Vor gut eineinhalb Jahren hatte ich Freude und Ehre, im Rahmen der Vortragsreihe “DACS Show and Share” der Münchner Architekten Dina Andersen und Christian Schmid zu sprechen.
Es war ein heißer Juliabend, der erste heiße Abend nach vielen Wochen ungewöhnlicher Kälte und Regen im Juli. Das war cool. Einerseits, denn die die Atmosphäre im Hinterhof der Türkenstraße 21 in Münchens Studentenviertel war an diesem Abend mediterran, einladend ausladend, ausgelassen gelassen, geschichtenträchtig. Andererseits hingegen, was macht man an so einem heißen Sommerabend in Minga, gerade nach einer gefühlten Eiszeit? Genau: Biergarten. Dem geschuldet (so nahmen wir selbstsicher an) kamen statt der angemeldeten 80 Gäste gerade mal 35…
Enttäuschung? Nur im ersten Moment. Denn die, die kamen, wollten’s wirklich. Setzten erfreuliche Prioritäten, nahmen kurze wie längere Wege auf sich, um beim Vortrag “Geschichten als Gestaltungsräume für moderne Marken” über das immerheiße, immergrüne Geschichtenerzählen (neudeutsch: Storytelling), Bedeutung und Chancen für Imagebildung, Imageschärfung, Dialogfähigkeit und Geschäftsunterstützung moderner Marken (erfolglos) der Hitze zu entfliehen. Verschmähten Hoibe und Brezn, tauschten sie gegen Flaschenbier und Hirnschmalz, eingerahmt von Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, Mr. Jones und Guy Clark. Ein Traum von Sommer in der Stadt.
Warum denke ich gerade jetzt an diesen Abend zurück? Sicher, weil’s draußen grad mal wieder eklig regnerisch windet und in schwachen Minuten gar schneit. Aber auch, weil mir folgendes Video, das im Vorfeld dieses Vortrags entstanden ist, zwar nicht in die Hände, aber doch virtuell zufällig vor die Augen fiel, als es schüchtern aus seiner Verbannung hinter den Gittern von Vimeo heraus lugte.
Alles noch so wahr wie damals, so wahr wie gestern und vorgestern, so wahr wie heute und morgen, so wahr ich dort stand):
“You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times, they are a-changin’. — Bob Dylan, 1964
Alles im Wandel, immer zu, immer wieder. Evolution, das reicht uns schon lange nicht mehr. Talkin’ ’bout a revolution! Allerorten, politisch, wirtschaftlich, medial. Auch im Land der unbegrenzten Marketingmöglichkeiten des Internet. Hochkonjunktur der Hilf- und Orientierungslosen. Und tatsächlich: Angeblich revolutionäre Trends schießen wie kontaminierte Pilze aus medialen Böden, seit Jahren. Werden uns professionell Kommunikativen auf dem Altar der digitalen Eitelkeiten feilgeboten wie heilige Grale: Folgt dem Messias – oder gehet unter im Fegefeuer der Followerlosen! Und was tun wir? Folgen, natürlich. Wie Brians Jünger der liegengebliebenen Sandale.
Schluss damit, liebe Volksfront von Digitalien! Emanzipiert Euch!
Übt Euch in kritischer Distanz zur selbsternannten Content Revolution. Zu altem Wein in neuen Schläuchen. Übt Euch in demütiger Bescheidenheit, bevor Ihr das Wort ‚Revolution’ in Mund oder Feder nehmt! Demut vor der Geschichte, die retrospektiv gnadenlos so Manches ins rechte Licht rückt – oder in den Schatten stellt.
Mit dem Weitwinkelobjektiv der Geschichte empfiehlt der Literaturwissenschaftler – vulgo Ego – Besinnung auf alte Werte aus Zeiten, als Storytelling noch Geschichtenerzählen hieß, und Content Literatur oder Dichtung. Lest Aristoteles und Opitz, Shakespeare und Goethe und all ihre Erben. Und lernt so ein wenig mehr Gelassenheit im Umgang mit scheinbar neuen Medien und deren Bewohnern, der unheimlichen Spezies namens User. Entlarvt und demaskiert ist dieser gar nicht mehr so undurchsichtig, bedarf gar keiner großer Daten (für Dengländer: Big Data), um verstanden zu werden. Zwar hat die multidirektionale, grenzenlose Erreichbarkeit und Vernetzheit des Indivualmassenmediums Internet (ob 1.0, 2.0 oder x.0) zu einer medialen Gerissenheit und einem kognitiven Vorsprung des Empfängers vor dem Sender geführt. Doch das ist keine schlechte, sondern eine gute Nachricht, führt sie doch im Kant’schen Sinne zu einem Ausgang des Menschen aus seiner selbst verschuldeten Unmündigkeit. „Habe Mut, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!“, lautete 1784 der Wahlspruch der Aufklärung, und das Internet ist Aufklärung 2.0: Menschen, die Corporate Messages und Corporate Advertising keinen Glauben mehr schenken, Menschen, die, unterstützt durch Technologie, gleichberechtigte Gesprächspartner werden. Nicht mehr der Leitung anderer folgen, sondern selbst diese Leitung zu übernehmen. Über Marken, deren Wahrnehmung, deren Inhalte. Insofern gibt es keine Content Revolution, sondern nur eine Content Quality Revolution, in der das Wort Content nicht nur für Inhalt, sondern auch Gehalt und Zufriedenheit des Empfängers, nicht des Senders steht.
