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4 Rookie Mistakes Storytelling Machines Make

John Lahr
April 24, 2019

If you’re at all familiar with Joseph Campbell’s take on myths and folktales, it might interest you to learn that the deepest function of stories is to present configurations of the human psyche. The degree to which you understand the story is the degree to which you understand yourself. Unlike computers, humans are not logical machines. When the elements of a story appear uncertain, we have a tendency to contribute the explanation ourselves. The human spirit is insatiable and it thrives on stories. We are naturally curious: wired to learn and receive knowledge from others. If machines really could tell stories, they’d be more like us.

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Machine-based analytics help identify qualities of truly captivating media, and as you can see, there are many creative ways to use the insights gained from data. Positive emotions generate the greatest engagement, especially when mood swings from positive to negative before ending with a positive emotional bang. The ability to learn and understand something so subjective fosters trust and communication with users and shows that the brand embodies a stable sense of self. Marketing your brand is also accepting a lot of responsibility; it is important to be consistent, reliable, and trustworthy. 

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With regard to your brand’s logo and personal style- if it ain't broke, don't fix it (in so many words… don’t do what GAP did). If it is broken (and I’m going with your judgment on this), then check and see if you might be doing what the rookies are:

1. They don’t take advantage of Big Data.

Several brands that have proven to be worthy of the title “storytelling machine” have kept long-term, powerful relationships with consumers. These include: Nike, whose inspirational messages have continued to motivate us, Oreo, whose brand chooses to focus on brightness and making life more fun, and Allstate with the character Mayhem who is subject to countless unfavorable situations. Spotify identifies their brand with diversity and international music, because their international users make up different demographics. When machines work alongside humans, we can better understand the pushes and pulls of the emotional arc that makes up a story. 

giphy (1)-132. They don’t tell their own story.  

We tell ourselves all kinds of stories: we use them to relate to the world around us. Because you’ve told your story, your audience will be more likely to trust you. Brand stories can prove to be insanely useful. You can choose to focus the audience’s attention on your own company story, or you can decide to focus on their problems. In a sense, you are the guide in this tale. At the very least you are the distant and trustworthy narrator, always available to present a different point of view. From the point of the narrator, you’re able to build a universal theme that is relatable, inspirational and shareable. 

When the audience is given something multi-dimensional, it is up to them to discover meaning for themselves. This freedom fosters a sense of trust; a good relationship allows space for each party to discover who they are. If there happens to be a path between chapters of a story, individual stories can come together from different platforms and make sense in a whole new way. 

3. They get lazy.

Brands that fail to thrive at being storytelling machines are mistakenly inconsistent. Having both a platform and a voice means you also have a responsibility. You need to be open and not secretive in order to tell your brand’s story in a way that is impressive and impactful. Contribute the idea of being “saved”, include themes of justice, of what matters, what people care about and what resonates. 

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You can use first-hand experience, but don’t be too bold as to cause a scare. Uninformed, offensive tweets or insensitivity can really be embarrassing. Take advantage of the platform you have, and keep a respectful and humble attitude. Don’t make the same mistakes that other brands do- it would be unfortunate to have to remove a post or change something back to the way it was before, especially after it had already been seen!

There are specific times and places to use each voice, and it’s up to you whether you want your brand’s personality to show through. This is especially useful in conjunction with platforms that allow direct interaction and sharing opinions like blog posts and social media. Who is the character, and in what story? Who is the hero, you or your customer? In an indirect way, the way you choose to represent your brand captures the essence of your brand.

4. They forget how to tell their own story.

But users need to learn to trust you. There needs to be a process of trust that is involved. They need something to care about, something that has become important, relevant and meaningful. There needs to be a proper spark, hook, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution with no questions left hanging. A story can invade you and interact with your personal life. It should make you cry, laugh, fall in love, and cry once more. 

A good story includes symbolism, metaphors and a greater meaning. In life, the hero seeks greater knowledge, and at times there is an antihero. The first stories ever told were legends and great feats told orally, as well as hunters drawn on cave walls. There were stories for persuasion, and then came the fairy tales, modern newspapers, photographs, magazines, TV, music videos, video games, media platforms, and VR. Throughout time, we’ve found many different ways to share our experiences with each other. 

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The protagonist, whoever they are, needs to feel more human. They feel pain, have their own beliefs and moral code (even if we don’t agree), they can appreciate good human, have outside interests and are shown to react to bad times. I need to feel as though I understand something before I trust. In the hero’s journey, the story of everyman is told. There are countless character archetypes that have a deep, metaphoric relevancy to the human spirit. They catch our attention and focus as we live vicariously through the characters, and our cortisol even raises when we react to experiences as they would. Being so stimulated and involved in something enables us to really retain the information.

The passionate and persuasive use of rhetoric, testimonial, and relevant topics executed seamlessly makes one a successful storyteller. User demographics matter and determine both the delivery of your message and the platform you choose to say it on. Everyone has their own personal story, but not every consumer has a personal story that makes them feel connected to a brand. The brand’s story is more about what the brand does, but framed as if it were a person that customers can connect with. This means the brand has its own intentions, motivations, values, experiences, feelings of pleasure, and pain.

There are so many different types of personalities that exist! Some people are well-rounded, some are down-to-earth, some people are perfectionists, some are wise, some are narcissistic, some are anti-social, some are extroverted, pessimistic, cynical, passive, aggressive… And there are so many types of stories - mystery, horror, fiction, non-fiction, biographies, documentaries… There are various archetypes that are embedded in our knowledge of the world: culture, trauma, mom, dad, trust, old and wise, young and naive, older brother, younger brother, healer, strong, smart and caring, and more. Sharing purpose unites people.

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