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Story Drives Action
Lessons from the art world
How are you? I hope your week is going amazingly well.
As you may know part of what I do outside spreading the gospel of visual storytelling to a new generation of marketers, is managing the estate of artist Buky Schwartz which happens to be my father in-law.
Buky Schwartz (1932-2009) was one of the key figures in the history of video art. His interactive video installations are shown worldwide in private and public collections such as the Whitney, ZKM, Guggenheim, and the Smithsonian museums.
Through my work interacting with museums, galleries, universities, collectors, curators and preservation experts - the more I think about it, I often use visual storytelling tactics to allow me to invoke the larger meanings behind the artworks.
It could be by sharing archival materials with the Guggenheim Museum that is currently looking to recreate the above video installation for display, building an online artwork archive, sharing stories or creating a digital video art catalog.
It all boils down to distilling a distinctive narrative about the art to everything I do.
The art world, as you may know, is driven by subjective evaluations of artworks, and as such it’s even more critical:
Successful art sales don’t just happen on their own. They grow from the seed of storytelling, the crafting of a narrative that connects an object to something greater and more valuable than itself.
-Tim Schneider, Artnet
This dynamic is of course applicable to how you promote your own brand and products.
What is your larger brand purpose or as I like to call it brand narrative?
Why does your business exist beyond making money?
Patagonia is in the business of saving the planet and airbnb is about belonging anywhere. So all their stories are supporting these overarching themes.
Closer to home, the Visual Storytelling Institute (VSI) I lead is all about create, mirror, matter.
That’s why I often joke that I’m in the “mirroring business.”
All I do is creating wow moments that allow people to see themselves mirrored in brand stories that matter.
Using this narrative as GPS helps me set a clear direction to come up with stories.
A horse tale
One of the most illustrative stories about the power of story (pun intended) took place in 2006. Rob Walker, a New York Times Magazine journalist bought 200 items from a thrift shop for an average cost of $1.25.
Then he asked authors to write a story for each item and auction them on eBay.
The results were off the chart!
A horse bust that cost him $.99 was sold for $62.95. So, in essence, he spent on all items $197 and netted almost $8000 – increase of 6395%
A great evidence to Simon Sinek’s classic:
People don't buy what you do, people buy why you do it.
At that point, that cheap horse’s plastic head was worth much more than $1.25 because the story attached to it evoked a string of emotions and related experiences buyers found present in their own lives.
Even though Tesla’s profits fell in the last quarter and its share price has dropped roughly one-third from its peak in the past 12 months, it still trades at a rich sum. In a December newsletter devoted to trying to figure out why Tesla was worth as much as it is, the Times Opinion columnist Paul Krugman concluded that investors had fallen “in love with a story line about a brilliant, cool innovator.” On that day in December, Tesla shares were trading at $109.10; they are now trading at around $170. According to its shareholders, Tesla’s equity is still worth more than five times as much as that of Ford and General Motors combined.
What’s going on under the hood?
Every time you tell a story around your product, your audience apply two superpowers we’re all blessed with:
We know that people prefer to consume information when it’s packaged as stories vs. a long laundry list of facts and stats. When you think about it, it’s pretty much how we exchange stories with our trusted friends.
When those buyers read that backstory about that cheap plastic horse toy, they practically experienced the Dual Narrative Effect.
They processed the story they were told with the story they told themselves. It’s all part of an ancient survival mechanism that allows us to make sense of the world around us.
The more details in the story your audience also find in their own lives - or the more your audience can see themselves mirrored in your story - the more chances they will empathize with your message and act upon it.
We both process visual information 60,000 times faster and remember 80% better what we see vs. what we read or hear.
I bet that horse chart above will stick in your mind for a while :)
In addition to visualizing an object in present time that allows us to identify its nature, we also have two other visualization capabilities:
Past visualizing capability that often is triggered by consuming a story with direct similarity to an experience from your past, a memorable painting or even smell and flavor of a dish that may take you to your grandma’s legendary chicken soup.
Future visualizing capability to picture ourselves in future events that have never happened yet. Think of it as what we normally refer to as “fantasizing” for good outcomes and “dreading” for - you guessed it - bad outcomes.
The former is what likely happened for a buyer of that cheap horse bust; “Hey, I can picture myself placing that horse on a shelf in my home office as a constant reminder of the story’s never-give-up moral.”
One for the road
Take a look at how you communicate the value of your products.
What stories can you tell with meaningful details that could work as emotional triggers and take your audience on a memorable journey around a higher purpose value?
Take a cue from Leo Castelli, one of the most notable art dealers, who declared:
My responsibility is the myth-making of myth material—which, handled properly and imaginatively, is the job of a dealer—and I have to go at it completely.
Until next time, keep telling stories that build solid and meaningful “empathy bridges” to your audience hearts and minds.
Lastly, do experiment with AI to improve your story development process, but don’t lose sight of that precious human element.