Guest Column: Marketers: Storytelling is Here to Stay

by Kareem Taylor  |  04.08.2016

Once upon a time never gets old.

Recently, I took a two-week trip to the UK to meet my new team in the London office at Substance Global. Since I’ve been back in the states, my friends naturally ask “How was London?” Or as one friend put it at brunch, “Tell me everything from the beginning.” Stuffing my mouth with biscuits and gravy, I sat there wondering: Why is it that we always look for information in the form of a story?

Life is weird, with twists and turns, and often scattered. But when we share those experiences, we put those scattered details into an easy to follow beginning, middle and end. I came, I saw, I conquered.

Storytelling, as we well know, is the most fundamental way we remember and relay information. It’s how grandma’s apple pie recipe has survived. Or how Facebook and Uber attract the best engineers. Or why we’re still afraid of killer whales. But if story continues to be the driving point in our lives, why do we act as if it’s just a buzzword.

Storytelling isn’t a craze or fad. It’s our preferred way of processing otherwise prosaic information. It is still the single most effective way to get your audience emotionally involved, eager to hear the message you’re getting across. That could be during a job interview, in a TV commercial or at a client pitch. Stories have a way of making us care.

On Sunday night, I sat at my laptop watching WrestleMania, WWE’s annual extravaganza. During one match, Shane McMahon jumped twenty feet from the top of a steel cage during his match with The Undertaker. From an outsider point of view, it may look like Shane jumped for no good reason. But I’m an avid watcher of the weekly show, so I’m aware that Shane will do anything to beat his opponent. How do I know? Because promo writers have spent weeks putting together the most elaborate stories in the form of thirty second spots. I was sucked in way before the event. It made me wonder “Does ‘Once Upon a Time’ ever get old?” As in, can you capture attention without, first, interesting us in a story? I don’t think so.

Whether you’re a marketer or someone with a great idea, what all of us do for a living is tell stories. These stories are why we listen, care and connect. So WWE didn’t ask me “Have you ever jumped from off top a cage?” Instead, they asked, “How far would you go to get what you want?” In my own head, I conjured up stories that answered their question. And if connection is what engages us — stories are the way to make us feel.

When storytellers utter the words “Stop me if you’ve heard this before,” it’s usually for humor, as a lean in. Because all stories have been heard before. The challenge, then, is finding a new way to tell them.

Avid WWE fan Kareem Taylor (@KareemTaylor) leads strategy and partnerships at Substance Global, a London-based digital agency with new offices in Los Angeles. He is also the author of “Get Your Life!,” the orange book that teaches creatives how to turn their ideas into a career. He is an optimist and writes popular blogs on marketing, sales and leadership at A graduate of PromaxBDA and Santa Monica College’s Promo Pathway, Kareem counts CNN, Taco Bell, Sony Pictures Television and AT&T as his clients.

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