Menschen sind kein Big Data, keine Nullen und Einsen. Sie sind subjektiv und individuell, nicht objektiv und kollektiv. Ein unberechenbarer Teil jeweils unterschiedlich beschaffener, unterschiedlich großer Gemeinschaften (neudeutsch: Communitys). Diese Menschen sind im digitalen Zeitalter Projektionsflächen für Geschichten, für Geschichten, die sie selbst erleben, aber auch für diejenigen, die sie aufsaugen – oder auch wieder angewidert ausspucken. Sie sind eben nicht mehr nur Rezipienten, Konsument und Lemming, sondern Produzent, Prosument und spielregelverändernde Punks.
Schreck lass nach!
Ein Entschreckungsszenario in drei Thesen:
1. User sind Menschen. Menschen lieben Geschichten. Und Geschichtenerzählen kann gelernt werden!
„Der storycodeX“ nach @herrdennehy: Erwartunges schaffen und befriedigen. Überraschen. Verändern.
2. Punks wollen sich nicht bevormunden lassen. Sie wollen mitgestalten und mitbestimmen. Lassen wir sie!
Poe weitergesponnen: Konzentration auf das Individuum in der Crowd, Beobachten, Loslassen. Als Marke zur Crowd werden, und die Crowd zur Marke werden lassen.
3. Alles ist vernetzt und organisiert. Drum müssen auch wir es sein!
Der Siemens Corporate Newsroom in der Unternehmenszentrale in München: Pionierarbeit und erfolgreiches Experiment themenbasierter Zusammenarbeit über Abteilungsgrenzen hinweg.
Die „Corporate Story Architecture“ nach @herrdennehy: Von der großen Markengeschichte über all die kleinen Geschichten, die diese zum Leben erwecken und glaubhaft machen, bis hin zur strategisch geplanten Präsenz der Marke im medialen Mark. Ein stabiles Gebilde, das so manchem medialen Hurricane standhält.
Mehr zur Corporate Story Architecture, dem storycodeX und der Idee der Co-Creation aus dem Corporate Newsroom im Buch „Storytelling – Digital, Multimedia, Social: Formen und Praxis für PR, Marketing, TV, Game und Social Media“, das im Frühjahr 2016 im Hanser Verlag erscheinen wird, nach- und weiterlesen.
“Was kommt auf uns zu? Ich sehe herum, und alles zerbricht.
Alles ist in Stücken. Diese Zeit, in der wir leben.
Was, wenn etwas passieren würde? Wer würde sich um uns kümmern?
Es scheint, dass alles uns zerstören könnte.
Die Leute wollen unsere Familie zerstören. Hüte dich vor Ihnen, sie wollen uns alle zerstören.
Ich fühle es, alles so nah.
Diese schreckliche … schreckliche Katastrophe.”
(Maxim Gorki, Die Kleinbürger, 2. Akt., 1902)
Die Angst vor dem Fremden, dem Anderen, dem Unverständlichen gehört zum Menschsein und zur Menschgeschichte wie das Auf- und Untergehen der Sonne. Leider. Hierfür gibt es in der Geschichte ebenso wie in den Geschichten der Literatur allerorten viele traurige Beweise. Davon ist Obenstehender nur einer. Aus einer anderen Zeit, aus einem anderen Land, aus einem Drama, das seinen Namen verdient, beschäftigt mit dem einen Thema, das in uns stets und immer fortwährend die größten Ängste und größten Drama auslöst: Die Veränderung. So viel Positives aus jeder Veränderung hervorgeht, aus dem Neuen, aus dem Anderen, aus dem Vermischen des bisher Unvermischten, so sehr hat der Mensch immer genau davor Angst.
Auch heute wieder, 113 Jahre nachdem Gorki seine Kleinbürger über “diese schreckliche Katastrophe” hat lamentieren lassen, klingen die Menschen haargenauso. Alles zerbricht. Alles ist in Stücken. Alles scheint zerstört zu werden. Und hütet Euch vor ihnen. Vor Terroristen. Vor Islamisten. Und überhaupt vor dem Islam. Vor Flüchtlingen. Vor Marie Le Pen. Vor der Pegida. Vor den Medien. Vor Facebook. Vor der Digitalisierung. Vor der Globalisierung. Vor Deinem Nachbarn. Vor …
Und ob wir das (was auch immer DAS ist) schaffen, wird wiederum die Geschichte zeigen. Aber, wie immer, sind nicht die großen, lauten Medienberichte über katastrophale Zustände an Europas Grenzen oder in Flüchtlingsheimen, über zunehmende ausländerfeindliche Übergriffe auf und Demonstrationen gegen selbige, über hilflose Helfer und machtlose, weil ideenlose Politiker die (einzige) Realität. Nein (und auch das zeigen etwas feinfühligere Medien), es sind all die kleinen Geschichten und Momente des Alltags, in denen Integration, begleitet von unglaublichem Einsatz und Geduld, nicht nur möglich wird, sondern schon Realität ist.
Menschlichkeit ist möglich. Menschlichkeit ist Realität.
So gesehen und intensiv gefühlt bei der Schulweihnachtsfeier meiner Töchter in der vergangenen Woche. Liebevoll dekoriert und inszeniert (siehe Foto) bot, wie in jedem Jahr, jede Klasse etwas dar. Gesang, Tanz, Instrumentalmusik. Sehr schön, wie immer. Was nicht wie immer war, war der Weihnachtsrap der sogenannten “Übergangsklasse”, in der Kinder mit Migrations- oder Flüchtlinglingshintergrund über die Sprachbrücke in den Regelschulbetrieb begleitet werden. In erstaunlich gutem Deutsch (man denke an die kurze Zeitspanne von September bis Weihnachten!) und mit unbändiger Freude wurde hier gerappt und getanzt, ungeachtet von Alter, Hautfarbe, Herkunft, Glaube oder anderer angebliche trennender Faktoren. Vereint im Rap.
Es waren nur zwei Minuten, aber zwei Minuten, in denen ich spürte, sicher auch angeschickert von der allgemeinen, dem Frühlingswetter trotzenden Weihnachtssentimentalität, der Stimmung der stimmungsvoll geschmückten Schulweihnachtshalle: Menschlichkeit ist möglich, und Menschlichkeit wird siegen, sie muss. Und ja, wenn wir das alle wollen, dann schaffen wir das!
Wir dürfen nur die Hoffnung nicht aufgeben, dürfen Geschichte und Geschichten nicht vergessen. Derer, die jetzt Hilfe benötigen, ebenso wie die derer, die vor vielen Jahrzehnten oder Jahrhunderten hilfebedürftig waren. Denn das waren möglicherweise die Unseren, waren möglicherweise wir.
History repeats itself. All we have to do is learn.
Ever since I made my first professional walking attempts in the digital world (20 years ago that must be #feelslikeyesterday), I heard this mantra everywhere in the pre-dotcom bubble euphoria of Cluetrain afficionados, would-be Internet prophets, and notorious panjandrums:
CONTENT IS KING! They all said.
I had been studying Storytelling for five years, long before I even knew it was Storytelling. Back then they called it literature. So it seemed a little odd to hear these Internet geeks regurgitating their royal mantra when I had just meticulously learnt about the history, structure and perennial powers of stories told by early-day classics like Homer, Cervantes, Dante or Boccaccio, classic classics like Goethe, Schiller or Lessing or modern classics like Grass, Mann or Böll. Admittedly, I was also getting carried away by this millennial the-end-of-business-as-usual atmosphere of imminent change. Felt somehow audacious to dust off the venerable Germanstik patina in favour of some fresh … ehem, content?
It was only many years later, after necessary detours through the fires of corporate Mordor, that I realized one ring, I mean thing: The business world was (sorry: IS!) overly attracted by the glare of technological possibilities and features, fanatically prone to wanna-be-first- and because-we-can-itis. And thereby narrowly and one-sidedly interpreting the word “content”, neglecting other, much more elementary facets – facets that become clearest in the three different German translations the word “content” offers.
Back in the late 90’s, corporate content creation had nothing to do with journalistic research or writing talent. Its creators literally were content “managers”, i.e. project managers for pieces of content that they 1:1 transferred from paper to HTML and pinned to the newly discovered digital blackboard called website. Period. Their job was simply about the most general interpretation of content: words and pictures on a screen, publishing material. The (most probable and wide-spread) German translation for this aspect of content would be:
Or: “Something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts … something that is contained.” (dictionary.com)
But it this Inhalt automatically something meaningful? Something that goes deeper than letters strung together by punctuation marks? Something that links beyond the surface not to just another succession of trivialities and soulless pixels, but to true substance? Mostly not. This is where in recent years (in continental Europe) or maybe decades (in Anglo-American dominated countries) the bandwagon of storytelling has already been able to do a lot for the greater good of meaningful content. If understood well and deployed according to the storycodeX of Expectation, Surprise and Change. The (a lot less wide-spread and more rarely spotted) German translation for this aspect of content with substance would be:
But interesting: Gehalt also means “salary” in German. So maybe in the end all just about the dough, be the content meaningful or not. Surely, what did you think? Now let’s once and for all get past the naïve, childish, even insulting notion that any one corporation on this planet has a different purpose than making money. And the more they want you to believe that they’re sustainably trying to save the world, “do something good” on the side with CSR and foundations, a little like a Hollywood actress doing charity, the more they’re deceiving you.
The labyrinth of linguistics … Whatever. What I actually wanted to say was: Meaningful content with substance is a good thing. But is it enough? No. Not today anymore, that’s for sure. Inhalt and Gehalt were a great, successful and sufficient, but nevertheless rare combination in the pre social media age. When the third facet of “content” didn’t really matter. It was the age of broadcast after all, old-school Shannon-Weaver style.
Bad news: those days are over. Interactivity, ubiquitous commentaries, likes and forum discussions have changed the recipient side practically over night (in a historical sense of time).
People and the conglomerates they form called audiences (NOT users!) will no longer be satisfied with consuming content-turned-into-great-stories and commenting on it in a more or less intelligent and fruitful discussion with fellow audience members or members from other audience groups. They will first of all want to be able to dig deeper behind your story, deeper into the spider web, find proof for your story, get in contact with the heroes of your story, and maybe some day also with you. If they’re not disappointed on their journey.
But, even more substantial, they will want to become an active part of a company’s business story and stories, not as actors or heroes, but as co-authors. After all, they are the other half of the corporate truth, the devil on the corporate shoulder, internal versus external perception. Devils who might become angels when they turn into a renowned and emancipated member if a brand’s story creation team. Only then will they be what the third, most vital and rarest facet of German translation attempts hints at:
Or: “Satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else … Archaic: willing.” (dictionary.com)
Yep, content is also an adjective, not only a noun.
