What a brand storyteller does

Nov 22, 2017

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I'm tempted to answer the question above with an obvious, not completely untrue but certainly impartial answer -- that a brand storyteller simply tells stories on behalf of brands. But you need to think of stories as a series of choices made through the filter of the storyteller's experience and craft.

It helps to know what stories are. They are "carefully constructed narratives," or as I like to tell my clients, "stories are designed objects made for a specific purpose to connect with a particular audience." I craft stories to make people feel something, an emotion.

Humans Yearn for Stories

When we sit around a campfire at night, we want to be scared by some tale of a headless horseman roaming the countryside. When we're in turmoil, maybe because we've been fired or lost someone we loved, we want to be soothed and maybe helped with sage advice from someone with relevant experience. As children, stories spark our imaginations and help us inhabit dreamscapes of our own constructing. Humans yearn for great stories because they serve our emotional needs in so many ways, big and small.

I ask all my clients, whenever they ask me to write a story for them, to explain clearly WHO the story is for and WHAT the story is intended to do? How do you want the reader of this story to feel and what do you hope they'll do as a result of those feelings? I approach stories from an emotional standpoint first, and then fill in the facts and data.

Humans are different from animals because of our innate impulse to craft meaning from whatever happens in the world. We walk around all day in a narrative fugue state, seeking to fit people, events and data into our ongoing internal narratives. We do this until the moment we die, including as we're sleeping. "What does this mean?" That's the most human question ever, and the reason that storytelling exists. We never stop seeking answers, and we’re constantly challenged by the seeming randomness of events. And now brands are helping some of us find the meaning and the answers we seek every day.

Like you, dear reader, I craft stories all day inside my brain. But unlike you, perhaps, I also craft stories for my clients who pay me to do so. And the process begins the same way your storytelling begins, with a profound urge to make meaning from chaos and apparently disconnected events. Stories connect. When we’re offered data in a story, we remember it. When we’re offered random data, we forget it fast. Why? Stories organize data into meaning, offering our minds scaffolding upon which to put (and recall) data.

What a Storyteller Needs to Know

When I first meet with a prospective client, I am filled with questions, some of which the client has never considered before. Who is your customer? Why do they reach out and choose you rather than your competitor? What keeps your customer's up at night, or, where do they hurt the most? How do you bring positive change to your customer's life? What do your customers like and dislike about you?

All of these questions, and many more, help me make meaning of the client's business and enable me to understand how they interact with their customers. I demand that my clients view their customer as a human with a problem to be solved, and then ask my client to help me understand how they solve customer problems. If a business isn't solving customer problems, it's not a business at all.

Data and product specifications and software demos are great (I access them constantly in my work), but they don't create emotional responses in anyone. Customers make decisions through their emotions first, and then confirm those decisions by marshaling facts and data and "rational arguments" around what they've already decided. Scientists call it “confirmation bias,” and it’s a powerful force. "People are such rational beings," said no storyteller ever.

Storytellers go to the pain and the conflict and the uncertainty of human life, because that's where stories live, in the gray areas that unsettle us. The narratives that I craft seek to deliver meaning to people searching for meaning and connection.

I don't have a template where I insert names and products and services. Every story is unique. Assembling a bunch of data isn’t a story. Clients can hire robots to aggregate data, not me. Every storyteller is different; every reader is different. We are all simply trying to find meaning in our own ways, and I'm trying to get the reader to trust me and to follow me on the story's journey until I've written my last word. That’s what a brand storyteller does.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is a business writer and brand storyteller for B2B brands such as General Electric, ADP, Office Depot, Cintas, the National Center for the Middle Market, and many more. He's also been published in print publications such as the Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle.