Disrupt the world with storyscapes in 3 steps

"Everyone has a story. Maybe everything is a story. Maybe stories are everywhere." - Hila Ratzabi

Stories are the building blocks of our world. They ebb and flow together as storyscapes. Just like the deserts, mountains, hills, and lakes make up landscapes of our world the infinite variety of stories make up storyscapes.

If you want to change the world you need to inject your ideas into, resonate and change storyscapes.

In this post, I will show you how to by:

  1. Investigate existing storyscapes
  2. Triangulate your aims with those storyscapes
  3. Create stories that resonate

We will use qualitative and quantitative analysis to help you get a strong grip on the storyscape around you, the other players who are along for the ride and ultimately help you steer towards creating the most impactful stories possible for your business.

The flaws of data and argument for influence

First a brief word on logic.

Data and argument alone will not change people's minds. In fact, they do the opposite. Those seeking to affect change must use the power of narrative to disrupt existing beliefs.

Climate scientists have struggled to convince the world of this existential threat. Nnedi Okorafor is one of 12 writers who participated in a radio project called "After Water" which seeks to use stories rather than data to influence opinions on climate change. Because, as Heidi Cullen says:

 "The so-called deficit model of science communication — 'If you only understood the facts, you’d understand that climate change is an urgent threat' — doesn’t work".

Whether in business, social change, or politics there is an art and a science to using stories for impact.

True experts will use all the tools at their disposal. In particular utilization of logic for analysis and then stories for outbound communications that target based on your analysis and influence on a human level.

#1 – Investigate existing storyscapes

Understand how your company fits in to the relevant storyscape.  

Look at the stories of your customers, your competition, your employees. Consider others in your ecosystem such as partners and distributors. What stories exist, which ones are the most effective, the most powerful?

This should include looking at PR coverage in the industry. What are your competitors saying or doing? You can look at marketing materials, customer discussion forums and social media. Run surveys and focus groups with open ended questions.

Breakdown what you discover with the eternally useful “my five best friends and how”: Who, Where, When, What, Why and How. Are there particularly good stories? A lack of them? Are those telling effective stories doing so consistently? What are the common elements across stories?

Getting serious with content analysis & Story Score

Then it is time to perform a content analysis of what you discover.

You must gather much information. Avoid analysis paralysis by setting boundaries. One way you can approach this is by limiting the universe to analyze:

  1. 3 companies
  2. 3 publications that cover your industry
  3. 3 forums and/or social media influencers (and the conversations within).

You can always come back and analyze more later.

EDIT (2017-04-17): To supercharge your analysis of storyscapes you can utilize www.protagonist.io - their amazing technology performs deep machine learning fueled analysis of your customers narratives. More insights means more effective storytelling that resonates with your customers. Go Narrative can work with you to put your findings from Protagonist.io into action across your organization, brand and campaigns.

What are people saying? The content of the messages. What are companies putting front and center? This will be things like websites, advertising, social. For publications it will be the articles they promote on their landing pages. In customer driven forums/social look for what is being said about the companies you are investigating.

Keep notes of everything you find. The qualitative items will provide story ideas for later.

Time to find the Story Score! Quantify what you find by performing conceptual and relational analysis. Score the stories, narratives and themes that you detect.

Use the following on a 1-4 scale (from none, to a little, to some, to very much).

  1. Use of all elements of WWWWWH
  2. Consistency of WWWWWH across elements/content/posts
    1. Company: Brand, Websites, Marketing materials
    2. Publications: Multiple articles, Multiple authors
    3. Social: conversations with references to industry players
  3. Use of real people/companies in materials (deep dive on Who)
  4. Use of the challenges faced by real people/companies (deep dive on Why)
  5. Reference of other sources in the industry
  6. Amount of product speak, speeds-feeds, functional content

Add up 1-5 and subtract 6. You now have Story Score for each target. Story Masters = 19. Speed and feeders = 1.

Use this data to prioritize what stories to align to and what to avoid. The subjects with high Story Scores are important. They will be more influential in the market. They are the story makers and have the biggest impact on the storyscape. Look extra especially close at them and what they say.

You will not be copying them – but you will be creating stories that live beside them and resonate with them for the most impact.

