A fable for focus & how it relates to storytelling

I was having a conversation with wicked smart marketer Ari Schorr about storytelling in marketing. We were discussing the short video below, on technology in education. 

It's a nice video. It could be better. The video uses two challenges in the beginning: the teachers "I didn't want to be paperless, even calculators" and the students “if I have a kid not wanting to learn math” – these are challenges, obstacles and those are core to story.

Another critical element of story is the protagonist wanting something either unattainable or only so at a price. This is alluded to for children: not knowing what they want from education, and eventually a career. All unknown for a child. Astronauts, and Jet Pilots aside. But enough of what I wanted to be at seven.

The problem with the video is that it is generic. It never quite tells an actual story.

In all honestly it's a good generic video, it flirts with storytelling (we'll get to why in a minute) and it is authentic because we have a real teacher telling us. It is ultimately "her story". I use quotes because it's more an observation, a description than a story. Like I said, she's flying pretty close to story on this.

I would love to see her tell an actual story of a real child, a real conversation.

Then I read the blog. And I realized why the video got so close to story.

The blog is dripping with story. Honestly my rating on the blog is an A-. It get's into Summer's struggle, and resistance to tech. It has a specific child (Roman) who struggles without Wi-Fi at home. And it talks about the uber-struggle of kids playing with technology but not necessarily using it for education. For an A+ I'd like to have heard the real conversation she alludes to about "not wanting to learn math". Who was the child!? When did this happen?! What happened with that child due to her mentoring?!

But seriously, good job Microsoft Education team! Great blog.

My recommendation: include more of the actual story in the video itself. Video is such an important medium (80% of web traffic will be video by 2019), it is the tip of the spear for customer engagement.  

Approaching the video like this would make it instantly memorable, easy to retain and retell.

Which if you've been paying attention, to this blog, is the superpower of storytelling: the best way to spread ideas.

An Aesop's Fable to help clarify

After the fable I'll make one final point. Thanks to this site for this version of the Fable.

The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass

A MILLER and his son were driving their Ass to a neighboring fair to sell him.  They had not gone far when they met with a troop of women collected round a well, talking and laughing.  "Look there," cried one of them, "did you ever see such fellows, to be trudging along the road on foot when they might ride?'  The old man hearing this, quickly made his son mount the Ass, and continued to walk along merrily by his side. 

Presently they came up to a group of old men in earnest debate.  "There," said one of them, "it proves what I was a-saying.  What respect is shown to old age in these days? Do you see that idle lad riding while his old father has to walk? Get down, you young scapegrace, and let the old man rest his weary limbs."  Upon this the old man made his son dismount, and got up himself.

In this manner they had not proceeded far when they met a company of women and children: "Why, you lazy old fellow," cried several tongues at once, "how can you ride upon the beast, while that poor little lad there can hardly keep pace by the side of you?'  The good-natured Miller immediately took up his son behind him. 

They had now almost reached the town. "Pray, honest friend," said a citizen, "is that Ass your own?'  "Yes," replied the old man.  "O, one would not have thought so," said the other, "by the way you load him. Why, you two fellows are better able to carry the poor beast than he you."  "Anything to please you," said the old man; "we can but try."  So, alighting with his son, they tied the legs of the Ass together and with the help of a pole endeavored to carry him on their shoulders over a bridge near the entrance to the town.

This entertaining sight brought the people in crowds to laugh at it, till the Ass, not liking the noise nor the strange handling that he was subject to, broke the cords that bound him and, tumbling off the pole, fell into the river.  Upon this, the old man, vexed and ashamed, made the best of his way home again, convinced that by endeavoring to please everybody he had pleased nobody, and lost his Ass in the bargain. 


Try to please everyone and you please no one.

Closing thought

The problem with most marketing (esp. for corporations) is trying to please everyone. This video is a good example of that. It has sanitized the story out of the content to try appeal to "any situation" and by trying to appeal to "any situation" it appeals to none. The video doesn't use an actual character, challenge, overcoming to attain a goal and a learning that the listener can embrace and apply. Context. Action. Results.

If people get as far as reading the blog they'll get some proper story - the problem is if the video doesn't grip them they won't go further. Stories are gripping, put it in the video.

What the video became was "There was this teacher talking about how technology is important even if you don't realize it." 

When we get focused with story we create meaning that is authentic, memorable and moves us to act. Whether that's to read the blog or buy the product.

P.S. As a Microsoft alum who went hells-bells pushing storytelling there from 2012-2016 I'm pleased to see that their marketers (esp. in the Education teams!) are still fighting the good fight. Keep it up!