Blogging Storynomics 4

Welcome to post numero quatro where we reveal some of what’s going on in Robert McKee’s new book, Storynomics: Story-Driven Marketing in a Post-Advertising World.  So far we’ve covered marketing deception around rational and emotion communications. We’ve touched on what defines a story. Why is that different from narrative? And quite fascinating to me, we’ve touched on The Evolution of Story and the story-making mind. I was quite moved when I came across the notion of the dawn of self-awareness, the first sense of “me” and how story-making emerged to help early humans make some kind of sense of the world around them. What follows is material from Chapter 4.



To master storified marketing, CMOs need solid working answers to fundamental questions: “What exactly is a story? What are its primal components? How do these elements interact within a story? How do I create a powerful marketing story?”

Me–> I’d say that it’s not only CMOs who need these answers, it’s every marketing writer, communications professional, PR person, startup entrepreneur, business owner. If the whole marketing narrative is broken, we all need to understand how to create and use stories. Onward into a list of what a story is not.

Me–> A story is not a process, or a hierarchy, or a chronology, and you can see McKee’s blood boil on videos when he gets to this, a story is not a journey.


Euphemisms, such as journey, separate the mind from the unpleasant realities around it, and, like genteelisms we use when we toilet-train chidren, they have a place in polite society. But the protagonist of a well-told story is not a passive passenger; she struggles dynamically through time and space to fulfill her desire.

“I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one. ”

~ Flannery O’Connor

Me–> Okay, now we have to pay attention. This has been wildly misunderstood by almost everyone, including yours truly.



Many marketing campaigns have flopped because an ad agency didn’t know the difference between narrative and story. Narrative may sound academic, even scientific, but in a business context, the term is neither logical nor precise. It’s use commits a categorical error for this reason: All stories are narratives, but not all narratives are stories. The four misnomers above, process, hierarchy, chronology, journey, are narratives, not stories.

Narratives tend to be flat, bland, repetitive, and boring recitations of events. They slide through the mind like juice through a goose, and as a result, they have little or no influence on customers. Stories, on the other hand, are value-charged and progressive. The mind embraces a well-told story; the imagination is its natural home. Once through our mental door, story fits, sticks, and excites consumer choice.

The next time you’re bored to the bone by somebody’s ‘story,’ in all likelihood you’re not being told a story. If you were, you’d be listening and engrossed. Instead the guy is torturing you with a narrative, probably a repetitious recitation of “….and then I did this, and then I did that, and then I did the other thing, and then and then and then…”

As to the concept of narrative and story. I thought hard about this in a book I co-authored recently. The book is Established; Lessons from the world’s oldest companies. My chapter, The Brush, the Mallet, the Chisel, the Letter, was a kind of history, or chronology—a narrative, if you will—about the founding and survival of the oldest operating American company, The John Stevens Shop of Newport, RI. I kept fighting the exact problem McKee lists above, ‘and then this happened, and then that happened, and then this happened, and then that…” The way I solved it, I think, was to let my utter fascination and love for the entire story come through. I lingered on the space itself, the people in the story, and the incredible skill they have and the generational aspect, three generations of men, twice over, who owned and ran this shop. But it’s probably fair to say I did not storify this piece, mainly because to do that, felt not quite right for the material I had. As my friend Nick Parker has said, ‘there’s an open question as to which sorts of content or material are ripe for a storytelling structure.” Agreed.



Blogging Storynomics 3

This is the third post in an ongoing project to unpack Robert Mckee’s new book, Storynomics: Story-Driven Marketing in a Post Advertising World. The

In previous posts, we’ve talked about how rational based communications, are really just rhetoric, and emotional communications, have veered into manipulation of consumers, playing on fear and envy. Which is part of the reason why marketing and advertising are in such dire straits. We’ve also touched on the elements of a story– action, reaction. changing value charges, roles, conflict, turning points, emotional dynamics.

So let’s look into Chapter Three; The Evolution of Story. As you might expect from McKee, he structures some of this material in the form of a three act drama.

“…a three-act adventure that begins with the birth of consciousness. It builds as the mind battles for survival, and climaxes with the triumph of storified thought.’

