20 year content strategy veteran, Sharon Burton. Sharon Burton consults about content strategy, content business issues, social media and managing post-sales customer experience issues.

Content development and storytelling

Content development and storytelling

In the world of content development and marketing, storytelling is huge. To attract people to your brand, the thinking goes, tell good stories. Good stories keep people interested in your brand and associated products. Your content development efforts need good stories.

This is being presented as a new idea. In fact, this is a very old idea in a shiny new wrapper.

Information transmission

In non-literate cultures, some things are learned by watching and being actively taught – for example, learning the right plants to eat or how to make an arrow point. This sort of information is constantly in use, as there are always kids around, always wanting to learn or find out.

It’s also the sort of information that all adults have, so if you don’t remember exactly how to do it, there’s lots of other people to ask. I’m not saying that Susan over there doesn’t know more about the plants we eat, I’m saying that everyone has essentially the same basic knowledge.

This kind of information is daily or regular use information. People are involved in this content, if you will, nearly every day.

Less often used information

But there is other information that isn’t used every day – perhaps it’s only needed once a year. For example, we only go here for a few weeks every year and this wonderful special plant that’s hard to find and harder to prepare is found here. In your entire lifetime, you may only be involved with this plant 40 times.

This specialized information will probably be in the domain of the older people because they have more experience with it and have done this a few times. Younger people will use the older people as Quick Reference resources.

Older people are the mobile information storage devices, if you will, of important but not frequently needed information.

And then there’s this

But what happens when there’s information you only need once a generation, if that often? Just because you need it less often doesn’t mean it’s not critical. So how do you make sure people remember it?

Stories. Really sexy, really exciting stories.

For example, the Australian natives lived in a very difficult and fragile environment. It’s subject to fires, floods, drought, and other events that make resources such as water or plants scarce and unreliable. Sometimes, all but a few water spots dried up. Knowing the location and timing of these water spots meant living or dying.

So, how did they solve preserving information like what water holes were available in what conditions in what time of year during even horrible droughts? By encoding that information into a cycle of stories.

They created compelling content. And they told this content as fun and dramatic stories. Every child heard these stories and then retold the stories to their children. And so on.

Sex sells – it always has

What were the stories about? They were a cycle of stories about characters having wonderful and exciting and dangerous adventures through all sorts of disasters, visiting various resources during the adventures. The dramatic adventures made it easy to remember what resources existed during what events.

After all, who wants to remember a list of resources when you can remember an exciting story? What’s more fun: a multiplication table or an compelling story?

How are you telling your story?

Are you telling your story as a multiplication table or as an exciting and dramatic tale? It matters because we’re hard-wired for exciting tales. Our brains love a good story. We remember good stories. We tell and retell good stories.

Your content development needs to tell good stories.

Do you want your story to be remembered or forgotten? What is the customer experience you want around your content development efforts?

To learn more about stories and dangerous environments and information transmission

Gould, Richard A.  1969.  Yiwara:  Foragers of the Australian Desert.  New York:  Scribners.

and Carobeth Laird in
—  1976.  The Chemehuevis.  Banning, CA: Malki Museum Press.

By Sharon Burton

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