Courtney Eckerle

How to Take Storytelling Risks Through Publishing

October 7th, 2016

“Brands suddenly realized, 30-second spots aren’t working. There’s got to be a better way for us to tell a story,” Morgan Spurlock, Academy Award-Nominated Director, Super Size Me, said in our MarketingSherpa 2016 Media Center interview. “That’s when they started looking at creative ways to make content tell stories.”

Since making POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Made, where Morgan worked with brands to finance the entire film, he’s realized that there are a plethora of compelling brand stories to tell. It’s just a matter of recognizing them. He’s worked with companies like General Electric, Toyota and Haagen Daz doing short film series.

“The beauty of where we are right now, as a content creator is, you can tell stories everywhere now,” he said. “There’s this incredible access to short-form digital content, we can tell a story that’s two minutes, three minutes, and find an audience for it. Not only find an audience for it, but have it be seen world-wide by millions of people.”

A fantastic recent example of how brands are doing this is with Starbucks’ Upstanders series.

According to the site, “Upstanders is an original collection of short stories, films and podcasts sharing the experiences of Upstanders – ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities. Produced by Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Upstanders series helps inspire us to be better citizens.”

With absolutely no mention of coffee or the brand within the stories, this content is able to connect with something positive and real in the communities the company works in. These stories focus on people who serve their communities with more than just coffee.

Everything from an impoverished town in Michigan who fulfilled a promise to offer free college tuition to every graduating senior, and did so through grassroots efforts, to an empathetic police academy in Washington that teaches cops a new approach to the job.

These are compelling, topical stories being brought to us directly from … Starbucks, the place that normally only supplies us with coffee, scones and the occasional impulse-buy CD.

“A lot of times … brands are very precious about, ‘here’s what we stand for,’ and they don’t want to give up that brand ID to somebody like me because they feel like they have to control it and keep it tight,” he said.

There’s always a way, he added, to come to an alignment of ideologies where a neutral content creator’s idea of what will be great for your brand, also works with what a marketer believes will be great for the brand.

So how do you start?

“It starts like this, with a conversation,” Morgan said. “I think you sit down, and you say, ‘what do you want to accomplish? What stories do you want to tell?”

Marketing is storytelling, he added. It’s just a matter of deciding on what story you want to tell. It can be your brand’s story, or it can be your customer’s stories.

To find those authentic stories, and decide what it is exactly they want to say, marketers have to decide what their brand voice is.

“What is your ethos, what is your DNA. Once you know that, then you can say, ‘what are the stories we want to tell, what do we want to accomplish,” he said.

The biggest part of this process, he added, is, “Don’t be so precious. Don’t be so scared. Now is the best time ever to dive in and take risks, and do things you normally wouldn’t do because the price point, the barrier to entry, is so low.”

With digital content that can reach millions, marketers can take low-cost risks that might pay off big with customers.

“What starts to happen is, the more risks you take, is the less risky things become down the road,” he said.

You might also like…

The Greatest Lecture Ever Presented – Morgan’s full presentation at MarketingSherpa Summit 2016

Reader’s Choice, MarketingSherpa Awards 2017 – voting is still open! Cast your vote to see the winner present on-stage at this year’s Summit

Courtney Eckerle

About Courtney Eckerle

With a focus on aspirational, customer-first marketing, Courtney’s goal has been to produce clear, interesting and actionable external content for MarketingSherpa readers. This has included writing over 300 case studies, moderating live event interviews, and producing video content. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, Mass Communications and Film Studies from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., and was a correspondent for USA Today College prior to joining MECLABS Institute.

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