Storytelling is one of the hottest trends in branding and design, and for good reason. What better way to connect with customers in a medium that is creative and interesting? We were fortunate to interview storytelling expert Michael Margolis at MetaTalk, a lecture series showcasing the Bay Area’s thought leaders in branding and design.
Michael is CEO and founder of Get Storied, an advisory and learning company devoted to transformational storytelling. Michael has pioneered the field of business storytelling, working as a story architect for clients including Audubon, Bloomberg, and SAP. His most recent book is Believe Me: A Storytelling Manifesto for Change-Makers and Innovators. We’re happy to announce that MetaDesign fans can download the e-book for free.
Why is storytelling important?
MM: It’s the most basic form of humanity. Stories give people a sense of connection, identity and relationship. Our world is changing very fast, and we are being asked to make decisions every moment – should I respond to this email, is this product right for me? The more marketers can get clear on their story, the greater the ability for connection. People love products that have a story attached to it. That’s why Kickstarter and their successful startups are so popular. People can become part of a company’s story and of how it came to be.
What are the key elements of storytelling?
MM: A lot of people focus on the micro story. What I care more about is if you have a story worth telling. The challenge many brands and entrepreneurs face is that they don’t know how to get their story straight. If you are lost in your story, then your audience feels lost in the story, too.
At my company Get Storied and StoryU we teach that there are five foundational stories: origin story, customer story, product story, brand story, and the culture story. By learning those five stories, you can master the world you want to inhabit.
What makes for a great story?
MM: Emotion – but it’s the most unused or poorly used. Most brands are afraid to go there and get dirty. Look at the company HelloFlo. They truly embraced the “real story” of feminine hygiene, and got huge street cred and respect for it. The brands we love are that way because they aren’t afraid to actually go there.
Which companies demonstrate great storytelling?
MM: Patagonia did a great job by introducing product backstories. They go beyond the hype of “sustainability” by breaking down each product on their website. They tell you what parts of the supply production process of that product is good, is bad, and is a work in progress. That’s what I call truth in storytelling. They are honest and tell the story about what they’re proud of most and how they are always trying to make it better. They are honest.
The Domino’s pizza turnaround campaign is another example. They really owned their mistakes and took customers behind the curtain. They weren’t afraid to show vulnerability and embrace it. It made for great brand storytelling.
Both of these brands partake in documentarian culture – they invite their audience behind the scenes into the making of their brand products. It’s like reality TV brought to your own brand’s unfolding. Doing this allows you to have an ongoing conversation with your customers and your marketplace. The message? We’re not perfect – we’re human. And in turn, we’re for real.
What’s your storytelling process? Do you work outwards, thinking about how you want the audience the feel, or inwards, from the point of the storyteller?
MM: Both really matter. I always start inside out. You have to get clear on your own agenda. Why am I telling this story, beyond my own self-interest? Passion, curiosity…what is your fire around this that lights you up? Go where the energy is! The second most important thing to consider is the audience. Who do you want to be in relationship with? It’s linked. There’s a danger if you start with the audience – you can lose yourself. Our motivations are always suspect. Are you trying to change my world for the better? Or just trying to sell some crap.
What’s the best story you’ve ever heard?
MM: We’re living it! It used to be an elite few who controlled the stories of our lives. And now it’s available to all of us, we have the power to tell, retell and reinterpret our own stories and decide what we want to be part of. Social media and technology are the great accelerators where we are learning to story ourselves into being, and we can create a world for ourselves and many others.
To learn more about Michael Margolis and business storytelling watch his Storytelling Mojo presentation:
Interview by Molly Davis, MetaDesign Communication Strategist