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08/26/2009 Wanted: Digital Storytellers

There's a superb scene in one of my all time favorites, the English TV series "The Singing Detective" written by the brilliant Dennis Potter and starring the great Michael Gambon. Sexy nurse Mills is greasing the skin challenged Marlowe and has to attend to his "private parts." To keep himself from getting overly aroused, Marlowe tries to focus on something boring and finally zeroes in on: The Story (his book).

When it comes to online marketing (and offline as well) it seems like we've lost track of the importance of the story. There's no doubt of the importance of storytelling with social media (like here, here, and here) but there are far too few examples of great online storytelling. Just like in the film, we have a hard time taking our mind off of the sexiness and glitz, on Web sites, in online advertising, on Twitter, and focusing on the hard stuff: crafting the story.

Recently I saw a great example from Johnny Walker online: a one-take story of the walker. While it was fun that it went out online, it still used a traditional, proven media: film. We're still looking for the great online storytellers who use the new medium, with all of its non-linear and two-way power to tell stories in such compelling way.

Burma_shave_sign Nowhere is this more evident than in online advertising. Web sites have done a better job but still are in its infancy as it relates to storytelling. I've always been impressed by the old Burma Shave billboard campaign of putting up its jingles along the highway at different intervals. Yes, they had a captive audience, but I bet that after the first two, people were dying to see how the story continued.

Wanting to know how a story ends (or even what happens in the next chapter) is the sign of a good story. Ever seen an online promotion or Web site where you couldn't wait to come back to see what happens next?  I haven't. If you have, please comment below!

One challenge for marketers is that we don't do sequential well. We get something up, and let it run. An ongoing content strategy for a Web site and social media is crucial yet sometimes marketers cut this first, due to budget requirements. An ongoing content strategy for online advertising is almost non-existent.

Not to mention that marketers often confuse talking about promotions with telling stories. You can do the former in the latter, but seldom vice versa. The more we can get marketers to speak like human beings, the better the chance of telling good stories.

How are you telling your story online? Is it worth listening to? Will anyone really care how it continues or how it ends?

Remember The Singing Detective and stop concentrating on greasing your private parts and focus on your story!

[For those of you who only know of the bastardization of The Singing Detective through the Robert Downey movie, here's a clip from the real deal].


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