In truth, even though I only had 24 hours to prepare, I was delighted when one of the panelists canceled. Suddenly I had the opportunity to share my disdain for what passes as brand storytelling and put some of my years of research on the topic to good use. Taking the stage like a pinch hitter stepping into the batter’s box with the game on the line I was ready with a punchy story about, of all things, not crashing my grandmother’s car when the hood blew open as I hit 114 mph!
One of my pet peeves, by the way, is that presenters neglect to tell stories even when they are on panels about storytelling. The same goes for newsletter writers. To really understand let alone explain this topic, you need to start crafting stories yourself and share them at home, at the office, in writing, and on the stage, if the opportunity presents itself. But here’s the good news — this is well-trodden territory and resources abound including the 9 featured below.
StoryEngineering by Larry Brooks
There are lots of types of storytelling and it helps to understand the main ones before you approach the branded variety. Story Engineering is geared for budding novelists, focusing on the “6 core competencies of successful writing” including Concept, Character, Theme, Story Structure, Scene Execution and Writing Voice. This will give you a great foundation especially if you grasp the difference between an Idea and a Concept.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
This is the bible for aspiring screenwriters and even those who’ve succeeded in the profession many of whom attended McKee’s legendary screenwriting workshops. McKee is a master at showing how all the elements fit together and the critical relationship between structure and character. You’ll also enjoy the references to 100’s of films that you’ve seen and will have a new appreciation for why they were so memorable.
Pixar Storytelling: Rules for Effective Storytelling Based on Pixar's Greatest Films by Dean Movshovitz
No studio in history has cranked out as many hits in a row as Pixar that not only succeeded with global audiences but also with typically irascible film critics. Their secret – if the story is flawed the movie will be too so they spend months if not years making sure the story is perfect before starting production. This book spells out their formula in language even we marketers can understand!
The Art of Storytelling by The Great Courses
If you’ve never experienced a Great Course, an extensive series of recorded college classes by acclaimed professors, this particular one will convert you for sure. Professor Hannah Harvey also happens to be a professional storyteller herself, making this more like a visit to The Moth than a classroom. Importantly, you learn some of the nuances of oral storytelling versus the written forms like novels and screenplays discussed above.
Ted Talks Storytelling by Akash Karia
For the about the cost of a large double shot cappuccino from your favorite coffee bar, this little book packs a terrific punch, offering 23 storytelling tips derived from the over 30 of the most popular TED Talks. If you have a speech to give in the near future, this resource will be particularly helpful as the author breaks down how to wow an audience while providing examples that are sure to inspire.
StorySelling by Nick Nanton and J. W. Dicks
Having worked our way from novels to film to public speaking, this book will help you craft your business story and importantly, offer guidance on how to spread the word. Rich with examples of entrepreneurs that used stories to propel their companies to new heights, you’ll recognize some of the critical storytelling elements from the other genres we’ve already covered. The difference is that these authors offer specific exercises to help you discover and refine your personal or professional brand story.
All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin
If you’ve read any book by Seth Godin, you know that he always offers great examples of how this or that business found a unique way to cut through. This book continues that pattern only all of them point back to a fundamental premise that stories — great stories — carry the day for all sorts of brands in a wide range of categories. Although Godin’s book is less prescriptive than StorySelling, it does offer further inspiration to refine your brand story if you haven’t already.
Marketing Today with Alan Hart Episode 46
My friend Alan Hart has a terrific podcast series that features interviews with a number of top Chief Marketing Officers. The episode that I recommend in this context is the one with Clay Hausmann, CMO of Aktana. Unlike most CMOs, Clay actually took time off to train as a screenwriter and while that adventure didn’t yield an Oscar, it did lead him to a story-driven strategy brief that he breaks down in detail on the podcast. (If you want a copy of how Hausmann’s approach played out for Beats, just email me.)
Various articles and podcasts by yours truly
And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t call your attention to at least some of the content I’ve published on storytelling. First up are my extensive interviews with Douwe Bergsma, CMO of Georgia Pacific, who is a big proponent of the power of storytelling and has reorganized his department around this skillset. Then I’d encourage you to listen to various Renegade Thinkers Unite podcast episodes including the ones with Chandar Pattabhiram of Marketo (#12), Mayur Gupta of Spotify (#14) and Meredith Kopit Levien of The New York Times (#18). Or better yet just subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Overcast or iHeartRadio since there will be more on storytelling in episodes to come!