The Conversation of Storytelling

Brands must focus on the conversation of storytelling to survive the recession.

Storytelling is now the work of brands. It is not, however, a monologue. No story is told the same way each time, but the plot remains the same. Exchange “message” for plot and you have the direction that all web experiences should take. The message remains the same but the way the tale is told changes with each new audience. As a performance changes and shifts with each seat filled. Or the way a father changes a story to fit the wants of his sleepy child. The message remains the same because the message survives the small creaks and wobbles between retellings. It is stronger than the words or the order of minor events.

Take Shakespeare as an example. The themes, or messages, within Shakespeare are well known. The words of his works have been memorized by countless thousands of people both performers and audience. Yet, with so much familiarity, the plays are performed over and over, in numerous languages, around the world. The strength of the message is bound to the who we are as a species. Power, Shame, Lust, Betrayal, Love, these are the foundation of Shakespeare’s work. And, as messages, they spark a clear flame within us. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen and performed a lot of Shakespeare’s plays. I wrote by final thesis at school on his portrayal of Henry V from anti-hero to hero. Each performance is different. The audience plays a huge part in how the story unfolds, without the unspoken conversation between the performer and the audience the play never truly takes shape. Even an audience of one can shift a performance. But the messages remain the same. Those core values of who we are don’t change. As you understand one line but miss another there is a rhythm and form that arrises. This is the conversation.

For a brand, this conversation is less immediate but no less real. This much is well known, consumers buy because of a feeling not because of a logical analysis of ingredients and future value. What feeling arrises when interacting with a brand is the message (again, well known). What I add to this is that there is also a conversation that occurs in that instant of interaction. To simplify, take a magazine at the checkout counter. A consumer approaches the counter and instantly decides if they will purchase the magazine based on the message being delivered. Whether the consumer buys the magazine or not elicits a reply from the magazine’s publisher who must change the cover to either ensure a repeat purchase, or to inspire a new consumer. This conversation occurs everyday, in countless stores around the world. Customer purchase information is delivered and responses are produced and an exchange, a conversation, goes on.

Online this conversation is much more immediate. Replies are made by both consumers and brands on a daily basis. There are a lot of replies from customers. Their responses vary from the great to horrible (rarely in the middle). For the brand, replying is difficult. But it doesn’t have to be. A reply can be anything, it does not have to be a direct response to a specific consumer’s reply. This would be daunting and no brand would successfully be able to achieve this without hiring a team sift through the conversations. Yet this is the position that many brands put themselves in. Attempting to reply to George in Corvalis who things the _____ on the ____ shouldn’t be made of plastic. Or Bill from a News agency who thinks the company is over-leveraged. No brand can reply to all the requests.

The great thing is, they don’t have to. The conversation isn’t about plastic parts or credit-crunch fears. The conversation is about the message. For Shakespeare it is the reiteration of the theme of a play, Henry will become king, he will become a hero. Honor, Heroism, Nationalism, will rein. In the face of all other complaints it is the message that matters. The conversation is then about the core message of the brand. Answer with this and the replies of consumers will be clarified. They are, in fact, only asking for greater connection. Plastic parts can be replaced easier and keep the price of the equipment down. An analysis of how the company is leveraged shows that there is enough liquid capital to support the current position. These responses are real and solid and make sense. But they do not communicate who the brand is. The message is not hidden within those words. The brand’s vehicle for reply is its product and services. Reply with this first. Deliver value first. Innovate your reply and reply with your message.