Are You Telling Your Marketing Story the Wrong Way?

July 8th, 2011

New clients tell us all the time that they need a better marketing story. What they don’t know is that the best stories are not tight little elevator speeches. The best ones reveal themselves in bits and pieces – what we call story pods.

J.J. Abrams, director of the new hit “Super 8,” is the master of presenting stories as uncovered mysteries. He is the co-creator of the TV show Lost and director of Mission: Impossible III and Star Trek. Each of those famously successful stories unfolds in little mysterious packages, not as a simple linear narrative.

When Abrams was a boy, he would visit Tanmen’s Magic Shop in New York.  Of all the wonderful tricks and wands and cards displayed in the crowded shop, the most intriguing to Abrams was the mystery box – a sealed cardboard package that when shook sounded like a collection of metal, wood or glass things rattling around inside.  Was it gold? A spy weapon?  A space instrument?  Maybe a small two-way radio?  It contained just enough information to spark a young boy’s imagination — infinitely more interesting than any of the tricks displayed in the open packages.

The same goes for marketing messages. Revealing the whole message in one fell swoop is fine, but forgettable.

Abrams gave a talk at TED, asking, “What are stories but mystery boxes?” and describing how “…mystery boxes are everywhere in what I do.”  Abrams brought his Mystery Box on stage during his TED presentation, revealing that “he still hadn’t opened it, because once he did, its spell would be broken and its power surrendered.”

Think about it. As a linear narrative, the hit TV show LOST really wouldn’t be that interesting. The suspense and intrigue of the show comes from the lack of information, not the completeness of it.

Aramique Krauthamer, an expert on applying storytelling to new media, believes “People like to find things on their own. They like to piece together the story and feel a sense of participation. By creating a nonlinear narrative that breaks apart the story into multiple pieces (or pods) we can offer audiences a very engaged level of participation and a sense of ownership of the story as they piece it together, i.e. becoming a curator. It also offers the ability to enter the story at any point, since the process of piecing together was part of the original intended experience.”

Now think how the concept of mystery applies to your sales deck, website or brochure.  Your prospects will never read any of those like a book from start to finish.  They dive into certain parts, come up again and dive into another.  The more they feel they are in control, the faster they will “own” your story.

So when developing or presenting your marketing story, in any form, don’t crowd it with all your key messages.  Instead, keep some of them sealed in your mystery box that will make your prospects work to open it and thrilled when they do.

Which companies are adding mystery to their marketing? Comment here and you could win a Magic Mystery Box, still on sale at Tannen’s Magic Store in Manhattan.

Posted Under: Branding, Storytelling
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