The Art [and Science] of Storytelling

By Jess Boardman The concept of storytelling has been around for thousands of years, dating as far back as when the Aboriginal Australians painted stories in caves.  In its simplest form, storytelling allows us to share experiences and create emotional connections. Not surprisingly, the marketing world uses storytelling to build customer loyalty. In this day in age, many businesses claim to be “business storytellers,” but few truly understand the art (and science) of storytelling.

In late 2012, we conducted our second “Prevailing Storylines Study” in hopes of better understanding storytelling. What is the foundation for powerful storytelling? What makes a good story, and what excites the media? How do you get folks to listen, and, more importantly, how do you inspire action? Over the course of three months we studied ten of the most widely read publications (The Wall Street Journal, TIME, The New York Times, etc.), reading more than 1,000 articles and looking for archetypal stories that appear regularly in mainstream media. We found that every single article fit into at least one of 10 classic archetypes, or narratives. From “David and Goliath” to “The Best Kept Secret,” the same narratives showed up over and over again -- proof that business storytelling is not just an art, there is some science to it as well.

 

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We also found that certain publications tend to favor certain narratives. For example, Bloomberg favored the narrative “The Prediction,” while The New York Time’s Green Blog favored the “Cautionary Tale” and Fortune favored “Recipe for Success.” The fact is that certain journalists and certain publications seek out very specific storylines, so companies will be more successful if they understand the prevailing archetypes that resonate with these journalists and publications.

At Greenough we recognize that in today’s digital world, storytelling extends far beyond traditional media and is very much a part of the social sphere. In 2013 we will conduct another storylines study that will focus entirely on today’s prominent social channels – so keep an eye out for it!