Storytelling Matters: An Interview with Go Narrative

Matthew Woodget, Founder and CEO of Go Narrative, a Seattle-based Marketing consultancy, recently sat down with Rowan Noronha, Founder of the Product Marketing Community. Matthew will be presenting to the community at some of our events in 2019. They talked about why storytelling matters in business and Matthew shared a few handy tips. Here’s their conversation.

Rowan: Matthew, you’ve told me about your history. Tours of duty at both Intel and Microsoft in a plethora of Marketing roles and a Computer Science background. Why focus on storytelling? What’s the big deal?

Matthew: It’s a great question. I chuckle every time I hear it because in my mind it’s the opposite: why not storytelling. If you could use a technique that was going to help you get attention, be heard and sell more why wouldn’t you?

Rowan: Indeed. How does it help with getting attention and being heard?

Matthew: Getting attention is about standing out. It’s about getting someone to stop focusing on whatever it is they are doing and offering up some of their valuable and minimal attention to you. Getting heard is about what happens after that. Attention is nothing if the words go in one ear and out the other.

Think about the last time you told your loved one about something crazy that happened to you. “Honey, you are not going to believe what happened to me today!” Twelve simple worlds yet they trigger something. Clearly, there was an incident, and it was so bizarre or extreme that it’s going to challenge their ability to believe it. That’s tension. That’s the beginning of a story right there.

Rowan: That makes sense. I’d be all ears! Curious for more. That’s often half the battle. Getting people to commit to receiving the message.

Matthew: Exactly. Now, storytelling isn’t the only tool for getting attention. You could use a loud sound or something visually striking. However, when you plan your communications with storytelling, you are creating a cohesive journey for the person’s mind to go on. You get attention in a relevant way that resonates with your audience. Stories are, ultimately about journeys of transformation. You have to respect the journey.

Rowan: Speaking of journeys, what about the Hero’s journey. Villains. Obstacles to be overcome and so forth. Aren’t those all a part of storytelling?

Matthew: The Hero’s journey is one of the seven types of story. There are others too. Overcoming the monster. Rebirth. Quest. Rags to Riches. Tragedy and Comedy. Most stories map to these.

Rowan: Are they all good for business?

Matthew: It depends. Comedy and tragedy are the riskiest, but they are all applicable. I always caution with the use of comedy and tragedy; they can be tricky to pull off.

Rowan: We hear the term storytelling thrown around a lot. Do you have any words of caution for our community?

Matthew: Don’t call strategy or themes or plans or whatever “story”, you do yourself and storytelling a disservice. I’ve seen it for decades. “What’s our story?” Executives will ask when they mean something else entirely. There are lots of essential tools in business. Use the right tool for the job. You wouldn’t hammer in a screw, would you?

Rowan: I try not to! Is storytelling difficult? What do you find yourself coaching clients on the most?

Matthew: The exciting thing about storytelling is that we are all natural-born-storytellers. Just like my prior example, we are all using stories all the time to communicate with each other. It’s a stone age reason. Our brains evolved before we could write things down. Storytelling is the structure the human brain uses to retain, recall and share information. The challenge comes when you try and apply it intentionally, to business. You’re juggling many other parts of your job, you want to leverage the power of storytelling, but you don’t know where to start. Luckily there are some handy repeatable structures that help.

Rowan: Do you have an example? What advice do you give someone who‘s trying to apply storytelling better in business?

Matthew: We created some frameworks to help. One is called the 3D framework. Desire. Difficulty. Denouement. What does your audience (the hero) desire, what do they want, what are they trying to achieve? What is the difficulty they are experiencing when seeking that goal? What’s getting in their way? Moreover, finally, the fancy French word Denouement, common parlance in theater and film, it essentially means the summary or conclusion. In business that’s how the hero solved the problem and how your company, product or technology helped to do so.

Be warned; your company is never a hero. Always the guide. Don’t forget that.

Rowan: That’s helpful. I’m still expecting to hear more about things like villains, characters, story arcs and so forth.

Matthew: And that’s all a part of the broader topic. One thing we do is work with our clients to identify what the storyscape looks like. For example, we have a storyboard template which leads through each of the elements. It helps retain an outside-in focus and is a great exercise to ensure you consider all the relevant aspects of the customer’s experience.

Rowan: Any other easy to remember tips?

Matthew: Yes, there is a great book “Lead with Story” by Paul Smith. He has a series of frameworks. One I found particularly useful is CAR. Context. Action. Results. People often dive into describing something. This is the death knell for storytelling. It’s how you’ll get people to tune out, a list of facts. Think of the last time someone did a terrible job of telling you a joke. They dove right in and then had to backtrack “Oh, I forgot to mention, the Priest was in the Bar at the start!”

When you do that, no matter how good you are at getting attention, you won’t be heard, let alone remembered. Context helps enormously. It’s about painting the picture of what happened. In our earlier example, this would be the scene you describe after you got your spouse’s attention. Before launching into what happened. The action is that next step. Just yesterday I was telling my wife about this lady who cut in front of me at the post office. I assure you it was a thrilling story. I might have to write a book “Adventures in Post Offices.” When she cut in it triggered the start of the action. I responded. We had an interaction. Moreover, the results are about the outcomes. The lady ended up taking her rightful place at the back of the line.

Rowan: So, 3D CARs then?

Matthew: Yes! If you can remember 3D CARs, you’ll have a few useful tools to help you get going.

Rowan: Fantastic. Homework for everyone! Go practice your 3D CARs. How can folks find you to continue the conversation and get some more in-depth advice?

Matthew: Go to www.GoNarrative.com and click the ‘free consultation’ button. We’ll talk with you about what you are trying to achieve and explore how storytelling can help. You can fill in our contact form too.

Or meet Matthew in person at one of our city events, where he’ll be talking about creating a strategic messaging foundation. The confluence of product marketing, MARCOM, and storytelling. At PMC I will talk about how you can use those story-structures for much more. The beauty of marketing and the sales process is that it is a transformative journey for your audience. By becoming a better storyteller, you can get improve how you design, structure, execute and tune your marketing campaigns. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

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