A note on approach

Perform the analysis in the order listed above. By starting with the companies in the space you will understand their rhetoric (and hopefully use of narrative) which you will use to find how the press are covering those companies. Is what the companies say sticking with the press or are the press articulating a clear set of stories that the companies are missing?

  • Companies with high scores = skillful use of storytelling.
  • Publications with high scores = expertly covering the market itself (not just companies)
  • Forums/social sources with high scores = good representation of the market itself

The forum/social analysis is undoubtedly the most difficult due to the nature of the conversations. Which is why you do this last. In forum/social you are analyzing what people are saying about the companies. Here you are looking heavily at the relational aspects such as if the companies involved are perceived to care about the challenges facing customers, or even to listen to customers. Doing the first two steps will help you spot patterns (or lack of) in the social side.

#2 – Triangulate your aims with those storyscapes

“Nearly 500 years before the birth of Christopher Columbus, a band of European sailors left their homeland behind in search of a new world. Their high-prowed Viking ship sliced through the cobalt waters of the Atlantic Ocean as winds billowed the boat’s enormous single sail.” Christopher Klein, History.com

Vikings used the stars and points on land to find their way, and back again.

Like the use of multiple points in navigation triangulation of the storyscape takes the data you surfaced and puts your story against it.

Does your narrative relate to these other stories? How much divergence is there? Does it align to some aspects more than others?

Internally watch and listen to how employees talk about your company, and its products and services. Analyze existing websites, blogs, social media posts, customer presentations, advertising campaigns and any other outbound ‘owned’ communications.

Include your corporate messaging, goals and capabilities. How do they match up to the existing storyscape? Or not. 

Story Score your own company.

The Coca Cola company’s epic failure with New Coke is an example of not including all elements of the storyscape. It is thought to be a failure in market research. The research too much on hard data and the fact that “researchers only focused on the physical” (Joe Benjamin). It neglected people’s narratives around cola. It turns out coke was a part of their identity. Changing coke forced a change on people’s personal views of themselves. 400,000 people called to complain to Coca Cola.

Like the climate science example above this was an attempt to change people’s minds when they did not ask for it. They did not want it. In pushing the change, people’s opposition was reinforced. Kaplan, Gimbel & Harris discuss in detail in their research paper.

“[An] inability to change another person’s mind through evidence and argument” - Kaplan, Gimbel & Harris (Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence)

Go beyond the data and make sure you ask narrative prospecting questions of the people who live in the storyscape you are exploring.

Once you have figure out your true north it is time to set sail.

#3 - Create

The fact data and argument alone does not change minds does not give you a pass on the science part of this process. Use the Story Score! This is especially important if you are very creative and gifted storyteller. If you do not use due diligence then you are playing a risky game. Some stories may work but many will fail.

Coca Cola company did some great storytelling (remember the “Teach the world to sing”?). Past success does not rule out failure. Follow the process.

Your conclusion from triangulation may be that you need merely tweak existing stories you are using. On the other hand, it may show you that you need to create an entirely new set of stories.

For future efforts follow this process and you will be ready to find and create stories that further your agenda and resonate with your audience.

I will not go into the details of story creation here but will be sharing some tips and process in a forth coming blog.

What is important however is to make sure you use what you learned in the earlier stages. Remember the qualitative comment? Can you align to, lift or use common aspects of stories you are seeing in the storyscape? Look for ones that are seeing positive responses from the market. Some areas and associated examples:

  • Culture narratives e.g. Industrial Revolutions
  • Industry themes e.g. Artificial Intelligence
  • People (or characters) e.g. Elon Musk
  • Pop culture e.g. Science Fiction

They key here is to reuse common elements that can help with the adoption of your story. They are on-ramps to understanding.

I am not telling you to copy the secret sauce or unique aspects of other stories. You need to decide what is special about your company and put that in your stories. The intent is to align what you do and say to the narratives that people care about while laddering up to the master narrative of your business.

It’s a dance.

Resonate (In summary)

I am not suggesting that you should create stories that are so like others that they vanish into the background of an existing storyscape. Quite the opposite.

By understanding the storyscape and how your goals relate to it you can create stories that resonate. Resonance is not about sounding the same. It is about harmony (like the singing in the Coke ad) that makes the whole sound better than the parts.

If you create stories that resonate people will stick around and listen. They will experience your story, put themselves into it, take something away and act differently. They will put your story into their narrative.

If you do that then you can change the world.