Last Friday I attended the Importance of Storytelling panel hosted by Public Radio International. Mary Kay Magistad, an award-winning American journalist and PRI’s The World correspondent, led the panel. She was joined by Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human; Olga Viso, executive director of the Walker Art Center; and Jay Coogan, president of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
The panelists discussed why we need storytelling, the many forms of storytelling, and how stories are used to make objects meaningful. While the discussion focused on storytelling in a philosophical sense, many of the discussion points translate to content marketing.
We as humans need storytelling. The stories can take the form of blogs, podcasts, novels, television, radio, art exhibits, or any medium in between, but we crave storytelling as part of life. In fact, when hearing stories, humans experience one of two physiological responses: empathy or distress. Stories can move us to tears or make us laugh out loud. Stories define us and can change us. And what is content marketing but another form of telling stories?
As content creators, we strive to cater to the human desire for stories. When crafting content, focus on a narrative: what are you trying to say? What do you want your consumers to take away from your content? What story fits that message?
Gottschall discussed Tolstoy’s view on the virality of art. Yes, the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina referred to media as “viral” a century before “viral marketing” was a thing. He talked about his art as an infection. The better his art, the easier it is to overcome the public’s defenses, infecting individual readers with his virus and turning them into a host to spread his infection, one reader at a time.
Tolstoy hit the nail on head with this one. He describes exactly what we as content marketers try to do: excite the consumer about our content so completely that they feel compelled to spread the message.
As Viso noted, the story makes objects, or products or services, move beyond that abstract plane and into our sphere of caring. For example, the Significant Objects project took seemingly useless objects found in thrift stores and tracked their market appeal by placing them on eBay. However, there was a twist: a writer crafted a short story for the description of each item auctioned. Armed with these stories, the previously discarded, useless objects collectively sold for nearly $8,000. The stories made these objects resonate, moved them from mundane to extraordinary.
So what does this mean for us as content creators? We must create stories. In our images, posts, tweets, and Facebook posts; our whitepapers and case studies; our articles and press releases all must strive to share a narrative that, in turn, consumes the consumer.