XTC 7/14 - Viral Storytelling: Mythic Models for Audience Engagement

Messaging is a cornerstone of any tech PR campaign. But the trouble with messages is that we discard them once we’ve consumed them. Message in. Message out. File deleted.

Stories, however, stick in our memory. And good stories change perspective, and they change behavior. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech tells the story of a racially united America, and this moving vision still resonates today. Flip to just a few years ago—who remembers the key messages of either the Romney or Obama campaigns in 2012? Which ones stick with us more?

Every hero's journey begins somewhere. (Thinkstock)

Stories also invite participation and emotional involvement in the narrative, which is why so many of us in tech PR are now talking about storytelling. There is a proven art and a heritage of science around storytelling; most of us in the business have our own models around this. But the truth is, almost of all of us who engage in storytelling are indebted to the incredible work of comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey he mapped out in books like The Hero With a Thousand FacesThe Masks of God and The Power of Myth. Even George Lucas credits much of the success of his Star Wars franchise to the storytelling principles he learned directly from Campbell.

Campbell’s storytelling model identified 12 universal commonalities in the stories told in myths from around the world. All great stories that stood the test of time had these essential components in the narrative:

  1. The ordinary world
  2. The call to adventure
  3. Refusal of the call
  4. Meeting with the mentor
  5. Crossing the threshold
  6. Tests, allies and enemies
  7. Approach
  8. The ordeal
  9. The reward
  10. The road back
  11. The resurrection
  12. Return with the elixir

At Blanc & Otus, we’ve condensed this 12-chapter model into our own five-chapter model for what we call “viral storytelling,” and we’ve been using it for more than a decade with almost all of our clients:

  1. The world has changed
  2. Change creates challenge
  3. A shift in thinking
  4. Enter the Hero
  5. The viral question

Over the course of our next several XTC installments, we’re going to take a deeper look at this five-chapter model, how it works, and examples of what becomes possible when we shift from mere messaging to viral storytelling.

But first, given that everybody seems to have their own model these days, we felt it important to acknowledge the source and rich debt of gratitude that all storytellers everywhere owe to Campbell and his amazing work.

Up next: How the world of storytelling has changed…

XTC (Examining The Change) is a weekly column where B&O CEO Josh Reynolds explores the intersection of storytelling, leadership and technology.