Why marketing and storytelling don’t work together

By Limor Shiponi

From the amount of noise on the web, you’d think there’s a goldmine in the marketing-storytelling connection; there might be in writing and talking about it. Truth is – with the current marketing mindset – there is no such connection. The reason is simple although it seems marketers have a blind spot there:

  • If “evoke an emotion” is your guideline
  • If you’d swear to God audiences want reality and fiction mixed
  • If you think data lends credibility to storytelling
  • If you categorize storytelling under ‘entertainment’
  • If you think every brand and business need a brand story crafted for them
  • If you’re sure your story has to take others on a journey
  • If you meticulously place calls to action in your texts
  • If you feel the word ‘storytelling’ alone seems too weak to impress
  • If you want storytelling to ‘corner the market’ or as ‘the ultimate weapon’
  • If you quote Ernest Hemingway’s saying about his 6 word story again and again
  • If you think your work with storytelling is so unique I couldn’t prolong this list with at least another hundred irrelevant quotes about ‘storytelling’…

You’re on the right way to wrong, or there already.

Reason: storytelling is an introvert art.

Marketing, which today is more like advertising, is the opposite.


17 thoughts on “Why marketing and storytelling don’t work together”

  1. Pingback: Why marketing and storytelling don’t work together

    1. Hi David, thanks for asking. Grim? Not really, more of fed up. While marketers seemingly have fun playing with what they perceive as storytelling, they lack to notice the damage they are causing.

      Storytelling and marketing is not the same thing, just as storytelling and theater is not the same thing. There are tangent elements, but they come from a different intention and lead to different places. Why turn everything into the shallows?

        1. Hi David,

          Remember marketing has media power and unnatural reach enabled by technology. It creates a strong buzz and influences people, even when they are unaware of this influence.

          Keeping that in mind, I’ll give you an example for one kind of damage: connecting the word ‘messages’ to storytelling. Storytelling is not about crafted messages but rather about eliciting thought. If I’m telling you a story with an intended message in it, I’m using my power to preach, to influence by force, not to do what I’m supposed to do.

          Through marketing calling itself storytelling, the idea storytelling needs to be about messages has infiltrated many people’s minds. It’s not uncommon today for someone to ask me at the end of a story “but what’s the message?” this wasn’t there two years ago. It’s like someone asking me to tell him what to think – I find that terribly sad.

          Going the right way would be to learn how to tell stories properly, how to connect with an audience, how to create genuine communication with no preconditions about the ‘beneficial’ outcome.


          1. I agree that it tends to spoil the story if the storyteller has to explain the moral of the story, but all stories have messages. If it’s not overt, the listener makes up their own message.

  2. I could not agree more! I have lately rediscovered Walter Benjamin and his essay: “The storyteller” and even though he is writing about “writing stories”, his words has an importance which all storytellers should read. I find for instance this very important: “The storyteller takes what he tells
    from experience—his own or that reported by others. And he in turn makes it the experience of those
    who are listening to his tale.” Benjamin underlines the experience as the core of storytelling. He also writes the following: “Every morning brings us the news of the globe, and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because
    no event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with explanation. In other words, by
    now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost everything benefits information.” THis is written for over 60 years ago and even more valid today.

      1. Information is operational content – it’s quality can be measured by usability, accuracy, ease of retrieval. It does not have to answer any dramatic rules or patterns. Open the phone book (or your contacts app) – that’s information. Is that information a story? No. There is no dramatic arc, no higher organizing idea, no pattern beyond repetition. Even if you look at the entire list as a possibility for a story – it isn’t. There are no necessary relationships between the content units.

        1. Information is the stepping stone of story. Someone who is adept at reading the phone book could extract a story from it much like an arborist can read the rings of a tree.

    1. Hi Heidi, thanks for this. I find Benjamin’s quotes helpful in understanding both the experience and the content perceptions of storytellers. I can see how an author will call himself a storyteller although writing – there is a kinesthetic element to writing too.

    1. Hi Mark, I do prefer specific to ‘in general’. However, there are two limitations here: (1) I cannot give you a full example if I do not have all the data, including business data, (2) the examples I do have full data for I cannot share with their brand names since almost everything I’m involved with in the business world is under NDA. So the example is a real one, I can’t tell you who it is.

      Medium size B2B global-reach tech brand.
      Request – incorporate storytelling ‘mindset’ into marketing strategy brainstorms and creation of collaterals.
      Marketing reasoning – hype, seems plausible.
      Business reasoning – new product release.
      Business objective – grow sales to existing clients.
      Work performed – opening overview session for all marketing personnel; number of workshops for strategy team; number of workshops for copywriters, marketing communications, content managers, and product-marketing managers. All great, most people very able in their field; some leading team meetings, deep discussions.
      However, when it came to real performance, they couldn’t let go. Although the material was more engaging than what they did before, they just couldn’t help dotting it with messages, calls to action, marketing fluff and all the rest of the stuff that makes people think “oh, marketing”.
      Business outcome – business as usual.

      Just for comparison so you’ll know where my expectations are between success and failure: a different B2B brand that was fully able to ‘give in’ to storytelling techniques, where the VP of marketing was willing to ward off any kind of “but that’s not the way…” including their advertizing agency, ended up owning 25% market share moving there from 9% in 12 months.


  3. About messages in stories – what’s the problem with listeners making up their own messages?

    In story, information is what makes up the narrative – the pile of details from which a plot can be extracted. Through inner processes of reasoning and sense making, someone reading a phone book can extract a story only for himself. The minute he wants to share it with another person, he’ll have to shape that information into story-form. Otherwise – the other person can’t make sense of it. They will not be sharing anything meaningful.

  4. Pingback: Why marketing and storytelling don’t work together | Texten fürs Web | Scoop.it

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