And the central question is: Who is it that you want to satisfy with your content? Yourself? Your bosses? Your bosses bosses? Or maybe, only very maybe … your customers? Your customers’ customers? Your audiences? Maybe even a targeted small portion of your audience? Certainly, your answer will be: Of course my customers! Of course my audiences! Plus the fact, now I have all these big and massive and powerful data, I now even know what my audience wants before it knows that it wants it! Ha! There you go, eat this!
I’m eating …
Only: Lies are hard to digest. And all the easier to unmask. As written in the world’s most successful example of purposeful storytelling: “Thou shalt not lie!”
Which brings me to the answer of above-asked headline question: As long as you betray yourself and thereby the people you are apparently creating your content for, there will be no sustainably successful content! Take all your pig data, winnow the refuse from the valuable gold nuggets, take an honest and disarraying look at them, shuffle your cards anew, do away with your organization’s and your management’s old shibboleths, dare, launch a pilot, let go, and see what happens.
There is an even older mantra from our economy’s service sector, way back from the days when storytelling was still literature, when relevant content didn’t need to be called king, when it in fact was a rarity due to its scarcity, not due to its abundance. Back then, the saying went:
Der Kunde ist König. The customer is the King.
Aha. So, so. Let’s try that for once, what do you say?
I can’t get no satisfaction, he says? All the better; let that be your stimulant.
Somewhere between getting lost in transmedia and celebrating AOL („Annual Offline Leave“ – you should try it, helps you understand what Lennon meant when he said that “life is what happens while you’re tweeting” … or something like that), I remembered that I wanted to relive the part of my life when a mix tape (o.k., it was a mix CD, but that sounds so … unromantic, so modern, although the round thing itself is already square) actually changed my life. And at the same time catapulted my relationship with Mister G. to another level of intensity.
It started, as it often does, at work. The place where you spend most of your time, and sometimes are lucky enough to meet interesting people with whom you want to be a little more than colleagues – well aware of the company’s ink saying, but what the heck.
That’s where I met her, over 10 years ago now. And, of course, I mean look at her: She already had a boyfriend. Grrrr. What to expect? So it was waiting mode for God knows how long, felt like decades, which sounds pretty “100 Years of Solitute”-like romantic, but was in fact a couple of months, to be honest. Still … an eternity.
Eventually, not in vain.
The tide was turning, the dark knight’s access to the princess’ castle finally denied, for whatever reason, what should I care? This was my “Over The Top” moment, the knight in white satin’s imaginary baseball cap going in reverse, a unique moment and chance in time that I answered with …
… this mix tape (aka CD) titled “Something Beautiful”.
It contained a hell of a collection of songs, broad hint with a capital B. It was clandestinely handed over by a good, discreet and conspiratorial friend … and then the waiting began. Again.
Naturally, every one of the selected songs had its own story, a story in itself, a story for me, but also a connection to many of the stories that my Queen of Hearts to-be had been going through (as I had heard through the grape-vine and witnessed as a sideline observer). So hopes were high for a favourable, comprehending, comprehensive and, from a music and lyric lover’s perspective, appropriate reaction. A reaction that would show whether she was the right one. A simple “Oh, thanks” would have been just as disappointing as her not liking the kind of music her stalker was offering her, maybe even selecting the wrong, meaning most obvious song as her favourite one, one of those I had chosen from a “she’ll definitely love this one” perspective.
BUT … after waiting an appropriate while before even answering to this unasked-for present, she immediately named THE one song as her favourite that I had indeed put on this compilation as a kind of test balloon to check whether our two clocks were ticking in synch. THE one song that was my favourite song, from my favourite singer, expressing my favourite mood … a massive Broad hint from destiny. Or so I wanted to interpret it.
And the song was … “Sail Away” by David Gray. A song that has never been the same ever since, has probably reached an unsurpassable pool position on the past ten year’s hot rotation lists, has bestowed on us a very special moment at Mister G.’s 2006 concert in Munich, and has been the “Honey Call” tune on my mobile since mobile phones could read mp3’s.
Who knows, maybe without this joint Sail Away passion, we would never have gone out, never have kissed, never have, never have, never have …
OK, probably, if it was really meant to be in the first place, we would have gone out and done all that other stuff anyway, even if she’d had named the eponymous Robbie Williams song that found its way onto “Something Beautiful”.
“Transmedia storytelling (also known as transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling) is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formatsusing current digital technologies.
From a production standpoint, it involves creating content that engages an audience using various techniques to permeate their daily lives. In order to achieve this engagement, a transmedia production will develop stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content in each channel. Importantly, these pieces of content are not only linked together (overtly or subtly), but are in narrative synchronization with each other.“
A lot of story stuff involved, so I tend to like it, naturally. But also a lot of (digital) technology, channels, platforms. So, really something new? Or just an evolution version of our oldest megatrend, a Storytelling x.0?
Let’s take a look at where the concept stems from:
Transmedia as an idea of collaborative, multi-platform creation and narration origins in the 70’s and 80’s of the last century, in the area of telematic art, where artists experimented with collaborative narration and defined the idea of transmedia.
It soon moved on to the gaming industry, creating so-called Alternate Reality Games (ARG). These are games that, based on the Internet as a main hub, use(d) multiple other technological platforms like telephones, email and real offline mail to tell and simultaneously create different parts of the game’s story in those medial habitats relevant to the players. So not just transmedia telling, but transmedia engagement that requires interaction from every gamer in order to bring the game’s plot to the next level. In other words: “Players interact directly with characters in the game, solve plot-based challenges and puzzles, and collaborate as a community to analyze the story and coordinate real-life and online activities.” (Wikipedia) An early example being Ong’s Hat.
