The story behind the story

One consequence of our society becoming so ultra-connected is that we all have much more detailed insight surrounding the things we are interested in.  Whatever your passion in life you can be sure that someone somewhere shares your curiosity to know more about it and has written, blogged, updated or posted their viewpoints.  The collective enthusiasm for a hobby, product, person or place encourages deeper and deeper investigation - to the point where even casual fans can become genuine experts on a subject – without necessarily even having experienced it for themselves !

This relentless desire to understand how things work, why they were created in a certain way, or where the original idea came from creates a real opportunity for smart story-tellers.

They have understood that the story behind the story has become as interesting as the story itself – and sometimes even more so !

Elaborating your story by filling in some or all the details behind it makes your story-telling much richer and more engaging for the audience.  It creates a genuine intimacy by revealing things that previously might have been considered “secrets”.  And it allows for greater levels of emotional story-telling as the passions, motivations and human endeavours behind the story are divulged.

There are many good examples of people and brands sharing the story behind the story.  Film-makers have been doing it for years by producing “The making of the movie…” shorts, DVD extras and behind-the-scenes footage.  Learning from this experience, the technique is now used much more widely.  From sports-stars revealing their deepest insecurities before an Olympics, to business leaders sharing the set-backs they faced before they reached the top, this type of story-telling is becoming increasingly common-place and almost a mainstream brand-building approach.

We are convinced that stories become significantly more powerful when we start to answer the how, why and who questions that every audience member has at the back of their minds.  But it also creates some fascinating challenges for the story-teller, particularly related to the way that stories are consumed these days.

One particular challenge is that stories are now often no longer told in one whole piece.  Through our schooling and business education we are always taught that to present something well we should begin at the beginning and end at the end.  In marketing terms this works perfectly when stories are told through broadcast media – the audience sees or hears the story in the way that it was conceived and all the elements are revealed in the correct/chronological order.

But when a consumer embarks on their own journey of discovery using search, social media, friends’ recommendations etc. they will most likely hear your story as a series of small elements, usually in the “wrong” order or with the crucial parts missing.  They’ll also hear the story told through many different viewpoints, not just that of the original story-teller.  In short, your story will almost certainly not be told in the way you intended it.  And, as a result, consumers may find it hard to navigate your story unless the different pieces are carefully sign-posted to help them find their way.

Imagine driving along an unfamiliar highway where none of the junctions had road-signs – how would you know which is the right exit to take?  Of course, these days most of us rely on satellite navigation systems or our smartphones to direct us.  Story-telling works in exactly the same way.  You either need very clear signposting to direct the audience or a good navigation system to guide them along the journey.

Think about this when you create your story.  If it is going to be consumed in “bite-size pieces” then why not prepare it in a way that makes it easy for the audience to digest it like this.  Break it down into smaller sub-stories, each of which can be told stand-alone.  Make each one relentlessly consistent with all those around it.  Have common themes, story-lines and icons that run through everything and mark the beginning and end of each element with clear signposts to the adjoining sections.  Anchor each piece of the story to something very recognisable that is frequently repeated and gives the audience confidence that they are on the right track.

Once again, put yourself in the place of your audience and think about how the story will sound from their viewpoint – but now with pieces missing and out-of order !

Revealing the story behind the story is an incredibly powerful way to engage your audience on an emotional level – tapping into their curiosity to understand the reasons why things are the way they are.  But consumers’ passion for discovery means they will often uncover your story piece-meal and not in the way you intended it to be told.  Make it easy for them by breaking down your story into smaller, inter-connected elements and help them navigate clearly whichever route they choose to take.