Spielberg, Scorcese, Cameron, Tarantino. The Mount Rushmore of directors. While the title of "Director" is probably on their business card, if you were to ask them to describe what they do, they would probably answer you in one word. "Storyteller." While everyone has a story to tell, not everyone can tell a story.
I've spent twenty-five years focusing on narrative and the importance of Storytelling as a documentary filmmaker. I also have a wealth of experience working in television advertising as a director and producer. I've learned that everyone has a story, but not everyone can tell their story authentically and compellingly.
What we used to consider entertainment has been re-labeled as "content." Business owners would contact me and request estimates to produce videos for their website. The scenario would go like this. "We have a script, and we want it to say this, or can you help us make it look and sound like this commercial we saw on television. Most of these people had no copywriting or advertising experience, but they had built a business from the ground up.
As a business owner myself, I can empathize. They were successful entrepreneurs and thought, I can do this! I'd say, "that's great that you have a script, but does it reflect your business and Who you are as a business owner? And does the message that you have in mind? Is this the message your audience expects from you?
I'd ask them to tell me about the business's history, who started it, and why. We would talk about the ups, downs, goals, competitive advantages, and where they wanted to go. The answers to these questions are still fascinating to me. They stirred my curiosity and creativity because they had the context. Through communication and conversation, a story would begin to take shape and was often the complete opposite of the initial concept.
Social media platforms disrupted traditional storytelling mediums of radio and television by democratizing who can tell a story, when they can tell that story and how they can tell it. There have been tremendous upsides in the forms of creativity, inclusivity, and a massive reduction in costs that leveled the advertising playing field for businesses, non-profits, and individuals. Using strategic planning and targeting, we can all find an audience that aligns with our values and wants to hear our story.
There're also downsides. Businesses and organizations often miss the mark, using a scattershot approach of posting an abundance of "content" that doesn't have context. It lacks narrative and devalues their story's significance. It also lacks authenticity. While it may be easy to grab a stock photo or video and attach some relevant terms about your business, today's consumers value and appreciate authenticity and will see through regurgitated attempts to engage them.
We're in an era where a company's story and the founder's journey drive consumer engagement and decision making. Spanx and its founder Sara Blakely comes to mind. She's transparent about her journey from fax machine sales-person to CEO of a company that is a staple in the women's shapewear market. She owns her narrative about the ups, downs, dreams deferred, and her eventual success. Her narrative is authentic, and it makes her story and the story of her company compelling.
We're now living in what will be forever known as the "new normal," and we'll be talking about the COVID era for the foreseeable future. The last year has been challenging for all of us and crippling for the healthcare sector. The narrative we're currently experiencing adds value to who we are and where we want to go. We will be telling the story of workers on the front lines of COVID, the lives lost, the lives saved, and most importantly, how this event changed our lives. Storytelling is and will always be a valuable tool as we move forward because it teaches, challenges, and inspires us!
So, how will you make use of your narrative? How will you tell your story? Will it be authentic and compelling?