SOURCE: Free Range Studios

Free Range Studios

November 27, 2012 11:00 ET

Making the Audience the Hero Is Key to Breaking Through Digital Clamour, Says Jonah Sachs, Author of Winning The Story Wars

OAKLAND, CA and WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwire - Nov 27, 2012) -  We're living in an era where anyone can weigh in, tune out, embrace or reject a message. Consumers have now become editors and broadcasters choosing the messages they spread.

"Today, 'broadcast' traditions -- one-way communications -- are crumbling. But too many marketers still believe the old modes of top-down message delivery can be preserved. They think intelligent machines and software will come to the rescue to let them micro-target messages and sell anything they want using digital platforms like Facebook. They think these platforms will be as powerful as a 30-second advertising spot on the Super Bowl once was. They won't be," says Jonah Sachs, internationally recognized story analyst and CEO of Free Range Studios.

"This is a time of peril for marketers, but there's also great opportunity for those who understand that only truthful and empowering messages -- like the great myths of the ancient world -- will break through today's message overload," he says.

In his recently published book, Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell -- and Live -- the Best Stories Will Rule the Future (Harvard Business Review Press, July 2012), Sachs explains how the "Digitoral Era" has returned us the oral traditions of the past, where information was passed from peer to peer rather than consumed through broadcast.

"Telling a great story is the only way to get a message heard or to build an iconic brand," Sachs argues. "And while a great story may seem like magic, thousands of years of natural selection teach us all that we need to know."

  • Tell the truth. Great stories have always revealed the deepest truths about human nature, reminding audiences of their cherished values and encouraging their pursuits. While traditional marketing labels audiences as "consumers," iconic brands see the audience as the emerging hero, Sachs says.
  • Be interesting. Stories speak to the heart, not just the head, and favor magic and metaphor over claims and data. That's how they capture the audience's imagination and get spread virally.
  • Live the truth. It's not enough to call on your audience to reach for their higher values. Great storytellers, and storytelling brands, must also become mentors -- role models who deeply live out the values they espouse.

"In our Digitoral Era, the value and lifespan of an idea or product will be built through a broad chain of perception, recognition and affinity. None of us with an idea to promote will ever be successful without getting people to take up the message and make it their own -- and pass it along. Sharing the story is a key part of the oral tradition, and one that is indispensable in the modern era of digital communications," Sachs says.

Glimpses of "Broadcast"-Style Marketing's Failure -- and Empowerment Marketing's Success

Examples abound of the perils of inauthentic story telling or "inadequacy" marketing (where the intention is make you feel small unless you buy) and the success potential of empowerment marketing.

"Remember that Kenneth Cole and Groupon both got into hot water after callous campaigns mocking important political events in Egypt and Tibet, encouraging shopping instead. Fiji Water tried to use social media marketing to promote the idea that its carbon-offset program made the product carbon-neutral. That claim was quickly debunked, and the company received severe criticism for what many viewed as a cynical green-washing campaign," Sachs says.

"On the other side of the coin there's Chipotle's YouTube video, 'Back to the Start.' It's a little story about a farmer who turns his farm over to the industrial machine and then decides he's miserable. So he turns it back to what he had before, to create a better world. Then at the end, the Chipotle truck drives up and takes the food away. It doesn't say anything about the product, doesn't say anything about what Chipotle does. But it does put Chipotle behind this very uplifting message of a farmer taking back control. The company didn't broadcast it anywhere; they just put it up on the Internet. People liked it so much that it got passed around, and it was so popular it was shown as content at the Grammy's. 'Back to the Start' required no distribution budget -- but got visibility that was certainly worth a lot more than it would cost to buy a 60-second spot on the Grammy's."

Marketers must enable the audience to embrace and share stories that resonate with them. Those that master storytelling will be able to engage people's innate quest for meaning, values and ritual, and their story will be spread long after the message has been delivered, according to Sachs and Winning the Story Wars.

To speak with Jonah Sachs, please contact Katarina Wenk-Bodenmiller of Sommerfield Communications, Inc. at (617) 939-9094  or More information, including a video, can be found at

Jonah Sachs is an internationally recognized storyteller, author, designer and entrepreneur. As the co-founder and creative director of Free Range Studios, Jonah has helped hundreds of social brands and causes break through the media with campaigns built on sound storytelling strategies. His work on legendary viral videos like "The Meatrix," "Grocery Store Wars," and "The Story of Stuff" series has brought key social issues to the attention of more than 60 million viewers and his interactive work has been honored with "Best Of" awards three times at the standard-setting South By Southwest interactive culture festival. Jonah and his work have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, FOX News, Sundance Film Festival, NPR, The Colbert Report, and in Fast Company Magazine, which named him one of the 50 most influential social innovators. Follow him on Twitter @jonahsachs.

Free Range Studios works with visionary companies and organizations to create story-based brands, transforming clients' visions for a better future into emotionally compelling media -- from interactive and mobile to print and video. The company has offices in Washington, DC and Oakland, CA. For more information, visit Follow them on Twitter @freerangestudio

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