Marketing and Storytelling

Are marketers storytellers? Are storytellers marketers?

I’m inclined to think that writing and marketing skills do not inherently go hand-in-hand, and for a storyteller to master the art of marketing, he or she has to make a concerted effort to do it. The same should go for a marketer who wants to tell a good story.

The idea for this conversation came when I read the following comment on Andrea Phillips’ “Transmedia Is Not Marketing” blog:

Marketers are not by nature storytellers (no matter what their bios say). And I think the same can be said of storytellers as they are just at the forefront of understanding marketing and how to link storytelling meaningfully back to the core values of a brand.

This, of course, appeared in a discussion about transmedia storytelling, a fair amount of which serves to market something. People can get the mistaken impression that all transmedia is simply a marketing tactic and nothing else. It is true that the storytellers of ARGs or transmedia experiences sometimes have to wear a marketing hat, or transmedia marketers sometimes have to don storytelling caps, whichever you want to say.

However, as Ms. Phillips points out, this is not the full extent or even the true purpose of every transmedia experience. Sometimes the transmedia story supports itself, for example.

Of course I also recognize the lasting importance of grassroots games. However, if a game is only there for the fun of it, then the question of marketing becomes less pressing than it is for those who hope to pay the bills with their work.  🙂

I think this is an important topic for transmedia writers as well as traditional writers. Is a storyteller necessarily good at marketing? Is a marketer necessarily a strong storyteller? I can’t tell you how many traditional writers I know who have bemoaned the pressure they feel to be their own promotion agents. “I don’t have time to tweet and Facebook and blog every day,” they tell me. “I’m too busy writing.”

The other day, I stole some time from my own writing schedule to ask about this on Facebook.  🙂  Here are some excerpts from the responses I got:

Robert Cunha: “Marketers are telling you the story of their product (sometimes with a bit of fiction) and are trying to hook you into their story… Storytellers are marketers if they wish for their story to be heard. They’re selling their thoughts and trying to make it enticing enough for you to want to read past the first page.”

Mike Pynn: “Good marketing that tells a story:
… professional storytelling often employs some of the most interesting, narrative marketing of all. This is, of course, super-true in the ARG world.”

Lori Pollard-Johnson: “Honestly, I don’t market Toxic Torte at all. I’ve been told that participating/promoting on the amazon forums helps, but I’ve been too busy during the school year to do it. Sales doubled the second month and rose 250% the third month.”

Christopher Greif: “I do very little marketing with my earth friendly lawn & pest control. Most of my business comes to me through referrals from happy customers. I have 80 solid customers right now I would like to get up to 200 and stay there for a bit. I did find out the yellow pages and yellow book are a waste of money. Pretty much anything paper can go away.”

and Jacki King: “In this day and age, you have to be both (if you have any intentions of making lasting money at the endeavor)… if you’re not looking for the financial gain, then you can have the luxury of choosing not to market… Of course, no one knows exactly what combo to put together for optimal success…different things work at different times, and it’s not the same for every project…”

Perhaps the question is not whether we are qualified at the on-set to market our stories or to tell stories with our marketing. Perhaps the question is whether we should become qualified. Or is it better to leave these two worlds separate?


3 responses to “Marketing and Storytelling

  1. You provoke interesting thoughts, Irene. Writing is becoming something of a performing art, isn’t it? And in some sense “being a writer” is part of the show the public wants to see.

    There may always be a space for a writer who doesn’t want to hustle the marketing angle… but just like it’s easier to make a living as a musician if you perform instead of only recording, so it might be easier for a writer who markets instead of only taletelling. –Whether what you’re marketing is your projects or yourself.

  2. Both skill sets require a market and a product. And that product (or IP) will determine what methods are best to distribute it. To be honest, I really feel this “redefining” of the terms “story” and “marketing” beign doen by the “transmedia” crowd is doing a disservice to both acts. You end up lowering both skills sets for the future generations by creating a ” set of broader critia as to judge the inherit quality of the actual artifacts done”


  3. And just to be clear, that doent mean i dont “like” transmedia thinking as a process. In fact Ive been waiting for you all online for 15 years now.;) Just dont make the same mistakes other “meta memers” do when using a technology driven medium…. don’t allow its “relevance engine” of hype and 15 nanoseconds of “facebook” cool, drive you to kill the “profession” that could pay for your kids college, and your basic rent- 20 years from now….’)

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