with people in an authentic way. They have blasted out shrill messages for so long now that they have no idea how to share useful information, build mutually beneficial relationships, or guide people to make decisions they feel good about. They are so used to coaxing audiences into action, they have come to accept "buyer's remorse" and consumer cynicism as inevitabilities on the order of death and taxes.

It doesn't have to be this way. Marketers are human after all, aren't we? Can't we reconnect with who we really are to do our jobs better?

It's time to stop trying to be master salespeople and to instead become master storytellers -- with the recognition that the title "master storyteller" carries with it responsibilities. Four are most important:

1. Master storytellers connect by being real and relatable. When we hear a story, we try to relate it to similar experiences we have had in our lives. It's why metaphors and analogies are so effective. The process of searching our brains for past experiences triggers an emotional link to the teller's story. To the extent the story connects with us, we experience its joy, or pain, or sorrow in a deeper way. But only if the story is real, is relatable.

2. Master storytellers share freely and openly. Marketers have been taught for too long never to appear vulnerable or concede flaws. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," they say, through their actions if not their words. It's a doomed, deceptive game. Master storytellers know that to tell a story that makes audiences say "wow," nothing can be held back.

3. Master storytellers embrace what makes them different. We hear stories all day long, and most of them fade quickly from our memories. Researchers estimate that personal stories and gossip make up about two-thirds of our conversations. To manage this many words coming at us, we've developed mechanisms for sorting and filtering the words in the stories we hear. In effect, we "skip over" the cliches and figures of speech that we've grown immune to. Sound like any advertising you've come across lately? Share something new, say something different, value freshness and creativity, and you will be rewarded.

4. Master storytellers leave a lasting impression. How many times has it happened to you: You share an engaging story with a friend and then, at a party a few weeks later, he repeats the story back to you as if it were his own -- because he actually remembers it as his own. Forget all the hype about "word of mouth" advertising; we are tapping into something much more meaningful here. The era of recalling an advertising jingle because we are forced to watch it nonstop on TV is over. If you want someone to remember you, tell a story that connects with your audience so well that they remember it as their story.

Master these four disciplines and the marketing world will be your oyster.

And you can tell people all about it.


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