Simplicity-seeking creatures that we humans are, we like nothing better than boiling ideas, concepts, even entire years down to a single word.
As for 2012, we had quite a few candidates for the word that summed it all up. Social continued to loom large, as did crowd[fill in the blank] (crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, etc.). And we all watched big data come on strong in the final stretch. But one word emerged ahead of them all, at least for us marketers.
So, for better or for worse, I would like to put forth 2012′s Word of the Year:
Yep, story. Over the past eleven-and-a-half months, it seemed that everywhere I went, every guru I listened to, every conference I attended, every article I turned to for marketing advice came down to three words: “Tell a story.”
It’s even gotten to a point where corporations have created “Chief Storyteller” positions.
Ah. Hmm. Really?
Now, as an ink-runs-through-my-veins writer whose dabblings have run the gamut from catalog copy to screenwriting, part of me gets the warm-fuzzies every time I hear marketers admonished to add storytelling to their bags of tricks.
And then there’s the other part. The part that rolls her eyes at the thought of huge numbers of people repeating the same catchphrase while having no clue what they’re talking about.
So, in the immortal words of Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction (now that’s an effin’ story, people), “Allow me to retort.”
Yes, we marketers do need to tell stories. Our audiences crave them. As Robert McKee, the Undisputed High Priest of Screenwriting, writes in the aptly-named Story:
Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.
Well said, Bob, and absolutely true.
But when it comes to marketing, storytelling is the means, not the end. You can tell stories from dawn to dusk, and yes, it will help customers get to know you better and maybe even entice them to engage with you. But it won’t do jack for your bottom line.
Because at the end of the day, customers and prospects don’t want stories.
They want answers.
Now, if you can deliver that answer in the form of an engaging story, you’re money. But before you touch that Waterman fountain pen to that fresh page in your Moleskine notebook, make for damn sure the story you’re about to tell answers a question that people are actually asking … or would ask if they thought you’d listen.
Because otherwise, it’s story for story’s sake. And Lord knows we have enough of that already.
So, what are your thoughts on my choice for 2012′s Word of the Year? Agree? Disagree? Got a better candidate to put forth? Let us know in the Comments—we’d love to hear from you!
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