Story Telling or Story Building, McKee has the Keys

Story-telling has been an accepted marketing discipline for a long time. A recent article in Fast Company suggests that the future of advertising and marketing is in "story-building," an activity that unfolds real time in which social media audiences co-create the story with the brand. Wherever you sit on the story marketing spectrum from "telling" to "building," understanding what makes a great story is critical, and one of the best articulations of this discipline is "Story" by Robert McKee. This well-known script writer/doctor and screenwriting teacher offers many keys to the art.

One of the most effective keys McKee gives us is the understanding that the more (and more artfully) we contrast the protagonist and the antagonist and the other positive and negative values, the more compelling the story. (I'm simplifying.)

Sometimes the antagonist in our marketing story is a condition or environmental factor such as duration of time, or distance, or complexity. For instance, a media outlet might emphasize the degree of information complexity and even the ever rapidly increasing rate of it in contrast to its ability to distill all of that into a small number of clear and concise insights delivered on a timely basis. Telling the story of doing that has to be approached artfully, but a basic design can be put in place and then followed repeatedly in a series of advertisements.

Getting your audience to co-tell or co-build that story with the brand (as Fast Company suggests) can take this into a higher level of power. One idea is to provide an online space in which people are invited to respond to a question such as "How has X  Media's insights improved your on-the-job performance?"

In treating this concept with an experience marketing approach this can be pushed to yet an even higher level of power by inviting the authors of the best responses to tell their story live at face-to-face events which also gives the opportunity to stream the experience live and on-demand over the web. While doing so we can put McKee's concept of high contrast to use by putting the presenter on stage in a director's chair, to the left of which can be an ever-building mound of newspapers, magazines, print reports, TV's and computers that builds over the course of the presentation, dramatizing the complexity of information. The contrast between that complexity and the clear insights revealed in the user's story can be further emphasized by projecting those insights onto a screen just to the right of the presenter as she reveals them in her story. The juxtaposition of the spoken and projected clear insights and the mound of complexity provides the kind of visual disparity that puts the positive and negative aspects of the story into high relief, and in this case, also creates a compelling visual that implants in the viewers mind.

There are many other points in McKee's work that are useful in marketing. We will look at more of them over time. And there are other storytelling masters do draw from too. What are your thoughts?

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