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Be A Powerful And Purposeful Storyteller

*The following post is an extract from my new book The Right Story.*

Throughout history, the technology of the day has always influenced how its users communicate and share ideas. How we think about spreading ideas is shaped by the resources available to us. How we connect and persuade is affected by the way we choose to deliver the message. When we’re face-to-face, we gesture and embellish. When we’re tweeting or texting, we use emoji and cut to the chase.

Our behaviour isn’t the only thing that changed over time. A subtle change in our mindset simultaneously took place too. We began to focus less on the drivers of change—the reasons behind those interactions we initiated. And we started to prioritise the immediate benefit we wanted to get from the interaction. We neglected to build trust before sharing the message and instead obsessed over just delivering it. The result is that we have changed from purposeful storytellers, who care about how the audience or user feels, to pragmatic communicators who prioritise ‘getting the word out there’ so we can persuade people to act.

The problem with just homing in on the mode of delivery is that technology is constantly changing. No sooner have you conquered the Facebook marketing landscape than the algorithm changes. One minute it seems that print is dead; then suddenly the tangible is having a revival. The answer then, is not to get too preoccupied with adapting your message to suit the changing technology of the day, but to focus on what’s unchanging about people instead.

Where should your story begin? There’s a tendency to dedicate the bulk of our resources—time, energy and money—to the delivery of our messages. But effective storytelling happens in two parts. Purposeful storytelling is a combination strategy and tactics —drivers and delivery.

You must define your strategy before you begin designing and deploying tactics. You have to know who you want to influence and why—to be clear about what’s driving your story, before you consider what, where, when and how you’re going to deliver the message to those people you hope to reach and change. Starting with the why is important because if we focus only on the how, the delivery, then our stories fall flat, and we are less likely to create the change we hope to make.

We’ve come to a crossroads in sales and marketing. We have two choices. We can be fearfully reactive to the marketplace or bravely responsive to our customers. We can carry on doing what we’ve been doing since the golden days of advertising and the Madison Avenue era. We can spend more money interrupting more people in physical and digital places—with the intention of finding the quickest route from getting everyone’s attention to making a tiny percentage of people act. Or we can find a group of people we want to serve, people with a need or a desire we care about fulfilling, and earn their trust and loyalty over time. We must choose whether we want to make weak ties by going broad and shallow, or strong ties by going narrow and deep. We need to decide if we want to be the loudest or most resonant, most visible or most memorable. We can’t be both.

Image by Garry Knight