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a good story

I promised this post a long time ago and never delivered. To be honest, it was because I was a little afraid to write this.  I went to an amazing conference back in May called C2MTL (terrible website – awesome conference).  The forum brought together thousands of people in an Indy-style conference where commerce meets creativity.  There were a lot of big names and big companies … but it was Alex from Google that blew me away.  Why?  Because he told me a story I didn’t expect to hear.

Alex Cuthbert is a product designer at Google.   Google Glass was featured at the conference – so I thought his session would be all about the new product.  I was wrong.  Alex talked about storytelling.  He gave wonderful examples, practical tips, and really good advice about how to tell a really good story.  And the whole thing just happened to feature Google Glass.

We are operating, Cutherbert argues, in the Gen “C” time:  content creation + connecting community.  Connecting people with an actual experience that they can engage with is the way to evoke action from us.  The work those of us in marketing and communications have been focusing on for years in ‘user experience’ needs to much more closely aligned with actual design of content.  It makes sense.  And so one has to ask – why are we not already doing this more?

In order to engage us – you & me – the people who are today’s audience regardless of age/ethnicity/socio-level – you need to not only tell us a story – you need to pull us in so that we feel we are a participant in that story.  Alex showed us a video I hadn’t seen before to illustrate this point beautifully, I’ve shared it below.  When we are a part of the story it becomes powerful, transformational, and very real. With only 55% of the newly democratic Tunesia turning out to vote- there was a pressing need to turn apathy into action and get people to vote so that the democracy wouldn’t be squandered.  Check this out:

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We all have so much stimuli bombarding us that traditional means of trying to get our attention simply don’t work.  Don’t tell me a story about your product or your object or your service.  Show me the experience your product creates, the reality it enables, and make it accessible so that I can feel like I’m a part of it.  But how do you achieve this?  By not always showing a character, by instead showing a point of view or the experience and by letting me  put myself in it (as Google Glass did here).

Stories have always had three basic parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end – and a good story takes you on a journey.  Nothing has changed there.  Today’s best activists and advertisers tell a story that sucks us in to a plot, grabs a hold of our heart or our stomach or our brain, and is about the experience instead of the product itself.  Coke has many brilliant ads that tell global stories – pulling you in to the conflict or drama and driving to a root cause – ultimately putting a smile on your face within a few short minutes – the beverage they sell just happens to be enabling the story being told. Like them or not, they are effective…   This is one of my favorites

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Google also does a great job of telling a story based in India – and pulling you in to the pain, history, anguish, anticipation and joy – in as authentic a way as any organization can…their product is secondary to the experience you are invited to be a part of.

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This conference was fantastic.  It was small enough that you felt like you were getting inside information from incredibly smart and successful people.  It was engaging enough that even a late night or three didn’t stop me from trekking down for the 8am start each morning.  Most of all though, I loved being a part of the creativity.  Alex’s small ‘garage’ talk on storytelling had about 80 of us hanging on his every word.  I felt like I had won a jackpot.  The best part of his workshop were the insightful pieces we gleaned when he opened up the floor and allowed us to be engaged in the story as it unfolded.

Storytelling is a way to connect, a way to spark action or a movement, a way to collaborate and brainstorm, a way to express, and a way to learn.  By understanding the needs of your audience first (who are they? what do they need? why? what do they value?) you gain the insight to not just tell a story – but to engage a person in a conversation.  That is very exciting to me.

Hope you liked this as much as I did … and big thanks to Alex – have a great long weekend!

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