The next transmedia stop was cinema, bringing the whole idea of alternate realities not only to the screen itself (where we had long been used to getting immersed in alternate worlds), but also connecting these to our real, every day lives. The most prominent example certainly being 1999’s “Blair Witch Project”:
This was not only a mocumentary, i.e. a piece of fiction pretending to be documentary, but also accompanied by a variety of additional, supporting pieces of content such as faked diaries, police reports or interviews that in itself engaged the audience in a captivating manner, adding to the cinema story’s apparent verisimilitude.
That was 15 years ago, and just the beginning …
Since a couple of years, also the commercial world of business communications has started to smell the rat? As always, the more consumer-oriented businesses are on the fore-front here with pioneers like Nike or Lego, but it won’t be long before the so-called B2B world will catch up.
So what could all of this mean for business communications and marketing? What can we learn from arts and entertainment?
I recently read this article on transmedialab.org that instinctively made me want to caution a “because we can” attitude that often pairs with technological advancements. The article basically was about the next big thing in cinema and henceforth modern storytelling. Not an R&D future project, but already on the audiences’ threshold.
The article begins with a short analysis of the film “APP”. APP is the first-ever movie that was written and produced with a 2nd-screen experience in mind, regularly adding content to your phone app while the of the film’s content unfolds on the traditional 1st cinema screen, and thus interrupting the movie’s actual narration.
Hmm, I thought.
Do I like this? Not too sure.
I’ll have to find out…
The article moves on with a glimpse into the labs of Disney’s experiments. These are currently limited to 2nd-screen “content interruptions” to back-catalog films like “The Little Mermaid”, but plans are to integrate the transmedia storytelling idea into the initial screen writing of future film productions.
Hmm, I thought, again.
Ambiguity crawling in …
The angel (or is it the devil?) on my shoulder says something like Yalda Uhl who states that “it is very important to engage children in a narration, and that is very difficult to do nowadays with all the distractions and stimulations that surround them. Adding a distraction in cinemas will definitely not help studios to achieve their goal of creating value or attracting an audience that will return to the cinema in the future”. Yes, says the angel (or devil)! REDUCE the distractions! Foster concentration spans! Concentrate on true narration and storytelling to immerse audiences in your story! Don’t just do stuff, because you technically can, audiences will soon get tired and will want to go back to good old traditional storytelling! Transmedia will eat itself for lunch! I knew it!
Then there’s this devil (or angel?) on the other shoulder talking about “story engagement” instead of boring one-way “story telling”. Making it clear to me that the potential of transmedia entertainment and the disruption of handed-down reception models is not only exiting, but in fact the only way to go. For entertainment as much as for business communications, both of them dealing with humans in the end. That today’s young and thus tomorrow’s adult generation will continue to literally gag for regular interruptions in their lives’ routines … and that linear, beginning-to-end storytelling is over, that no one will listen anymore, if there’s not more interactive engagement, audience involvement and multi-channel disruption.
Listening to both of them I begin to see, as with many things, there will be developments that we can’t stop, that will simply happen (because we CAN and because we as humans will simply WANT it), whether I personally like them or not.
Maybe the following
THREE COMMANDMENTS OF TRANSMEDIA STORYTELLING
can help steer technological developments into the right direction:
1. CONCENTRATE ON A GOOD STORY (ALONG THE PATH OF THE STORYCODEX).
Not matter which medium, no matter how many of them; not matter how fragmented and scattered: A well-told, convincing narration offering a high degree of the “Like Me” effect will always work. It doesn’t have to be chronological, but it needs Expectation, Surprise, Conflict and Change. What will change is the people who will create this expectation, add the surprise and conflict spice, foster the narration’s change – this will not be a classical narrator instance anymore, this will be multiple parties engaging in different parts of a story from different angles and perspectives, in different places. But a story it will still be.
2. DON’T LET TECHNOLOGY LEAD THE WAY OF A STORY.
No matter what technological developments the future holds, no matter what devices will surface: Technology is simply an enabler, an easer, a multiplier, distributer, a vehicle. The true power lies in the human nature of communication, conversation, and storytelling.
3. TURN STORY TELLING INTO STORY ENGAGEMENT.
Do listen to, observe your audiences, and maybe(?) realize: The age of (traditional) story TELLING could be over. Never the age of STORY itself, but maybe tomorrow’s audiences will really want fragmentation, want to be stimulated from multiple sources and in multiple places. Of course, THE CONCEPT OF STORY will and cannot change, it’s genuinely human, but: Maybe the future is indeed more about story ENGAGEMENT, involving audiences actively in plot creation or character development. This would radically influence scripting, e.g. by taking devices and reception environments into consideration when writing a story’s various chapters.
Again, all of this holds true not only in arts and entertainment, but also in business, along the infamous, much recited “customer journey”, a journey that is getting more and more complicated, but – if you listen and truly get involved – ever more rewarding for all story and hence conversation participants.
A couple of months ago, I introduced a schematic, illustrative version of what I believe is the essence of any good, real story: the “StorycodeX”. A very basic how-to and what-to-include. A code with must-have elements, but also a code that allows “X” variations, no one-fits-all execution, but a necessary basis in order to reach your storytelling purpose; be it entertainment, information, infotainment, messaging, catharsis, action, … you name it.
