Making the Audience the Hero Is Key to Breaking Through Digital Clamour, Says Jonah Sachs, Author of Winning The Story Wars

“Telling a great story is the only way to get a message heard or to build an iconic brand,” Sachs argues. “And while a great story may seem like magic, thousands of years of natural selection teach us all that we need to know.”

“In our Digitoral Era, the value and lifespan of an idea or product will be built through a broad chain of perception, recognition and affinity. None of us with an idea to promote will ever be successful without getting people to take up the message and make it their own — and pass it along. Sharing the story is a key part of the oral tradition, and one that is indispensable in the modern era of digital communications,” Sachs says.

Examples abound of the perils of inauthentic story telling or “inadequacy” marketing (where the intention is make you feel small unless you buy) and the success potential of empowerment marketing.

“Remember that Kenneth Cole and Groupon both got into hot water after callous campaigns mocking important political events in Egypt and Tibet, encouraging shopping instead. Fiji Water tried to use social media marketing to promote the idea that its carbon-offset program made the product carbon-neutral. That claim was quickly debunked, and the company received severe criticism for what many viewed as a cynical green-washing campaign,” Sachs says.

“On the other side of the coin there’s Chipotle’s YouTube video, ‘Back to the Start.’ It’s a little story about a farmer who turns his farm over to the industrial machine and then decides he’s miserable. So he turns it back to what he had before, to create a better world. Then at the end, the Chipotle truck drives up and takes the food away. It doesn’t say anything about the product, doesn’t say anything about what Chipotle does. But it does put Chipotle behind this very uplifting message of a farmer taking back control. The company didn’t broadcast it anywhere; they just put it up on the Internet. People liked it so much that it got passed around, and it was so popular it was shown as content at the Grammy’s. ‘Back to the Start’ required no distribution budget — but got visibility that was certainly worth a lot more than it would cost to buy a 60-second spot on the Grammy’s.”

Marketers must enable the audience to embrace and share stories that resonate with them. Those that master storytelling will be able to engage people’s innate quest for meaning, values and ritual, and their story will be spread long after the message has been delivered, according to Sachs and Winning the Story Wars.