Naked Retail Storytelling: The Short Story
Twenty years ago, the folks who usually described themselves as “storytellers” were preschool teachers, Renaissance faire regulars and fairy tale-spinning leprechauns desperate to keep their little hands on their gold.
Every once in a great while, there would be that ad guy with “Storyteller” emblazoned on his business card. The associated assumption was that he lived in his parent’s basement with his cat, an art director.
Today, a search of LinkedIn reveals that there are hundreds of thousands of marketing types with “storytelling” as part of their title. You can’t swing an art directing cat anymore without hitting a storyteller.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (except for the cat). A well-crafted story is a piece of art; timeless, authentic, emotionally resonant. Telling them well is a rare talent.
And while it is true that too many marketers have anointed themselves “Tellers of Stories,” their intention – the desire to engage with a meaningful narrative – is a smart and honorable one. Brand storytelling should be considered a more honest and arts-friendly form of brand marketing.
In an upcoming series of posts (Naked Retail Storytelling), I’ll explore some of the basic tools, forms, tenets and techniques used by classic storytellers – writers, painters, filmmakers – and demonstrate how marketers can use them to up their brand storytelling game.
Today’s topic: the short story.
A short story is a slamming screen door (Carson McCullers), a high wire act (Kevin Barry), a choked laugh (Amelia Gray). There’s something taut, essential and elusive about it. The greatest short stories will infer the entire and immersive world of a novel, create the same depth of consciousness in its characters, and do it with a mere fraction of the words. It requires the concision of poetry, as well as its symbolic nature. A short story is like a photograph – a captured moment of time that is crystalline, mysterious, delicate and arresting.
So is a kick-ass window display.
Some might consider it overkill, even affected, to apply the technical skill, artistic rigor and emotional energy required to write a short story to the creation of an in-store display or pop-up. These would be the people who are not storytellers.
For the rest of us, here are five classic rules of short story writing that will enhance brand storytelling:
Make it short; edit judiciously. Omit unnecessary words – they are a luxury that the short story writer cannot afford. The same goes for display elements that are not forwarding the brand tale. Cut the fat. Details are great; just use them for maximum impact.
Have a single focus. Writers of full-length novels can allow characters to grow as time passes. They can develop complex plots and elaborate on settings. However, with a short story, the focus can only be on one of these aspects. Brand storytellers take note: choose a single focal point and highlight it.
Keep the number of characters to a minimum. Characters should be introduced sparingly into short stories because each one requires background information and at least a brief explanation of his or her presence. Brand storytellers should introduce extra elements only if they serve the main “character.”
Include a surprise. Short stories frequently have an unexpected twist at the end. If the story has been well written, there is much satisfaction when the threads have been pulled together to complete the story. The element of surprise is a critical one to storytellers.
Don’t linger. While a novel may reach its climax and then take a chapter or two to tie up all the loose ends, the short story will often leave much to the reader’s imagination. Quite often the story is only truly completed as readers ponder the ongoing effects of the events that have occurred at the story’s climax. The same goes for brand storytelling. Sometimes it’s the information that is left out that piques a shopper’s interest. Allow her to draw conclusions and imagine outcomes. She’ll feel more ownership in the story.