It started off like this, with Story Arc Phase 1:
Isn’t that course almost every one of today’s so-called corporate or business “stories” is taking? It begins somewhere … and goes nowhere. Nuthin happenin. Boring! Like totally.
Gladly, there is always an end to this misery, but it’s not a story’s end, it’s an mpeg’s end, and sometimes this misery is a loooong torture. Such communication products are indeed a serious hazard to our mental and physical health, no kiddin, head injuries from falling asleep and banging your head on the table being just one of many to caution.
So, what we at least need is to rouse a little bit of EXPECTATION on the audience’s side, EXPECTATION that the above arrow is actually leading somewhere. And this somewhere needs to be a place we actually want to travel to:
OK, now what happens when you create high EXPECTATIONS? Right: You’re gonna have to deliver. Deliver something interesting to the audience, something you ex- or implicitly promised in the first phase or your story arc. This suggestion can be made by means of story content (meaning the What, action or words) or story making (meaning the How of story creation, music, visuals, etc.). But if you create false hopes with cheesy, cheap special effects or bull-shit-bingo slogans, and then the above arrow goes on in an infinity loop of boredom, and there also goes your audience!
To avoid this mess, Story Arc Phase 2 kicks in:
Ideally, this something happening is something SURPRISING, but definitely it needs to be something meaningful. Meaningful not for you as producer or maybe even the narrator, if you have one, but meaningful for the immanent story logic and its hero(es):
Such an incident again needs to ignite a new sense of EXPECTATION, a hope that this SURPRISING development in scene or action will actually lead somewhere, somewhere else, somewhere new, somewhere unexpected. Because: If just anything happens, expected or not, and the dotted arrow of boredom we started off with slithers on as before: There goes your audience, again. But this time it’s not only bored, now it’s also angry! Because you fooled them, lured them it into watching, listening or reading for longer than initially planned. And then (gee, you actually almost had them!): disappointment galore. Thank you for flying with Never Come Back Airlines!
What the audience was hoping, ideally even gagging for was: a turn in the story’s plot, in the hero’s life, leading him (or her, or them) to a different place (literally or psychologically, spiritually) as a consequence of everything that happened before. Hero and audience are confronted with a different world than when the narration commenced, and both need to deal with it:
This altered direction is indeed a story’s (and in fact life’s) vital ingredient #1, an ingredient every good story ever told has (literally making story a metaphor for life). I’m talking about CHANGE:
But no CHANGE without life’s vital ingredient #2: CONFLICT. Corporations hate this beast, lock it up in a cage, try to kill it in every part of their shiny, the-world-is-perfect advertising and PR, but the son of a gun somehow always manages to escape!
Life is full of CONFLICT. CONFLICT is life’s spice, the only ingredient that really fosters CHANGE – as in story. So, if life or a story just steadily flows like a calm river without anything happening, without any CONFLICT occurring, the result might be great for meditation, but when it comes to purposeful, infotaining storytelling, what you get is one great big “YAWN”. This CONFLICT need not be explicit or even literally happening: inner conflict or narrations in retrospect are very often even more exiting modes of storytelling than the in-your-face alternative.
So, somewhere above (or below or in the midst of) every plot, every action (f)lies:
CONFLICT, however, should never be a self-serving element, a shocker, a special effect. It needs to happen to someone, this someone being (oh, quelle surprise!) a human being. Not a product. Not a solution. Not a service. Generally: Not a thing. So if anyone comes around asking you to create a campaign where “the product is the hero”: Fire him! And if you can’t fire him, cause he’s your boss, please argue him out of this idea. “The product is the hero” communication efforts are the most dangerous of all in regards to the afore-mentioned banging-your-head-on-the-table hazard!
Seriously, I know it sounds real wacky and kind of common sense, but decades of engineers and product managers becoming part- or full-time communicators, decades of one-way make-believe and hiding-lies-behind-effects advertising is over. Maybe not completely, yet. Maybe not today, completely. But soon, definitely.
So, to complete the StorycodeX and give the picture both its frame and its core, I proudly present the conversion of HERO 1.0 (the one who started his journey on the left side of boredom arrow, lived through EXPECTATION, SURPRISE and CHANGE in one or numerous iterations, depending on the story’s epicness) into HERO 2.0 (a different version of the same person, altered, in a positive or negative way) through CONFLICT:
CONFLICT and business communications rejecting this phenomenon so fervently, refusing the acknowledgement of the negative is a great topic, definitely worth a blog post here … maybe some other day… 🙂
It’s a crux with these holidays: When you think they’re finally over, the next one is just around the bend. Christmas, birthdays, Saint’s Days, … and Easter. Just around the corner, again.
And even though our beloved Easter bunny (apparently) has limited storage capacities (unlike Santa with his big sack), there are somehow always some small oder medium-sized toys (so-called SMT’s) that find their way into the nest where only chocolate rabbits and sweets should be.
But what if good ol’ Bugs accidently brings a duplicate or something unpopular, something endlessly uncool?
No worries, I have a replacement recommendation for you. I mean for Mr. Bunny, of course.
It’s called “Story Cubes”, a simple, entertaining, educating game, and it’s about pure storytelling. The packaging says: “Age 6+”, but it also works with younger children, showing us once again that storytelling is a human gift, engraved into our DNA, a pure form of human communication behaviour for which you need no education, no theory, just infant practice.
