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A marketing lesson from one of the best chase scenes ever

07.06.18

I had no idea I could care so much about a lizard.

Until I saw a young marine iguana running for its life on the Galapagos Islands with a swarm of racer snakes in fast pursuit.

It’s from an episode of the BBC documentary series, Planet Earth II. (If you haven’t seen it, here’s one of the best two-minute chases ever captured on film.)

Planet Earth is memorable for many reasons: stunning videography, David Attenborough’s silky narration and, most of all, vivid storytelling.  Each creature we meet is portrayed not only as an animal, but as a character in a bigger story – each with its own family and community, and none viewed in isolation.  Their movements, decisions and relationships are narrated in such a way that we feel a connection to them.

It’s why I cheered so hard for that poor iguana.

I was drawn into the story.

This kind of storytelling is most familiar to us in the arts – movies, theatre, literature, dance, music.  I smile every time I hear The Band on my car radio. From The Weight (I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling ’bout half past dead…) to The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train…) and everything in between, The Band’s songs are stories, every one of them.  Each tells a vivid tale, even after thousands of listens.

Whether it’s a frenetic lizard chase in the Galapagos, or The Band belting out another tune… stories are remembered.

They make things real.

Isn’t that we’re all trying to do: make things real?

Here’s the hard truth.

On average, we all encounter hundreds of brands every day.  On top of this, we get bored easily.  So when we’re hit with run-of-the-mill marketing tactics – stats and facts and product features ad nauseam – our eyes glaze over.  Anything that isn’t remotely interesting gets passed over.

But stories are different.  They help us connect with our audience instead of trying to convince it.  Stories work better than data, evidence or “proof.” They capture our attention.

Most stories have three essential ingredients that make them work:

  1. Problem resolution.  This is how storylines for most movies unfold.  A problem is identified.  It leads to a search for a solution.  Eventually, there’s a positive outcome (the happy ever after).  Every Pixar movie follows this formula.  The eyewear company, Warby Parker, uses this technique effectively in relating its own story.  Solving our problems makes us interested.
  2. Authenticity.  There’s a level of relatability in good stories that draws us in.  It makes the story real, believable.  When we hear The Band’s words set to music, we can almost visualize the story playing out as we listen.  Warby Parker’s story is authentic too – the search for a convenient way to buy affordable eyewear is real.  It’s not imaginary.  This authenticity (and relevance) keeps us engaged.  
  3. Emotion.  The best stories tug at our hearts.  Emotion is what hooks us and won’t let go.  Who isn’t cheering for that young lizard?  What’s not to like about Warby Parker’s giveback program for those less fortunate?  Who doesn’t have a right to see?  Emotion makes us invested. 

Face it.  None of us are the BBC or The Band.  We’re not creating award-winning documentaries or legendary music.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t tell our own stories.

We can.

And we must.

Because, no matter what we’re communicating, stories help us do it better.  They keep our audiences interested, engaged and invested.

A few days before Walt Disney died in 1966 he summoned a small group of Disney animators to his bedside.  His last piece of advice to his most treasured creative team was this:  “Get the story right. Everything else will fall into place.”

So, ask yourself:

  1. Are you keeping your audience interested, engaged and invested?
  2. Are you getting your story right?

~ Craig