How can storytelling benefit your business?
By Giuseppe Caltabiano
When a child is born, the first things he needs are care, safety, and love. When those things are met, almost the next thing the child asks for is “tell me a story”.
Stories fascinate us. They move, excite, provoke, entertain us. We continuously look for stories, in good and difficult times. But what exactly is a story? Maybe we should start with what a story is not.
A story is not:
Like a story, a process has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Unlike a story, a process has neither a desire, not a conflict, not a core character (the hero). A process accumulates, a story progress.
Exec and marketers ofter think that a story is their company’s history. The company history is just a temporal process, told as a list of growth marks accumulated over a sequence of dates.
So what’s really a story?
Let’s go with a formal definition.
A story is a dynamic escalation of conflict-driven events that cause meaningful change in a character’s life.
Ultimately storytelling is the art of telling stories, merging and organising many streams of want into a flow of events that aims at a single object of desire.
It is also a biological reaction.
Since a well-told story wraps its telling around emotional charged values its meaning becomes marked in our memory. When we receive information as a story, rather than as a series of simple facts, our brain activity increases fivefold. The parts of the brain responsible for emotional reactions, for imagining sensations and for visual images all kick in. We start to care about the story’s main character, and we ask ourselves how we would react if we were in their position. This is because when we get drawn into a story our brains produce oxytocin, the chemical that creates empathy. Oxytocin means we feel connected to the hero in the story. We feel invested in them, we want to help if we can.
In The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), Joseph Campbell, a professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College, unpacks his theory that all mythological narratives share the same basic structure. He refers to this structure as the “monomyth” (all hero myths share the same frame or structure) or hero’s journey. Campbell summarises saying:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
The hero’s journey is a common narrative archetype, or story template, that involves a hero who goes on an adventure, learns a lesson, wins a victory with that newfound knowledge, and then returns home transformed.
Campbell’s Hero Journey model
The hero’s journey can be boiled down to three essential stages:
- The departure. The hero leaves the familiar world behind. The hero is living in the so-called “ordinary world” when he receives a call to adventure. Usually, the hero is unsure of following this call – this phase is known as the “refusal of the call” – but is then helped by a mentor figure, who gives him counsel and convinces him to follow the call.
- The initiation. The hero learns to navigate the unfamiliar world. The hero enters the “special world,” where he begins facing a series of tasks until he reaches the climax of the story – the main obstacle or enemy. Here, the hero puts into practice everything he has learned on his journey to overcome the obstacle. Campbell talks about the hero attaining some kind of prize for his troubles – this can be a physical token or “elixir”, or just good, old-fashioned wisdom (or both).
- The return. The hero returns to the familiar world. Feeling like he is ready to go back to his world, the hero must now leave. Once back in the ordinary world, he undergoes a personal metamorphosis in the realisation of how his adventure has changed him as a person.
Campbell lays out 17 total stages of the hero’s journey structure.
However, not all monomyths necessarily feature all stages, or in the same order that Campbell described.
1. The call to adventure: Something, or someone, interrupts the hero’s familiar life to present a problem, threat, or opportunity.
2. Refusal of the call: Unwilling to step out of their comfort zone or face their fear, the hero initially hesitates to embark on this journey.
3. Supernatural aid: A mentor figure gives the hero the tools and inspiration they need to accept the call to adventure.
4. Crossing the threshold: The hero embarks on their quest.
5. Belly of the whale: The hero crosses the point of no return and encounters their first major obstacle.
6. The road of trials: The hero must go through a series of tests or ordeals to begin his transformation. Often, the hero fails at least one of these tests.
7. The meeting with the goddess: The hero meets one or more allies, who pick him up and help him continue his journey.
8. Woman as temptress: The hero is tempted to abandon or stray from his quest. Traditionally, this temptation is a love interest, but it can manifest itself in other forms as well, including fame or wealth.
9. Atonement with the father: The hero confronts the reason for his journey, facing his doubts and fears and the powers that rule his life. This is a major turning point in the story: every prior step has brought the hero here, and every step forward stems from this moment.
10. Apotheosis: As a result of this confrontation, the hero gains a profound understanding of their purpose or skill. Armed with this new ability, the hero prepares for the most difficult part of the adventure.
11. The ultimate boon: The hero achieves the goal he set out to accomplish, fulfilling the call that inspired his journey in the first place.
12. Refusal of the return: If the hero’s journey has been victorious, he may be reluctant to return to the ordinary world of his prior life.
13. The magic flight: The hero must escape with the object of his quest, evading those who would reclaim it.
14. Rescue from without: Mirroring the meeting with the goddess, the hero receives help from a guide or rescuer in order to make it home.
15. The crossing of the return threshold: The hero makes a successful return to the ordinary world.
16. Master of two worlds: We see the hero achieve a balance between who he was before his journey and who he is now. Often, this means balancing the material world with the spiritual enlightenment he’s gained.
17. Freedom to live: We leave the hero at peace with his life.
If this interested you, and you want to learn more about how to apply these storytelling principles to your marketing, join my WinTrade Global Masterclass this Thursday at 5 pm GMT to learn more about storytelling and how it can benefit your business.
Story is Strategy: How to Improve your Daily Business with Storytelling
Join Giuseppe Caltabiano, Marketing Director at Rock Content, on THursday 3rd February at 17:00 GMT to learn how to utilize the power of storytelling to grow your brand, engage your customers and boost your business!