Consciousness is kind of the inciting incident here. The moment when everything changes and the protagonist is thrown into a whole new world, which in this case is being self-aware.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” ~ Joan Didion


The silent awareness of “Me” suddenly transformed a brain into a mind and turned an animal human. Animals react to the objects around them, but the human brain turned itself into an object. Consciousness, in effect, split itself in two.

When self-awareness invaded the first human mind, it brought with it a sudden, sharp sense of isolation. The cost of self-consciousness is a life spent essentially alone, at a distance from all other living creatures, even your fellow human creatures. With that first, primordial I am, moment, the mind felt not only alone but also in terror. For self-awareness brought another, even more frightening discovery, unique to humanity. time. The first human being suddenly found herself alone and adrift on the river of time.


“…What’s more, the mind discovered that not only is the future in doubt, but the surfaces of people and things cannot be trusted; that nothing is what it seems. What seems is the sensory veneer of what we see, what we hear, what people say, what people do. What is hides beneath what seems. For truth is not what happens, but how and why what happens happens. With neither science nor religion to explain life’s unseen causalities, the suddenly self-aware mind must have roiled in confusion as chaos, enigma, meaninglessness, and brevity made life unlivable. The mind had to find a way to make sense out of existence.


Two pages in we get going…

Because a well-told story wraps its telling around emotionally charged values, its meaning becomes marked in our memory.

The form of story, at its simplest goes like this: As the telling opens, the central character’s life, as expressed in its core value (happiness/sadness, for example) is in relative balance. But then something happens that upsets this balance and decisively changes the core value’s charge one way or the other. He could for example, fall in love, (positive) or out of love (negative). The character then acts to restore life’s balance, and from that moment on a sequence of events, linked by cause and effect moves through time, progressively and dynamically swinging the core value back and forth from positive to negative, negative to positive. At climax, the story’s final event changes the core value’s charge absolutely and the character’s life returns to balance.



Blogging about Storynomics 2

In our last post, we talked a little about rational communication, rhetoric, and, emotional communication, and what constitutes the current problem. No one believes marketing and/or advertising anymore. The remedy, per Robert McKee and Thomas Gerace, in Storynomics: Story-Driven Marketing in a Post-Advertising World, is story.

A well-told story captures our attention, holds us in suspense, and pays off with a meaningful emotional experience. Emotional because we empathize with its characters; meaningful because the actions of our protagonist deliver insights into human nature. The word itself, story, confuses many marketers. Some, for example, use the words content and story as if they were interchangeable. As as we’ll discover, that’s like conflating paint in a can with a masterpiece on a wall.”

The other, frequent point of confusion, is between story and narrative. There are key distinctions. Hugely important differences. Of which more, later.

Here we go, this bit is where our book gets in gear and begins to really move.

Excerpt: In short, story is the ultimate I.T. I in that storytelling demands information–a wide and deep knowledge of human nature and its relationship with the social and physical realms. T in that a well-told story demands skillful execution of its inner technology, its mechanism of action / reaction, changing value charges, roles, conflicts, turning points, emotional dynamics, and much more. A craft underpins the art.

Storify is the word that McKee and Gerace give us to describe marketing that encompasses story structure. You got to storify it!

Here is where we begin to see some clarity around what defines a story. Story involves just what has been said above. Action, reaction. Changing value charges. Roles. Conflict. Turning points. Emotional dynamics. None of which apply to narrative.

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Philip Pullman

For me, the interesting idea running through this approach to marketing is how to apply it. Where and how can you apply a storytelling structure in your business communications? What specific pieces of content can you storify? If we’re talking about content marketing which underlies all this due to Thomas Gerace’ role at Skyword, then there are numerous avenues to work with. Customer stories, also known as case studies, are prime territory. Ads can certainly fit that bill. Corporate history can definitely be storified.

I wonder? Can you storify home page content? Can you hook a reader on the home page with a brief story, maybe as brief as six words? Ten? Stay tuned for post number three coming your way soon. Should be good, ‘The Evolution of Story’ is chapter three.