A blog by Seth Godin about what comes first, the story or the work, got me thinking again about the story and its uses in marketing and business planning.
Because everybody talks about the “story”, and they’re all using the word in different ways and conveying different meanings, I think it’s time for a new look at the term, especially within the construct of digital marketing such as websites, social media, online brochures, or email signatures.
First of all, the story is not the message, although the message is certainly part of storytelling. It’s also not simply your branding or your marketing material, although they are also part of it. And, for all you writers out there, it’s also not your “voice”, although, again, that contributes to your story.
And then, of course, there is your “brand”. Millions goes into branding these days and at the end of it we often see nothing more than continuing impersonal positioning, albeit much prettier. After all that effort, we still see an advertising model that’s really nothing more than a construct to hint at how you’d like to be perceived, not communicate who or what you are.
These are all tactics, or methods of telling your story. But a story is more about strategy. I think the best way to describe it is that your story reflects your market positioning. To put that in more strategic terms, your actual story, personal or corporate, is a description of who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Why do I highlight those two from the standard storytelling formula of who, what, when, where, why and how? Because I think they are the most important, the most personal and emotionally resonant. Most story managers, especially those who are data-driven — technology anyone? — go immediately to the what. What happened, what’s news, what’s going on? Then marketers impose an overlay of branding to that to try to sum up all those what’s.
But those are still all impersonal. Who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing is personal, and therefore emotional. It’s what puts a human face on your facade, making it more emotionally connective.
It’s what’s needed in a world where customers and potential customers increasingly want to do business with “someone they know” or with someone who has been referred by “someone they know” — i.e. peer-to-peer recommendation.
So to bring home this concept of who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing, I propose to borrow the term “persona” from the social media world and apply it to general marketing. There, a persona — often expressed as an avatar — is a short visual message that tells all your friends or connections who you are.
I’m not suggesting you use smiley faces as the basis of marketing, of course. But I do think we could learn something from this kind of shorthand because it forces you to strip away all the overlays and go right to your core or your being.
So, next time you’re sitting around planning a branding strategy, and someone says, yeah, but what’s our story, ask instead, what’s our persona.