Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Once upon a time…

Everyone loves a story. Once you get past the first ten pages, you are hooked. You need a great opening, like Orwell's 1984: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”. Those thirteen bongs.

George Orwell has picked us up from his first line and is going to take us into his own world to show us what ours could look like.  Orwell also gave us the shorthand term for a repressive state and its leader who keeps every citizen under surveillance: “Big Brother is watching you” plastered on posters everywhere. Luckily, none of this happened in the real world and we could laugh at the irony of a television production company using the phrase for its reality TV show. Besides, Orwell’s real name was Eric Blair. See, even that was a fiction.

The ‘real’ story

Brand agencies love story-telling. They use it as a way to show that quite earnest and worthy services or products need to be re-shaped into something more cuddly and inviting. Story-telling is used to help their clients take their customers on journeys where their brands become a key part of their lives. 

These brands define the user and help them tell others who they are. No wonder so many people especially the young have rooms full of things worth thousands and yet inside they feel isolated and worthless.  If they had picked up an old book by a mad German called Nietzsche, he could have warned them that, “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back”. One day, unless you are careful, you will be taking a thousand photos of yourself on a phone costing a thousand pounds to produce one selfie that shows just how happy you are when, in reality, you aren’t. And no amount of filters will stop the cracks from showing.

The real story

We avoid the term story-telling at Talent Lab because it suggests fiction, and brands should deal with the truth. If you are making claims you can’t keep, there are too many eyes who will start telling your lack of truth for you through customer reports, or the one-star reviews you next prospect will find before finding you. Or if you pretend that every day at work is a trip to the fun house, the ex-employees can leave a picture of just how they were expected to work for 12 hours for below a living wage. Or how your supply chain is actually a line of small companies still waiting for their invoices to be paid.

When it comes to washing your credentials in public, you had better hope they are not green. You can fool some of the people most of the time, but you can’t fool nature. If you are not finding ways to help the planet, you are choking the very customers who can turn your VC investment dollars into a sustainable profit.

We are not saying messages shouldn’t be uplifting, exciting, or you shouldn’t be using packaging that catches the eye, or putting sexy back into software, just don’t rely on fiction to tell a false story because it will do more harm in the end. Start with the truth and work outwards. It’s much more exciting.


Image Credit: George Orwell 1984

Mark Herring

Mark Herring

Co-Director of Talent Lab. Business and Brand Strategist. Connector-in-Chief at Urbano Network, leading on Zero Carbon Engagement Programme and Only Connect Podcast.

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