Date: October 26, 2012

Author: JT

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What I’ve Read Lately: Winning the Story Wars

Story Warsfinal“Winning the Story Wars:
Why those who tell—and live—the best stories will rule the future”

Author:  Jonah Sachs
ISBN: 978-1-4221-4356-8

One of the challenges we face as a nation, as well as a large part of the developed world, is a loss of focus, of disbelief, of a lack of trust.

The evidence of this is demonstrated through all-time-record-low Congressional approval ratings; Scandals not just in government, or business, but in our religions as well.  Together is triggers a feeling of listfulness, a malaise.

Story Wars is a well-written, perhaps even brilliantly so, book that does two things for you.  First, it assesses our, ‘Broken World of Storytelling,’ and suggests how we might begin, ‘Shaping the Future.’

The Broken World of Storytelling

Jonah really does a nice job leading you through a good bit of history, tying it to current marketing dilemmas, and illustrating why current marketing just isn’t working.  At least not the way it did perhaps 40 years ago.

40 years ago, or further for that matter, messages were forced to go through funnels before they saw light of day.  For instance, to be published, in any form, you had to convince the owner of a printing press (a rather pricey piece of hardware) it was in their interests: dogmatically, politically, religiously, or monetarily.

The problem today is the rise of digital communications.  Now, even someone like yours truly, can write and express their thinking with very few gate keepers in the way.

What has happened to our stories is that, once told for generation upon generation without change, they can no longer keep up with today’s rate of change.  Since the stories we grew up with, stories designed to frame our value structures, no longer speak to our current world, we are left lost, adrift, and with no ‘history’ to guide us.

Five Deadly Sins

Today, those in marketing, today’s ‘storytellers,’ have allowed themselves to fall prey to the Five Deadly Sins: Vanity, Authority, Insincerity, Puffery, and Gimmickry

Five Deadly Sins (of Marketing):
Vanity, Authority, Insincerity, Puffery, and Gimmickry

Jonah introduces you to each of these since in depth.  It really makes for interesting, intriguing reading.  Boiled down, much of today’s marketing increasingly falls on deaf ears.  Subscribing to one or more of the 5 Sins, we are now sensitive to brands that do not live up to their claims, their professed messages, such as Lance Armstrong, proven a fraud; BP, an oil company claiming to be a green company and also found a fraud); and, Dannon’s Activia yogurt, despite claims turned out to be just like the rest.

The results is that our modern storytellers, marketers, have been found out.  Their messages are now ignored, misunderstood, muddled.  At best, received—for the most part—as cheesy attempts to influence you.

Shaping the Future

Fortunately, there is a cure.  If only enough people read Jonah’s book, take it to heart, and then act on it.

What Jonah does in Story Wars is akin to what Garr Reynolds does in PresentationZen for bullet point presentations.

In the second half of Story Wars, Jonah walks you through the different aspects of successful marketing stories.  What makes popular examples successful, what makes other failures.  Or even marketing ‘wonders’ that were still failures.

In shaping the future, Jonah mixes instruction and story, with what he calls, “Basic Training.”  In Basic Training, he reviews the basic components just discussed, and then leads you through the process of analyzing and then developing your own brand story.

For instance, the first Basic Training focuses on, “Designing Your Core Story Elements.”  He reviews the components:

  • Brand Hero
  • Brand Mentor
  • Brand Gift
  • Moral of the Story
  • Brand Boon

Now many of these components should seem familiar to you.  However this isn’t a simple rehash of Storytelling 101.  Jonah takes you through the process as a more in-depth level; a level more-suited to success in today’s world, beyond just character, plot, conflict, victory.

Live the Truth!

A very key point, later in the book, is a discussion about the importance of ‘living the truth.’  Ignoring this necessity is what has led to the downfall of many very popular brands.  Some alluded to earlier.

For instance BP became very popular as it built it’s ‘Green’ campaign.  For the first time ever, an oil company had found a way to develop brand loyalty.  To become an oil company that was not despised for being what it was, but admired for everything it promised.

But BP did not live the truth.  Even as it’s CEO was being knighted by the Queen, they were racking up hundreds of safety violations. Over a five year period, BP incurred, “760 safety violations to ExxonMobil’s one.” BP pursued oil production with a vengeance…safety…alternative energy…were platitudes.

The evidence that BP was not ‘living the truth’ came to light in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In only 5 days, the magnitude of the spill exceeded the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989.  Indeed, the truth was too good to be true.

If there is a single moral to the story, in Story Wars, I think it must be, “Live the Truth” of your brand.  Authenticity grants brands a quality unto itself.

Winning the Story Wars is enjoyable, applicable, and I highly recommend it.  Its depth, its warmth, its revelation of fresh thought page-turn after page-turn will make it worth your time.

Image credit(s):
Stony Face – Ryan Aréstegui

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