Has story become a means to deceive and mislead; a manipulation tactic at odds with ethical marketing?
I’ve been drawn into three different conversations in as many days about the ‘end of storytelling’ for business. The arguments made were that all storytellers are ‘liars’, that storytelling is a polished decoy, that it has been ‘ruined’ for business by ‘unconventional’ politicians who don’t even try to conceal the political agenda behind their ‘fake’ stories.
I agreed with every argument – to a point. Here’s why.
I’ve had my own ‘dark night of the soul’ since leaving academia to work as a storytelling consultant for business. I’d spent my final years in academia researching the relationship between storytelling and trauma and knew I’d have to ‘shift gear’ for the business world.
Nothing could have prepared me for the way the market had emptied storytelling of its primary purpose in service to profit. Instead of creating meaning in a world gone awry & helping us understand each other better, story is used as emotional bait, a sophisticated selling tactic, peddled by endless books, articles & cheat-sheets that told us ‘Story Sells’, ‘Tell to Sell’, etc.
Story had become the Trojan Horse of marketing.
Just like in the original Greek myth, story is used as a ploy to win a war, in our case, to breach our defences against the onslaught of selling. Story is the poisonous apple that lured Snow White with its shiny red skin to dismiss the danger. Story is the puppet cleverly manipulated by the invisible hands of the puppeteer.
So, why do I do what I do?
The uncertainty and trauma caused by ‘corona’ has given us the perfect opportunity to restart, realign & reimagine. We’re witnessing first hand how human relationship is an invaluable tool to create a different model of ‘normal’.
If story has become a manipulative tactic, then simple, honest storytelling has a huge role to play in helping us build our business around trust, credibility & community as we search for a sustainable way out of the current crisis.
My on-going mission to revive authentic storytelling as an integral part of meaningful, honest business communication is gaining in relevance. My work is to help you and other businesses become part of this revival.Learn More
In a recent post I asked what kind of heroes were appropriate for the new normal unfolding in the world. It’s clear they will be vastly different from the old ones. And the same goes for our stories!
The coronavirus is not the first pandemic in history – and it won’t be our last! We have a rich library about life during and after plagues, spanning over the last thousand years, whether it’s about the Plague of Justinian in the 6th century, the Black Death in the 14th or the Great Plague of London in the 17th century (to name just three).
There are two things we can learn about storytelling from that history
- During a pandemic we tell stories to entertain, distract and fact-check. These popular narratives include: conspiracy theories, bawdy tales, what-if setups, high drama scenarios & futuristic escape. Does this sound familiar?
- Once the pandemic dust finally settles, there is no going back to pre-pandemic ‘normal’. Our existing stories, the ones that made sense of our old normal, are irretrievably broken. A corner stone of modern physics was developed by Sir Isaac Newton – theory of gravity – while cocooning at home in 1665 from the Great Plague of London.
The biggest challenge we face is this: our story has no closure. We see the challenges, but no resolutions.
History tells us we’ve been here many times before and we have two choices:
- We try to retell the old narratives to cover the gaping cracks created by the crisis. But these fragments quickly collapse into the cavernous holes left in its wake.
- Or we stare into the uncertainty and the unknown and after a time realise we are different now – wiser, more compassionate & more resilient. We begin to tell stories about the experiences and the insights that got to this point and how these can help us set our compass for a way out.
We tell about the lack of solid ground, the absence of a pathway ahead, the challenges of sitting with uncertainty, the faint outline of new possibilities emerging, the flicker of hope in the darkness.
Then, one small story at a time, we slowly begin to create a new normal.Learn More