In marketing, the concept of storytelling is hot right now. For 2014, it is estimated that 78% of CMOs think custom content is the future of marketing. It has also been projected that marketing teams will spend a whopping $135 billion on digital marketing efforts this coming year. Latitude, the company driving the Storytelling initiative, seeks to incorporate the reader in "cross-platform narrative experiences" for retention and personal experience.
There is a growing consensus that story has power and that the interaction of the reader somehow drives the tale forward. While this may be obvious to those of us who do their best to read and write as much as possible, it's an important step in the overall evolution of the marketing and how the brand is related to the customer. To understand the concept of story personally, marketers and PR specialists alike should turn off Netflix for a few hours each day and open a book. Reading stretches the mind. It requires us to use our imagination and see this world, and others, in a new way. As we work through the concept of creating story, it is helpful to read books that push our imaginations past the point of mental endurance. Below are three books that will do just that.
1. Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell - Suzanne Clarke
Printed back in 2004, this book chronicles two magicians in 19th century England during the Napoleonic Wars. It is based on the premise that magic that once existed in England will be ushered in by these two men. The Raven King, fairies, and a plethora of footnotes guide the reader forward with pure momentum. Clarke managed to create an entire mythos, one that surpasses the magical worlds we have been introduced to in the past. How does it stretch the mind? See below. One of the characters has just encountered Strange (one of the magicians) and is going through a magical experience:
"He thought he stood upon an English hillside. Rain was falling; it twisted in the air like grey ghosts. Rain fell upon him and he grew thin as rain. Rain washed away thought, washed away memory, all the good and the bad. He no longer knew his name. Everything was washed away like mud from a stone. Rain filled him up with thoughts and memories of its own. Silver lines of water covered the hillside, like intricate lace, like the veins of an arm. Forgetting that he was, or ever had been, a man, he became the lines of water. He fell into the earth with the rain. He thought he lay beneath the earth, beneath England. Long ages passed; cold and rain seeped through him; stones shifted within him. In the Silence and the Dark he grew vast. He became the earth; he became England. A star looked down on him and spoke to him. A stone asked him a question and he answered it in its own language. A river curled at his side; hills budded beneath his fingers. He opened his mouth and breathed out spring."
2. The Dark Tower Series - Stephen King
This series deserves mention because it is my favorite and while it's not a single book, it chronicles a single story. Roland Deschain is a cowboy/knight/ambassador in a world that has "moved on". He is on a quest to reach the nexus of existence, the Dark Tower, and fix there what's wrong. This seven-volume opus is referenced throughout King's vast array of works connecting them all in their own node, making this series a natural mind-bender. Below is an excerpt with the Man in Black giving Roland a lesson:
"You see? Size defeats us. For the fish, the lake in which he lives is the universe. What does the fish think when he is jerked up by the mouth through the silver limits of existence and into a new universe where the air drowns him and the light is blue madness? Where huge bipeds with no gills stuff it into a suffocating box and cover it with wet weeds to die?
Or one might take the tip of the pencil and magnify it. One reaches the point where a stunning realization strikes home: The pencil tip is not solid; it is composed of atoms which whirl and revolve like a trillion demon planets. What seems solid to us is actually only a loose net held together by gravity. Viewed at their actual size, the distances between these atoms might become league, gulfs, aeons. The atoms themselves are composed of nuclei and revolving protons and electrons. Everything in the universe denies nothing; to suggest an ending is the one absurdity."
3. The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien
Few Tolkien readers venture past the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Those who do and choose this book will be rewarded with tales from the 1st and 2nd Age of Middle Earth. Work past the impossible names (listen to the audiobook) at the beginning and lose yourself in the many stories of Beren and Luthien, the War of Wrath, and the Atlantean tale of Numenor. Below is an excerpt of a battle that took place in song, between Sauron (the bad guy from LOTR) and the Elvish King Felagund. As you read, remember that these two beings are fighting...with song:
"Then suddenly Felagund there swaying
Sang in answer a song of staying,
Resisting, battling against power,
Of secrets kept, strength like a tower,
And trust unbroken, freedom, escape;
Of changing and of shifting shape,
Of snares eluded, broken traps,
The prison opening, the chain that snaps."
As marketers, the ability to tell a story rests in our decision to take seriously the countless tales that feed into our imagination. Reading will exercise your mind so that when you are required to tell a story to your customers, you will be able to make each one of them the central character.