In 2012, a pale woman with crazy eyebrows and a keytar strapped to her back made a video of herself, wearing a kimono and holding up hand-Sharpied signs on a street in Melbourne. One by one, the signs flipped, explaining that the woman had spent the last 4 years writing songs. She was a musician, and had parted ways with her record label, which had said the cost of her next album would be a whopping $500,000. She and her band mates were very happy to no longer be with the label, and had worked hard to create some great new music and art. But they couldn’t finish producing the record on their own. She needed people’s help to get it off the ground and to make what was now her business — independent music — work.
“This is the future of music,” one of her signs read. Another, “I love you.”
And then she posted the video on Kickstarter. In 30 days, it raised $1.2 million dollars. 24,883 people pre-ordered the album, bought artwork, or simply donated money. The album and tour became a huge success, and the artist turned her music into a real, profitable business. The woman in the kimono, if you haven’t heard this story already, was Amanda Palmer, and she went on to give a massively popular TED talk about the whole affair.
Palmer changed the game for independent musicians with that campaign. And she did it, not by simply asking for money, but by telling her story.
Every few minutes, a new buzzword rips through the business world, skids, gets a few quick books written on it, and ends up in a pile of tired terms next to “synergy.” Today, one of the biggest corporate buzzwords is “storytelling.” Marketers are obsessed with storytelling, and conference panels on the subject lately have fewer empty seats than a Bieber concert.
Funny thing is, storytelling has been the buzzword off and on since advertising became a thing. It’s always coming out of the buzzword pile because, at the end of the day, it’s a timeless skill. Stories have been an essential driver of change throughout human history. For good and for ill.
And now more than ever, businesses, workers, and leaders have opportunities to stand out, spread messages, and make change through storytelling.
Good stories surprise us. They have compelling characters. They make us think, make us feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph don’t.
The reason Kickstarter works, and how thousands of creators have rallied the support of millions on its platform, is because it allows people to get their stories in front of others. And it doesn’t just allow it; Kickstarter requires it. Every project must have a video where the creators explain why they’re doing what they’re doing, and why they need help.
Unfortunately, in the era of PowerPoint and status updates, many of us have forgotten how to tell a good story.
As ubiquitous publishing and sharing tools transform our digital lives, storytelling is becoming uniquely essential. It’s no longer a luxury afforded to the wealthy ruling class or the companies who happen to own printing presses and delivery trucks. And as we spend increasing amounts of time consuming content by the streamful, storytelling is a skill that every business — and individual — will need to master.