Sam Court: Two sides to every story

Sam Court2.jpgBy Sam Court, UX director, The White Agency
Historically, "stories" in marketing have been reserved for the frustrated filmmaker turned TVC director. In the last few years however, it seems that the power of storytelling has finally made its way into the world of digital marketing.
Digital stories offer an interesting twist on the traditional linear narrative. With interactivity, the viewer becomes the user and therefore has more control over where the story goes.
At White, we've been discussing Stefan Sagmeister's recent rant about non-traditional storytelling. Whilst it's obviously healthy to promote debate, Mr Sagmeister seems completely lost in semantics. We need to avoid confusing a description with the story itself. Describing a rollercoaster is very different from someone's story about actually riding it. The experience associated with the story is what defines the ride, and it's a lot more involved than simply the physics of going up and down. It's about how it felt, physically and emotionally, over time: from sick, to excited, to scared, and all the bits in-between.
Empathy for our audience is the key to humanising the transfer of information. It's not that we need to tell stories in a traditional narrative sense, but rather, that we can leverage the components that make stories effective into the mediums of choice. And in doing so, we get the chance to persuade.
Interestingly, the medium is constantly morphing - sorry Mr McLuhan, but maybe the medium isn't the message after all. Telling stories has remained important since the Dreamtime. Back then, stories where told by travelling through landscapes. In the 60s we saw the advent of the first multi-dimensional stories like Kinoautomat, where the audience was empowered to select a path. Even as a child, I can remember enjoying the "Choose your own adventure" book series, which gave me a new sense of involvement.
However, it would be a mistake to believe that, as designers from various disciplines, we are the storytellers. Instead, our purpose is to create systems that facilitate a vast range of narratives that are tailored to the user. In this model, the user is the storyteller.
In the field of User Experience Design, we now have books dedicated to the practice of storytelling. Renowned designer Bill Moggridge is enthusiastic about stories in design. At a Service Design Symposium in Copenhagen, he gave the keynote address and said:
"When you put all these things together, with elements from architecture, physical design, electronic technology from software, how do you actually prototype an idea for a service, and it seems that really, it's about storytelling, it's about narrative."
Everyone working in marketing and design should consider the techniques of storytelling to help connect with their audiences. After all, empathy isn't an exclusive club. One of the best storytellers I've met is Chris Savage, STW's Chief Operating Officer. Chris' insights from Cannes Lions 2014 also act as a reminder of the industry's awareness of the importance of 'story telling' - the two most used words from the whole festival.
Ultimately, the world needs outspoken folk with strong standpoints - even if they are simplistic, myopic or possibly wrong. Without seeing two sides, any story can become dull. Mr Sagmeister's work speaks for itself, but what's more important and more relatable, is that he tells a good story.


Show us said:

Can you please provide the best examples of storytelling in Digital marketing?

Jimmy the Nose said:

Digital storytelling at it's best. It's got a protagonist, rising tension, falling tension and a conclusion.

Mike said:

Well played 'Show us'. Well played.

Great piece! said:

Said no one who actually read it. Stories are important? No shit.

Sam said:

Maybe it *is* obvious that stories are important. What's novel though, is understanding how to design around the user as the storyteller, rather than just as the audience.

As an example, GE have been doing a great job at telling their brand story whilst involving their audiences, despite what marketers might see as a less exciting B2B space:

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