From Dickens to Digital

Posted on Apr 21, 2015


Leigh Rodgers. Partner Story World.

It’s not enough to have a story to tell – and it’s not enough to tell it.

How you tell it makes the difference.

Your story might be about brand, a product, a service, organization, news, a cause, a need to raise money … your opportunity is to tell it in such a way as to not just present your case to the audience but to immerse the audience in your story.

What is immersion and how do you get there?

Frank Rose, Senior Fellow at the Columbia University of the Arts wrote*

“Immersion is not engagement. Engagement takes place when a story, or a marketing message, provokes some sort of action among the audience—a tweet, a post, a face-to-face conversation over the water cooler. Immersion takes place when the audience forgets that it’s an audience at all. Immersion blurs the lines—between story and marketing, storyteller and audience, illusion and reality. That gives it enormous impact.”

I come from a creative advertising background, and when I read the Frank Rose article I was very pleased.

Essentially, Rose is telling us that in this great digital age, we should look to Walt Disney, Charles Dickens, Orson Wells or any of the great story tellers over the last few centuries to find the answer to more powerfully told stories for brands, products, services, organizations, causes, and business.

To me, immersion in story telling means having good marketing logic is not enough to tell a brand or product or service or news story.

It means, ticking the boxes or listing benefits is not enough.

It means drawing a bulls eye with a key brand word in the middle and having it surrounded like the circles around Jupiter with words that have less importance – is not enough.

Steps and pyramids are not enough.

Incremental solutions to a communication challenge – not enough.

Talking at the audience is not enough.

Nor is having the marketing assistant ‘pull something together’ to get the information out there enough.

The real power of stories is in the way you tell them.

And while brand values, messaging hierarchies, information, objectives, audience understanding are important, it is just a story if your audience doesn’t ‘feel’ it – or more powerfully, become immersed in it.

In a simpler way, it’s the difference between a speech by Winston Churchill and his emotive, imaginative way of drawing his audience in, and the robotic sound bite approach of our leaders today.

Stories told with imagination give the reader, viewer, listener a chance to get involved – a chance to leave their world and enter yours. Willingly!

The more you are immersed in the story, the more you live it and believe it.

As Rose says in his immersion article, “Storytelling is key, but as with any key it only gets you in the door. What people really want is to merge their identity with something larger. They want to enter the world the story lives in.” *

*Frank Rose is a senior fellow at the Columbia University School of the Arts, where he leads an executive education seminar in digital storytelling strategy, and the author of The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories (Norton, 2011)