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Brand Storytelling

The legend of Hemingway’s six word novel

By April 29, 2019 No Comments

There’s a literary legend that Ernest Hemingway was once sitting in a bar in the Florida Keys and got into a fierce debate with one of the patrons that he could write a novel using just six words. The bar patron had read some of his novels and was a fan of his work. He believed there was no way that Hemingway could write a six word novel that had the depth and emotional resonance of his more famous novels. Hemingway disagreed, and after offering a simple wager, leaned over the bar, picked up a napkin, and wrote six words on it…

“For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”

The brilliance of Hemingway’s rather dark six word novel is that we can insert ourselves into the story, and fill in the details about how the death might have occurred. We imagine the anguish of the mother as she writes the ad for the tiny, unworn shoes.

There are three lessons here for business and brand storytelling.

The first lesson is that stories are simply facts wrapped in emotion, so think about how you can wrap up information about your business or brand in an emotional package. As they say: facts tell, but stories sell.

The second lesson is that good stories use emotional and sensory language that inspires the reader or viewer to fill in the gaps. As we are a storytelling species our cognitive systems are well versed at filling in information gaps, and sometimes simply making stuff up to round out the story. (As my Uncle Rob used to say, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”) When we gossip, we often do this. So, we need to structure our business stories in such a way that our customers can entwine themselves into the narrative, fill in the missing gaps and own the story. Customers are also more likely to share your story if they can project themselves into it.

Third lesson. We are living in an age of short form snackable content where attention spans are rapidly diminishing, and short snippets of information rule. We need to practise the art of short form brand storytelling, where we can pack a punch in short, emotionally evocative formats.

A number of years ago Smith (an online magazine devoted to personal storytelling) started a contest in which people wrote six word stories of their own memoirs. More than 15,000 entries came in from around the US. Some shocking, some funny, some moving.  Here are a few examples:

“Barrister, barista, what’s the diff, Mom?”
“Being a monk stunk. Better gay.”
“Big hair, big heart, big hurry.”
“Mind racing, moving ahead of body.”
Celebrities also got in on the act.
Stephen Colbert’s six word memoir was “Well I thought I was funny.” Celebrity chef Mario Batali’s was “Brought it to a boil often.”

Now, this would be a useful short form brand storytelling exercise for your business. Could you write a compelling six word memoir for your business? It gets you thinking, doesn’t it? What a great way to bring clarity, simplicity and power to your brand story!

For the record my six word memoir for Story IQ would be:

“Transformed B2B marketing with powerful storytelling”

If you need help to succinctly distill your brand story into a pithy, memorable idea or phrase, email or call me.
Talk soon.

Steve Ballantyne
Story IQ – Brand storytelling
021 744960
[email protected]