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Facts and Fiction: Why Good Storytelling Needs the Truth
Communications – PR, Social Media, Content Tools 21 November 2019

Facts and Fiction: Why Good Storytelling Needs the Truth

Storytelling = telling fictions with fancy names? It cannot be ruled out that in some companies the term is actually interpreted in this way. But: Storytelling doesn’t just mean telling made-up stories or, in the worst case, even lies. Facts wrapped up nicely – good storytelling is based on the truth

Is the Story more important than the Truth?

There is always something mystical about the term storytelling. Stories are probably as old as man himself. We have always passed on facts and memories to our descendants in narrative form. However, storytelling has not only established itself as a format for securing and transmitting information. One important aspect has always been the high entertainment value of good plots. This becomes a problem when there is no clear distinction between fictional entertainment stories and true information packaged in stories.

In the media scene, for example, so-called “narrative journalism”, in which events are told from very personal and subjective perspectives, is sometimes heavily criticized. The scandal surrounding fake stories by editor Claas Relotius recently showed that truth and fiction are sometimes mixed up in this process. Story came before truth here. In the end, it was not only the affected media that paid for this dubious prioritization with its credibility, but the entire journalistic profession . In times when fake news is at the center of the discussion, this is fatal.

For both Journalism and Marketing one Thing holds true: Truth first

Gandalf’s saying “Every good story is worth a little embellishment” may apply to fictional anecdotes. However, it is not only in media reporting, but also in marketing and corporate communications that the separation of fact and fiction should not be taken too lightly. The debate about the fusion of truth and history is more topical than ever before. The fact that DMEXCO has chosen “Trust” as this year’s theme is testament to this observation. When information is concealed, important details are omitted or real problems are distracted from, the fun and games of PR come to an end. Companies with the honourable ambition to implement storytelling strategies in their communication should therefore internalize that it should never be about creating the truth. The aim of narrative marketing is not to pull a bedtime story or fairy tale out of thin air. Rather, it is about conveying a core idea in an inspiring way.

Lying means taking the Public for Fools

It is a sign of foresight not to turn storytelling and truth into a contradiction. Sooner or later, the target group will notice if parts of a story do not correspond to the truth. Even if you stay within a credible range, companies do themselves no favors by over-embellishing real stories. By the time interested prospects become customers and a long-term collaboration may result, it will be clear how seriously the brand has taken the truth. If the best storytelling is then shattered by reality, the loss of trust in the brand is immense. Warren Buffet summarized this simple insight perfectly in his commentary on the diesel fraud scandal in the automotive industry: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.”

A picture of Pinnochio
Source: Unsplash / Jametlene Reskp

No Stories within the Company? You just have to find them…

We see: Covering up dubious events in the company will one day take its revenge. However, there is no other reason to base your own communication through storytelling on a framework of lies, not even to create a little more glamor through stories than should actually be there. Basically, no industry or institution is too complex or even too boring. Exciting, creative and, above all, truth-based stories can be found everywhere.

The company history with all its ups and downs is often at the beginning of the quest. After all, there is almost always an anecdote or two. And even if not, there are countless more possibilities. Does the company building have an interesting historical background? What events, perhaps even temporary setbacks, occurred during product development? And what did the company learn from them? Is it possible to find common stories with customers, for example if the collaboration resulted from an exciting incident or a funny coincidence?

Employees are the best Sources for true Stories

However, one of the most promising sources of new stories is always the company’s own employees. Each team member contributes to the company’s great history in their own way – not only through their expertise, but also through their biography and personality. When searching for internal stories, the first thing to do is to listen. Before storytelling there is what is known as storylistening. Large corporations such as Microsoft or Zalando have their own employees whose job it is to talk to their colleagues. This way, they find the best stories in the company, record them and, if necessary and with the consent of the respective employees, make them usable for marketing.

Several hands form a red heart
Source: Unsplash/Tim Marshall

Conclusion: Good storytelling does not know the lie

Storytelling is not a distraction. Neither from uncomfortable truths nor from the – mostly unjustified – belief that there is no story worth telling in one’s company. Rather, it should be seen as a tool to create images in the audience’s mind, to make dry facts lively and exciting and to bring a breath of fresh air into marketing. Storytelling and truth are therefore not contradictory. Truth and credibility are the attributes that make a story sparkle. Ingeborg Bachmann was right when she said: “The truth is acceptable to people.”

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