What Scheherazade can teach marketers about storytelling

engraving of Scheherazade

The ultimate storyteller

Storytelling can save your (branding) life. Just ask Scheherazade whose captor and, later, consort—the king of Persia—tuned in for a 1001 nights.

Storytelling is the word du jour for communicators in every genre. In yesterday’s NYT, there were two wonderful pieces about the importance of narrative as a way to make sense of our world. Steve Almond ranks Jane Austen, Nick Carraway and God(!) among literature’s great narrators. Alissa Quart calls plot-heavy television series like Girls, Downtown Abbey and The Good Wife antidotes to our algorithmic- and short-attention-span-driven lives. Both of them agree that good stories value perspective (over) immediacy, depth (over) speed and emotion (over) sensation.” It’s the un-Twitter, un-Facebook, un-linked.

SpeakeasyDC, an organization which offers storytelling classes, coaching and performances, stresses that a good story must make an emotional connection between the teller and the hearer. And like any good piece of marketing communications, it must get an audience to care, pay attention and respond. Other elements to include:

1. A protagonist, ideally who changes or is changed by the course of the story—a plot device as old as the Iliad. How do you change the life of your user/consumer?

2. An arc—a beginning, a middle and an end that sets up who/where we are, the conflicts or obstacles that are overcome, a climax and a resolution. How does your product/service help your consumer prevail?

3. Suspense. Scheherazade was famous for her cliffhangers. So was Dickens. So is Homeland. They keep the readers’ or viewers’ attention and propel the action forward. What can’t I live without knowing?

Good narratives are tales as old as time and as human. Good brand stories are too. My recent faves include Target, CSX and Dodge Dart. They’re visually arresting, compelling and thoughtful. No matter how often I see them, I never turn away.

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