Respected business thinker Jonah Sachs is the author of a great book called Winning the Story Wars: Why those who tell – and live – the best stories will rule the future.
It’s good to see that his take on things dovetails with the advice I’ve been giving clients for a long time: the best tactic in a crowded landscape is to create compelling stories that people can actually believe, which means getting your story straight right from the start.
In Sachs’ opinion there are three fairly simple things that every business should do when developing and building a brand:
- Be interesting
- Tell the truth
- If you can’t tell the truth, change what you’re doing so you can be truthful
While it’s simple enough at first glance, the problem with achieving all this wonderfulness is basic human nature. Every human being on the planet is at constant risk of kidding themselves, of confirmation bias, of all manner of self-delusional thinking. Sachs calls the worst of them the Five Deadly Sins, all of which can kill stone dead the attractive clarity and honesty you get from an authentic story and, sadly, all of which you’ll recognise.
- Vanity leads you to assume that loving what you sell naturally means others must feel the same
- Authority helps us believe in our own expertise and understanding, but it doesn’t always mean other people ‘get’ it
- Insincerity is a real risk when you’re so desperate for others to get your message that you will do absolutely anything to make it so
- Puffery occurs when less-than-confident people try to puff things up to make them look more impressive than they are – something that happens with monotonous regularity in marketing and, as far as I can tell, always has!
- Gimmickry also happens when you don’t have enough confidence and feel you should add unnecessary extras to improve things
Instead of falling into this mightily twisty rabbit hole, Sachs recommends that every story we create – for the purposes of this post every piece of written content – must pass a Simple Story Test:
- Tangible – Making your products and services real, visible and easy to understand
- Relatable – Helping readers connect with well-expressed values that actually matter
- Immersive – Pulling readers into the experience
- Memorable – Packed with evocative imagery and metaphors that people grasp instantly and recall naturally
- Emotional – Reaching out and touching people emotionally, at a much deeper level than a simple exchange of data
The best stories have a beginning, middle and end, as do the best university papers, theses, novels, TV programmes, plays, news items… you name it. If you can do that while avoiding Sachs’ five deadly sins and passing the simple story test, your content should genuinely make friends and influence people.