We are now all ‘storytellers’. Or are we?

Networx Brisbane Trevor Young PHOTO CREDIT: Three Lens Kit Photography, Brisbane

I had the pleasure last week of participating in a robust panel discussion in Queensland along with Tim Eldridge (business and brand development consultant), Ralph Barnett (Creative Director, SapientNitro) and MC/host, the most awesome Cat Matson.

The event was part of the Networx Brisbane marketers’ meetings series, and had as its theme: What’s Your Message? Creative and Integrated Communications.

It was a deliberately open-ended topic and thus elicited a broad range of responses and views from the panel, although there was quite a bit of consistency in the perspectives proffered by the panellists (see Cat’s video wrap-up here).

I got a lot out of the evening, and watched with interest when Ralph screened a video featuring a 2-minute rant (below) by renowned graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister at the recent FITC Toronto conference, in which Sagmeister contends that while you might call yourself a storyteller, you’re actually not.

On one hand, the designer’s argument could be applied to any number of ‘buzz word’ marketing titles we see pop up (and be adopted by people) with alarming regularity. Sagmeister’s assertion is that you shouldn’t just call yourself a storyteller because it’s the latest new trend in marketing (truth be told, storytelling has always been intrinsic to the fabric of marketing and communications, but has gained greater significance and credence with the rise of social media and content marketing).

I see where he’s coming from. I guess it’s a bit like the term ‘thought leader’. It’s not a title you bestow upon yourself necessarily, but is up to others to perceive you in that way.

From my perspective, I’ve spent my life telling stories (firstly as a journalist then as a PR practitioner and more lately as a content creator and strategist), but I don’t think I’ve ever officially called myself a ‘storyteller’. Maybe I should, and then send my business card to Sagmeister? 🙂

On the other hand Sagmeister’s rant – as amusing as it is – begs the question:  So who should be telling a company’s stories? 

2014-08-20 Networx-64

My view is that smart organisations look to storytelling as a way to gain a competitive advantage and use stories to help differentiate their brand in the marketplace; to be successful, these stories – and the perpetuation of them in the community in which they operate – need an organisation’s employees and partners to become involved. Essentially, it becomes a cultural thing. Of course, this is where small businesses and solo operators have a distinct advantage.

Tell bigger, braver and better stories

Just because you’re not trained in the art of storytelling doesn’t mean you can’t tell stories either on behalf of your business or the company you work for (or indeed, for your own personal branding efforts).

Just because you’re not trained in the art of storytelling doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practise telling stories as well as learn as much about the craft and apply it in your day-to-day professional life; after all, apparently storytelling will be the biggest business skill of the next five years!

I think the motto of the, ahem, story is don’t call yourself a storyteller, but do tell stories, and over time strive to tell bigger, braver and better stories.

We have the tools and platforms to tell our stories and share them globally, in real-time, and with little or no cost. But with all these channels comes a lot of noise as brands and individuals compete for that most precious commodity: OUR ATTENTION.

If you can tell interesting, compelling and relevant stories that resonate with your target audience, if you can tell them with verve and authenticity – whether in the form of a six-second Vine video or a more meaty 2000-word longer form blog post – it doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘professional’ or an ‘amateur’, you will become in demand.

(As fate would have it, yesterday afternoon I participated in another panel discussion, this time for the Victorian chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. The topic? Amateur Vs Pro: Who Wins in the Content Creation Stakes? I’ll save up that riff for another blog post!).


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