The world needs more storytellers.
Storytelling is an inherently innovative activity.
When organizations find their best stories and tell them to the world, they're not only building a reputation, they're flexing the same muscles that allow them to pivot quickly around crisis or opportunity, and solve problems more creatively.
For individuals, crafting stories is the primary way we can make sense of the world and our place in it.
The Strategic Storyteller is a comprehensive, practical guide to transformative storytelling. In its pages you will learn how to:
* Tap into your and your organization's unique sources of wonder, wisdom, and delight
* Boost individual and collective creativity
* Understand the storytelling strategies behind some of the world's most powerful brands
* Unlock the secrets of the great strategic storytellers of the past
* Build a place where your stories can live online
* Distribute stories so they have staying power and reach in the digital age
* Convene audiences by going beyond demographic stereotypes and tapping into enduring human needs
* Understand how unshakable reputations are built out of stories that accumulate over time
Sooner or later all of us will be asked to tell stories in the course of our professional lives. We will be asked to make a case for ourselves, our work, our companies, and our future. The Strategic Storyteller tells you how.
ALEXANDER JUTKOWITZ is global CEO of GROUP SJR and Truffle Pig, and U.S. CEO of Hill+Knowlton Strategies. A former political pollster, digital architect, brand strategist, and content creator in over 30 countries, he is committed to the idea that brands who tell their own stories innovate faster and inspire enduring customer loyalty. He is on the board of the Advertising Council and lives in New York City with his wife and daughter.
The Age of the Educated Consumer
Why Politics Won't Teach You about Marketing
The path from politics to marketing and strategic communications is a common one. It is the path my own career and the careers of some of my most respected colleagues have taken. In some ways, the crucible of politics is excellent preparation for marketing. Working on campaigns teaches you that a communications strategy has the power to shape reality, first in the minds of voters and then in the real-world effects of policy. It teaches you that reputation and brand can be both durable and fickle. A single well-phrased comment can make or break a political reputation, but it can also pass by entirely unnoticed in the stream of political life. Working in politics also teaches you that branding and reputation is an endurance activity. You learn how to work well when you are tired, to work without complete information, and to improvise, improvise, improvise.
An early major donor to Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign once related to me how Clinton, then a relative naïf in the realm of foreign policy, sat and listened to him talk off the cuff about the state of nuclear policy with China. Later that evening, when Clinton was asked in a round of public questions to expound on exactly that issue, he was able to take the donor's disorganized thoughts and turn them into a coherent speech that did not sound extemporaneous and that left the room dazzled. This same improvisational ability is invaluable in the world of marketing.
But there are only so many lessons and skills that transfer from politics. Just because a tactic wins in the all-or-nothing warfare of politics does not mean that it will win over hearts and minds in the long game of marketing and branding.
If that were true, you would see content marketing in politics. And it is a remarkable yet totally understandable fact that you don't see it at all. The reason for this is that in a political campaign, the education of voters is a liability.
In warfare, victory goes to those who can choose the site of battle. The equivalent of that in communications is defining the terms of the debate. When you educate a voter-about the issues, about the larger context of a candidate's life-you inevitably reduce your strategic advantage by increasing the number of battlefields where you have to defend your candidate's reputation. The more context you have, the more sophisticated your strategy has to be.
It is a lamentable fact that the less informed voters are, the easier they are swayed. In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, despite decades in the public eye, Hillary Clinton's deep breadth of public service accomplishments were swept away by Donald Trump's single, bullying phrase, "crooked Hillary." This tactical dumbing down of voters is skilled warfare, but it is the opposite of content marketing.
In politics, there is always an inflection point on the horizon-the next election day. That is all that matters.
But in marketing and branding, there is never a natural inflection point on the horizon. The reputational game is long and diffuse. Combative, focused ploys like "crooked Hillary" are designed for short-term wins. They wear thin too fast to be of lasting value. Even Trump himself expressed this when, after winning the election, he interrupted audiences chanting his anti-Hillary slogans. That played well in the campaign, Trump said, but we're not going to carry it forward into the work of actually governing.
