Winning the Story Wars with Jonah Sachs

In this week’s episode of the Business of Story podcast, your host, Park Howell has a fascinating conversation with Jonah Sachs, Co-Founder and Chief Storytelling Officer of Free Range Studios, author of Winning the Story Wars, and creator of viral videos like The Story of Stuff series and The Meatrix.

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Full Episode Details

“We listen to stories because this helps us believe that we can be heroes in our own lives.” —@jonahsachs

In today’s episode of the Business of Story podcast, your host, Park Howell has a fascinating conversation with Jonah Sachs, Co-Founder and Chief Storytelling Officer of Free Range Studios, author of Winning the Story Wars, and creator of viral videos like The Story of Stuff series and The Meatrix.

In his own words, Jonah’s work focuses on “exploring the crossroads of ancient storytelling techniques, social responsibility, and emerging technologies.” He has won the ‘Best Of’ award three times at the South by Southwest interactive festival and his work has been featured everywhere from The New York Times, to NPR, to The Colbert Report.

Jonah proves to be an excellent guest and heroic storyteller, and his conversation with Park is incredibly compelling.

“Stories help us realize that the most important thing is not to get rich. It’s to make a difference in our communities & to those around us.” —@jonahsachs

The Hero’s Journey

To understand how to implement story into our own work, we first need to clarify the mythic structure. Jonah has implemented and adapted the fundamentals of Joseph Campbell’s hero cycle into his work to empower the viewer. The person on the receiving end of these stories, Jonah says, should feel that the content they are viewing has a moral, that it benefits society as a whole.

Bring to mind your favorite epic story. Consider the main characters in these narratives. Frodo, Luke Skywalker; they have more in common than you think.

They begin their journeys as outsiders. They are lost, helpless. Then something magical happens: They meet a sage.

This wise and mysterious Gandalf or Obi-Wan gives them a seemingly insurmountable charge (i.e. save the world) and a magical gift to help them along the way.

Although they are hesitant to believe in their own abilities at first, the hero ultimately defeats the evil that is poisoning his or her land and returns to society with what Campbell identifies as “the elixir” — not a treasure of monetary value but one of healing, the social initiative to change the world around us for the better.

In this sense, “Your brand itself could be a story,” says Jonah.

Implementing the Hero’s Journey

Campbell and Jonah agree that there is something innate within us that requires us to tell these stories.

The most important thing our hero wins is not wealth or treasure, but that he or she makes a difference.

We as consumers and members of society are the heroes. We are the ones who can and do affect change. By telling our stories we become empowered to, as Ghandi said, “be the change we want to see.”

Your Audience is your Hero

When thinking about your own brand, the hero of your story should always be the consumer. Jonah suggests that your story must deviate from how great your brand is and focus on the revelation that a deeper connection to consumers is possible. By connecting to a company’s core values, the consumer can grow. And when your brand’s values and your consumers’ values sync up, you can develop a magical partnership.

Your Agency is the Wise and Mysterious Sage

By recognizing that your hero (the consumer) has a desire to make the world around them a better place, you become the character in the story that will give them the means to reach that goal. Identify the quality behind your brand that empowers consumers to become better citizens.

Don’t Forget Your Moral Truth

Your brand must identify its moral core, the message that is worth sharing with the community, and then live that story. In today’s world of social media and instantaneous transfer of content, if your company does not live up to its moral message, this can become a huge liability. Consumers have no trouble identifying the companies that do not live up to their high ideals.

“The brand is not the center of the story. They’re the mentor of the story.” —@ParkHowell

Story Tool of the Week: MERIT

Jonah’s go-to storytelling tool is a five part acronym that he has affectionately named MERIT:

Memorable: This includes images or metaphors that resonate with people or breaks expectations.

Emotional: Don’t just think something, feel something. Communications that impart high emotional content leave a lasting impression.

Relatable: Your stories will be stronger if they are about real humans and the listeners can identify and empathize.

Immersive: How can you recreate the experience of your story to include sights, sounds, smells and make your audience feel like they are actually there?

Tangible: If events take place on a human and accessible scale, an audience has an easier access point into empathy.

Find the full details of this approach on Jonah’s website, Free Range under the Thinking tab or in his book, Winning the Story Wars.

“We are trying to get people to believe something. We can just say it, or we can tell a story and people live it a little more.” —@jonahsachs

Find Your Higher Purpose

Marketers and advertisers have the responsibility and ability to create a more informed and empowered society. Use these tactics to start making a difference to your customers–your heroes.

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