Storytelling… What Does That Even Mean?

Even with a cursory cruise through a site like LinkedIn, which has really gone downhill over the past few years, one of the words you invariably hear bandied about a lot more than many other marketing cliches is the word ‘storytelling’.

In actuality, it’s kind of a misnomer when it is used in the context of sales and marketing because what they are really talking about are ‘selling messages’. Calling this process storytelling really does a disservice to those who actually know how to tell stories, which, sadly not a lot of people do.

It seems to me that storytelling in this bastardized context is meant to denote some kind of skill set that not everybody has to reach today’s consumer.

Truth be told, it really doesn’t matter who actually does it, the true nature of the telling of the story invariably gets lost, either through the writer’s actual lack of storytelling skill, and their need to get to the freaking point before they lose the reader. In which case the story goes up in smoke.

This is because storytelling is a myth created primarily by both search engines and social/business media sites who really just needed tons and tons of content that wasn’t hardcore advertising to somehow prove the point that good old fashioned media advertising was some anachronism and that the new way to really reach the consumer effectively was through, you guessed it, ‘storytelling”.

I spent the first half of my rather lengthy career in a world where there was no social media or digital media of any kind. And what I learned there, from some of the true pioneers of modern advertising, was the true art of storytelling. Only we didn’t call it that. We called it copywriting. Every ad we did told a story, but it was a story in which our product or service was the star. And we made damn sure that this was as plain day.

Because when we did our research to determine the effectiveness of our ‘storytelling’, we never asked what the story was about, or what the moral of the story was, we asked about the relevance of the product or service to those who were in our target audience. We asked about what people remembered. We asked if this ‘product story’ we told them got them interested enough to want to either find out more or actually shell out some shekels for the product or service.

To people like me, who grew up with the cold, hard media limited world of consumer and business advertising, the digital world that grew out of the Internet struck us all as nothing more than beating around the bush on a ludicrously grand scale

The prospects, if you are smart enough to find them,  are not there to read some feel-good story…they are there to find out about some product or service that they are interested in. You know the way they used to be interested in ads and commercials before social media came along and turned everything into this storytelling fantasyland.

Oh sure, they will tell you that they are interested in stories. But honestly, if they are sitting in a focus group or answering a survey questionnaire, they will be more than happy to tell you what you want to hear, all the while suppressing their real feelings about just how much clutter they have to wade through to get any real satisfaction from their social media experience.

They are writing about the bigger picture of life and love and things that can make the world better.

I have a lot of my stuff posted on a site called BizCatalyst 360˚. This is a site where real storytellers are telling stories and very little of it has to do with selling products. Oh sure, many of these storytellers are coaches and consultants and creative people in marketing. But they are seldom writing about that on this site. Instead, they are, for the most part writing about things that are personal to them. They are writing about the bigger picture of life and love and things that can make the world better. Some of them related to business, others not so much. But the majority of it is good storytelling and not the kind of half-assed attempts you see on LinkedIn or Facebook.

So the moral of this post (not story) is that if you have bought into this whole notion of storytelling, by all means, look for a good copywriter to tell your stories. Because they know exactly how to balance the ‘story’ with the ‘telling’.

A good copywriter will always make sure that the product message will be the payoff, and the thing that gets remembered, not because you forced it down their throats or romanced them into it somehow, but because they actually know how to write an effective selling message that people can relate to.


Jim Murray
Jim Murray
I have been a writer since the age of 14. I started writing short stories and poetry. From there I graduated to writing lyrics for various bands and composers and feature-length screenplays, two of which have been produced. Early on in my writing career, I discovered advertising. While the other media have drifted in and out, communications writing and art direction have been the constant through a 20-year career senior positions in Canadian and multi-national agencies and a second career, which began in 1989, (Onwords & Upwords Inc), as a strategic and creative resource to direct clients, design companies, marketing consultants and boutique agencies. Early in 2020, I closed Onwords & Upwords and opened MurMarketing which is a freelance strategic development/copywriting/art direction service for businesses working to make a positive difference in the world. I currently write long format blogs in 4 different streams, encompassing, entertainment, marketing, and communications, life in general, and the renewable energy and recycling industries. These are currently published on I have, over the years, created more than 1500 blog posts. I live with my wife Heather in the beautiful Niagara Region of southern Ontario, after migrating from Toronto, where I spent most of my adult life. I am currently recovering from spinal surgery and learning to walk again.

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