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Lessons from 10 years of Storytelling

There are certain milestones that many people will point to as important. This year, we are celebrating such a milestone. Yet for us, every year has been a milestone of lessons learned and hardships overcome.

But in the spirit of commemorating this achievement, we thought we'd share a few lessons from our experience.

  1. There have to be 'stakes'. Stories don't work without them. For some reason in brand and cause storytelling, many people forget that the storytelling rules still apply. Your story is not simply the retelling of your foundation or the years of your company laid out in a clever timeline. It's also not a creative packaging of your features or benefits. Your story, brand and cause alike, has to include something that is at risk, not for you necessarily but from the inaction of your customers, donors, or the public at large. If there is nothing at stake, nobody will care.

  2. Production Quality Matters. It does. Time and time again against the flippant opinions of lesser marketers and Instagram influencers, quality wins out. Yes, you CAN create a great story with an iPhone but you most likely won't. Those examples are the exception, not the rule. Sure some quick social media content can be rough around the edges, but not your primary brand storytelling. Even Apple understands that and tried to add "cinematic" mode to their phones. Guess what? Most of the great content that truly moves and inspires people still isn't shot in the iPhone cinematic mode. It's made by crews with experience and craft.

  3. You're not the hero. You can read that again if you need to. You aren't though. Your customers, donors, or those you serve are the heroes. You have an important role to play but it's not being the hero because you aren't the one that needs to be called to a journey and return changed for the better. You're going to help the hero but the second you start trying to be the hero your audience is going to lose interest.

  4. Most marketers aren't telling stories. They say they are but they're not. They're messaging or designing or advertising but they're not telling stories. Telling stories should be the center of your brand but most don't have the courage to do it well or at all. Benefits and features are too distracting and so most of the time they get focused on that.

  5. Authencity is a quality of storytelling, not production. Aiming a camera at something and being raw doesn't make something authentic. Lots of influencers are aiming their cameras at VERY inauthentic lives. Audiences can tell. Authenticity is a quality of storytelling. Production value should match the needs of the project budget, delivery, and platform but being 'raw' isn't a shortcut.

  6. Attention spans aren't getting shorter, the content just sucks. People watch hours and hours of serial tv. Films have been replaced by 12 - 24 hour-long episode seasons. They don't have short attention spans. They have a low tolerance for crap. Their feeds are full of stuff. Show them something worth giving 2 mins to. That's probably not going to be an animated video talking about the genius of your platform's benefits.

  7. "Why" is the most important question to answer. People care about the "why" so much more than the who, what, how, when, and where.

  8. Your story will probably impact your internal audience more than your external and that's a good thing. Your team, be it employees or volunteers, need to believe in what you do more than your potential customers. Don't forget to message to them when you're marketing to the latter.

  9. Purpose-driven brands and causes are the future. When you're serving a greater purpose than profit alone, you will win and the world will win too. That's what they call in the winning business a win-win. We'll stop now. ;)

  10. The experience is just as important as the outcome. We've made phenomenal work in the last 10 years but more important are the relationships we've formed. We call many of our clients friends. Our greatest compliment is hearing that they loved working with us as much as the final product. That is a testament to our team. They're the best we could imagine. Not because they're THE most talented but because their talent is eclipsed by their character. They're crazy good at what they do too. It doesn't get better than that.