The act of governing-the long series of decisions that have to be made-is much closer to what managing a corporate reputation is most like. It is less a war than a game, and one with shifting rules at that. It is not a zero-sum game but an open-ended one. The goal is not just to win any battles that come along but to create an entire world in which battles are more easily won. It is about creating a lasting picture of reality in the minds of consumers in which your brand occupies a positive place.
And if people do not know your brand and what it does for the world, this is an impossible task. In the world of long-term brand building, the only winning strategy is one where you smarten up, never dumb down.
The Educated Consumer
The advent of every communications technology was accompanied by fears that it would make us dumber or somehow change what it means to be human, usually for the worse.
Socrates, speaking in the increasingly literate environment of ancient Athens, complained that by writing things down, people would lose their memories and would be less capable of making new knowledge a working part of who they were.
The outbreak of mass print literacy in Europe starting in the late 1700s was accompanied by predictions that it would disintegrate the moral fiber of civilization and lead to mass chaos. The same has been true at the start of telegraphy, telephones, radio, television, the Internet, and now mobile technology.
And it's true that the way we communicate does change how we think. We do rely less on our memories and more on our ability to organize or call up information than did somebody in ancient Greece. And we are learning more and learning it faster, and we are replacing that body of knowledge continuously rather than only during the parts of our lives set apart for education.
But far from making us dumber, there is evidence that we are actually getting smarter. In an effect observed for over a century and in more than 30 countries, scores on IQ tests have been increasing at a rate of about three points per decade1 for the past century.
This is not the result of IQ tests getting easier. Evidence suggests that they have actually been getting harder. This trend is a result of many factors, including better nutrition, the eradication of many brain- and body-crippling diseases, and, I suspect, the wider availability of good information to those who want to find it, as well as the steady, inexorable march of more widely available education.2
Key to note is that this is not an effect limited to the developing world. It is also measurable in Europe and the United States just as much as in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. People really are getting smarter, especially in the area of abstract reasoning.3
In the United States at least, this is accompanied by an increase in reading, especially among millennials. Despite the perception that our attention is becoming hopelessly fragmented and that people have lost a taste for long-form, informative content, the reverse is true. People are reading more now than they ever have before. And those under the age of 30 are reading slightly more than those over the age of 30, both online and off.4 E-book consumption has evened out in the high, single-digit percentage of the population, print book consumption has increased, and reading on cell phones, tablets, and computers has jumped considerably.5
Most important of all for the content marketer is this fact: the number one reason that people read content of any kind in any format is to research a specific topic that interests them.
Of American adults, 84 percent read for the purpose of research, compared to 82 percent to keep up with the news, 80 percent for pleasure, and 57 percent who read for school.6 Even with the massive textbook market and the perceived drop-off in reading that happens when we graduate from school, the fact remains that when people want to learn, they turn to content.
And when it comes to content that is not on Twitter or Facebook, people tend to read long. The ideal length for a blog post is 1,600 words, which is, on average, about a six-minute read.7 And the most-shared stories on major news sites tend to be either very short, about 200 words, or much heftier, closer to 2,000 words.8 People want a small bite of information or a deep dive.
And, as with any product or brand, people tend to turn to certain information sources when they go through a particular life event. According to Pew, events like the birth of a child or starting a new job can spark lasting relationships with libraries.9
When you satisfy the considerable desire for content that truly informs, it creates the possibility for enduring reader relationships that can, in turn, lead to a flourishing relationship with your company.
The case of Everplans, a confidential data storage website organized around major life events, is a great example. The site's co-founders, Abby Schneiderman and Adam Seifer, came up with the idea for their business when they discovered that there was no centralized online resource for end-of-life planning, a fact made especially painful after Schneiderman's brother passed away suddenly in 2010. By 2012, the pair had launched Everplans and by 2015, over two million people had visited it to consume its useful, niche content. That translated into 15,000 subscribers to the site's digital vault service,10 and the company has now entered the business-to-business market, launching cobranding deals with insurance companies and HR departments.
The takeaway is that the business model was born from a desire to fill a void in the world's knowledge.
It is Everplans' 2,500-plus freely available articles that are the reason the service is thriving, not its data storage technology. People came for the content and...