“Story Cubes” currently comes in three variations: the “classic” version, the “actions” version, and the “voyages ” version. You can play any variant on its own or randomly combine them.
It goes like this: There are 9 dices (aka cubes) per story cubes set, and every side of every cube carries a different image, like a monkey, the piece of a puzzle or a camera, for instance. The player whose turn it is throws all nine cubes at once. He then needs to bring the cubes into any given order by chaining one image to the next – like chapters of a story. While doing this, he tells the plot of the story he is just laying out on the table – the drama that turns the images from mere symbols into the different acts of a story. This can be short and sweet, or long and epic, depends on the player’s narrative breath and imagination.
What is interesting: The game has no winner or loser. It’s just about telling good, entertaining, surprising stories. Especially for children, but also for us grown-up’s, there’s a high level of creativity and imagination required, in order to have fun and entertain your fellow players.
Plus: You can’t fool kids like you can fool inapt managers or other advertising- and PR-spoilt business individuals: you can’t put anything over them, can’t simply chain one image or word to another and claim it’s a story, when it’s nothing more than bullet points or corporate messages (to stress the manager metaphor once again). And I made the experience, while playing Story Cubes with my daughters, that the infant, naïve rejection of a boring, plot-free succession of words not only happens when they are forced to listen (aka as audience), but also when they are the storytellers themselves. They actually interrupt themselves with the comment “Can I start again? This story is boring, nothing’s happening!”
That’s how they learn the craft – and intuitively follow the StorycodeX of Expectation, Surprise and Change. A CodeX that also needs another vital ingredient, the Hero or Protagonist who this surprising change is happening to, always an organic, unwitting part of my kids’ Story Cubes stories …
But I’ll write about the Hero Phenomenon in a later post – when I’m back from my Easter Holidays, NOT playing Story Cubes, as the rest of the Mr. Bunny’s presents were indeed a slam-dunk. 🙂
So … There is this German pop singer. I really detest his banal, friendship-book-like lyrics, his schlager music style, hate his “I am your favorite son-in-law” attitude. Gives me goose pimples on my eardrum. Kind of my Lord Voldemort of Music, he who must not be named, let alone listened to.
But then something happened and forced me to reconsider … grrrr!
Crime scene, once again, the breakfast table. Sitting together with a little spare time, on our plates all the things children do that have the potential of becoming the source for an unexpected change of perspective. The girls had been singing this song called “Lieder” (“Songs”), My Musical Lord Voldemort’s latest œuvre, for days, almost off by heart. The song had also been permeating my sensitive auricles for weeks, in shopping malls, as background purring in soap operas, or on 40+ radio stations day in, day out, perpetrating the notion that the Lord was doing it again. Ooops style.
The girls’ tweeting at the top of their voices, knowing the lyric’s word by word, if not the meaning, forced (and continues to force) me not only to damage my Spotify playlist image, but also watch the guy’s very unsubtle video on PutPat like a trillion times in a row, and listen a little closer.
Now that really ticked me off! Liquid substance coming for from my lachrymal sacks listening to this kitsch? Ah, c’mon! For no rational reason at all: The melody is mediocre, the arrangement and production middle-of-the-road pop, the lyrics far from anything poetic, intellectually ambitious or sophisticated.
BUT … Voldemort is, in these 3 minutes and 50 seconds, well, not actually telling a story, but implying one. The big story of collective memory, brought to life through a vast number of song titles from the past decades of pop culture. Every single one of these titles hints at a very different memorial story in all the different hearts and minds of its listeners, snowballing emotions that the narrator may be hoping for, but surely cannot know or predict.
It’s a cheap trick, and not particularly well done, judged with the rational part of your self, but it works, with the emotional half. If you put aside your intellectual coolness barrier and let your thoughts take this trip down memory lane. Unbiased and, yes, with the eyes of a child – which is quite fitting in the case of “Lieder”, as most listeners who allow retrogressive tears to well up here probably were in their infancy or adolescence when the mentioned songs were in the charts or en vogue, hence surfaced from the masses of music to become music for the masses and memory makers for many an individual. Including me.
The songs that “Lieder” refers to can be found in the following playlist, and I BET you, you’ll be kick starting your hippocampus within seconds, with images that are completely different from the ones that I have, but I betcha they are there, if you allow them to.
And here’s the list in words, just for the record.
So what do I take from my own personal Lieder Experience, apart from a couple of pudent tears?
Our lives are indeed made up of stories. Not facts, dates and names, it’s the stories that make all of them come to life and live on in our memories, no matter how much time has passed. We will forget the names of people we went to university with, forget the bad marks we got in school, maybe even the name of the girl who dumped us when we were 14. But we will never forget the song that was playing on the radio, on our Sony Walkman or from the loudspeakers at a youth club party when we were feeling sorry for ourselves for whatever reason. Or happy. Or whatever the feeling was. And behind every feeling, there is a story.
So whether it’s Walk like an Egyptian, When Doves Cry, Voodoo Child, Like A Rolling Stone, Just Died In Your Arms Tonight, Bochum, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me, What A Wonderful World, Dancing With Tears In My Eyes, Heroes, Unbelievable, Purple Rain, Firestarter, I Will Always Love You, You Are Not Alone, Welcome To The Jungle, Personal Jesus, Insane In The Brain, When Will I Be Famous, König von Deutschland, End Of The Road, Loser, Killing In The Name Of, or Come As You Are … there’s probably a million stories secured in a million hearts and connected to one or more of these songs, maybe even one or more per specific lyric line.
And that’s the sole, but powerful beauty of “Lieder”.
No, allow me to correct myself, there is indeed another beauty to it: It makes me look forward to the day when my two little ones are big and (hopefully) interested enough in all those pearls that He-who-must-not-be-listened-to is singing about, maybe even like one or the other song or story. And probably the song “Lieder” itself will, whether I like it or not, become a new link in my chain of songs worth remembering – not because they were especially great, but because they remind me of special moments of my life.
Like sitting at the breakfast table, morning in, morning out, with two little voices of Germany listening to, watching and reciting this tune, regardless of the tight schedule before school-kindergarden-work. And reminiscing stories, thoughts, dreams and feelings surfacing after ages of subconscious burial.
After all, with music, it’s like with important scents in our lives: Even though in hindsight they might actually stink, they take you back decades in a flash … and memory is indeed a gracious, merciful and forgiving companion.
Here are 11 ingredients that will get you to your successful business story.
It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s worth the effort. It needs determination, honesty, and courage. The willingness to introspect, listen, experiment, learn, and optimize based on what you learn.
These ingredients, or tips, don’t necessarily need to come in the below order, nor does it suffice to go through all of them just once, over and out, success here you come! There’s a lot of inevitable repetition in these efforts, a kind of “perpetuum mobile of business story”.
Here we go:
1. It’s listening time, the age of attention and conversation. So: Listen to your audiences. Find out who they really are. What they really need, what they want. And where and how they want it.
2. Observe your competition. Don’t be a “Me Two”. Be different. Be authentically you.
3. You can only be you, if you know who you are. So: Find your big story, your identity, your character, your DNA. Again, this can only be achieved by listening. To yourself, your own organization from top bottom, left to right. To your audiences (or target groups, as you might call them). See where the delta is, where it matches, where it doesn’t. And somewhere amidst that cacophony of data: there’s your big story. Once you find it: stick to it!
4. Continuously search for all the stories within and without your organization that fill your big story with proof and bring it to life – credibly and authentically, verifiably and true. No matter how small or irrelevant they may seem: They are the only currency you have that differentiates you from your competition. Messages, Brand Ambitions, Visions, and all those bullshit-bingo Whatchmacallits are interchangeable, just hot air, written by expensive agencies to make you feel special. What truly makes you special are your stories, and your people or the people who make up your target audiences, for they are your stories’ heroes. And nobody else!
5. Become Sinatra, find your way, and then do it your way. If you believe in your idea’s brilliance and capability to tell all your stories great and small, the stories that in the end all make your big story, the accuracy of fit to your character, then go for it! Always follow The STORYCODEX of Expectation, Surprise and Change … and eliminate the taste factor. Nothing worse than management killing an idea just because they can. Because they have a position within your hierarchy that demands of you to ignore or tolerate that they don’t have a bloody clue what they’re talking about. Oh and: If these grey-suited folks demand of you to make their product the hero, remind them of the Ninth Commandment, the one about lying and false witness. A product can NEVER be a hero, and thou shalt never attempt to do so, thou will fail!
6. If your idea, your concept is truly brilliant, unique, something different, maybe even a little crazy: There’ll be armies of Bedenkenträger in their trenches, armed with “Buts” and “We’ve never done this before’s”. This should encourage you, not the opposite: You’re probably on the right track. To get past the army of doubters, call your project a “pilot”. Management feels comfortable with pilots, has a finite touch, limited risk and all that crap.
7. Once your pilot’s taken off, make no casualties, no compromises. Be resilient and consequent. The windmills of doubt and Schadenfreude will be blowing into your face from all directions. Don’t let them stop you. And find yourself a trustful companion who will stick by your side, even if one or the other of the journey’s adventures turns out to be a failure or at least different than expected. If this companion is also willing and able to tell your story and stories, a good and true storyteller, who doesn’t necessarily need to be an experts in your field of business, all the better. He (or she) just needs to understand you and be able to translate your management brand identity mission-vision-value-proposition messaging bullshit into stories somebody actually wants to hear.
8. Even if you’re out (or in) there alone, all by yourself: Be consistent, stick to who you are, what you believe in. Work on your own little moonwalk and surprise audiences and critiques, leave them awestruck.
9. How do you convince critiques and Benkenträger, prove them wrong? Right: through hard facts and figures they can’t neglect or deny. Seriously, anything procurement sharks, engineers or sales guys trust more than numbers on a paper or screen or power point? So give em what they want: Develop objective KPI’s, measure every customer’s every movement and interaction with your story, present the results in a comprehensible and comprehensive way, and then: Poke your tongue at them, or – if the figures suggest so – have the guts to admit they were right, and it didn’t work.
10. All along the way, every second of your adventure of finding yourself, understanding your competitors and your audience(s), finding all your stories great and small, finding your formula, pulling it through and sticking to your idea like Jacko to white socks … make sure you do it with someone you trust. Someone on your wavelength, with the same vision, as well as balls and management position to back you up when the FBI is up your fundament to shut your business down.
11. Last, but oh so very not least: Every truly unique, innovative and successful business story needs … investment. Not only of money, although it needs a lot of that also, make no mistake; investment in the stories themselves, of course, but also for the stories’ marketing, as nobody is really waiting for your corporate story! But you mainly need to invest a looooot of time, and need to give your story project time to grow, like a tree: from seed to graft to full-grown plant. In a nutshell: You need Herzblut: belief, commitment, passion, and stamina.