HOW EXPERIENCE UNITES US ALL.
Last week, I took part in the #bookexchange, a social experiment for book-loving folk designed to reignite people's passion for traditional books (not the digital kind) and sharing their favourite stories.
In the spirit of the chain mail you may have sent/received as a kid, you send your favourite book to a stranger (whose address is shared with you by the person who invited you to take part) and spread the word about the social experiment on your social media channels, and receive books from strangers who want to share their favourite story with you in exchange.
I love reading and a good book recommendation, so this was right up my alley, but I was surprised as to how many of my friends were keen to join in. Perhaps books in print form weren't dead after all? After the rise of the iPad and Kindle, I had always proclaimed that I would never read a book in digital format. For me, that was the death of the romanticism I had always soaked up whilst reading. Print for life! The smell of a new or old book, the cracking of the spine as you dived deeper into the world in your hands, and the folding of the corner of the page to mark your spot. But even I have on occasion succumbed to the digital age of convenience.
Ironically, my first week of reaping the rewards of my participation in the #bookexchange has coincided with reading this article by Will Self that discusses whether the rise of digital entertainment is evolving our need to tell stories. This thought shocked me, considering I spend a good two-thirds of my day glued to my screen, but maybe he has a point?
Thanks to technology, this evolution from print to digital and the actual into the virtual allows us to transcend era, and most demo, socio or geo-graphics. Self's discussion about how London's licensed black cab drivers have an enlarged posterior hippocampi - the part of the brain associated with wayfinding - all thanks to having to study for the notorious 'The Knowledge' exam, is a discovery that may not be replicated in a Google Maps-using millennial. But this part of the brain is also strongly linked with memory formation.
Neuroscientists have now discovered that at a cognitive level memory, location, and narration accompanying this hand-in-hand. Self's example of the hunter-gatherers needing to find food, remember where they found it, and share this information with others forms the basis for pre-historic storytelling. But if we now have apps that do all this for us, there's no need to retain this information or share it. This is now the status quo.
Brands who use a storytelling narrative have now discovered they make a longer lasting connection with their consumers, and therefore build brand loyalty. Year on year Britons, and indeed Christmas-loving viewers from around the world, keenly await the first view of John Lewis' Christmas ad, heralding the start of the (retail) festive season. Pulling on the heart strings is ubiquitous for these annual ads, but who doesn't love a Christmas story? As recently published in The Guardian, Craig Inglis Customer Director and Marketing Chief at John Lewis reported that for every pound spent on creating their Christmas campaign they make just over £8 [profit]. That's a staggering return, but it would want to be for spending £7million on the ad campaign itself. Great if you've got big budgets to spend, but small business owners can learn from this thinking and apply it to their own campaigns. Storytelling is simply a way to connect emotionally with your consumers, rather than just appealing to the rational side of their brains with your brand's products or services. How does your brand make your consumers feel when using your products/services? What is the emotional benefit?
I would like to think that experiences, and the drive to share those experiences with others is what keeps storytelling alive. We may no longer need to retain locations and give people directions, but to share our mind or heart's experience with someone is a participation in unity which makes you feel a sense of belonging and inherently feel understood.
So where does this leave the humble book or campfire story? What has the ability to express our point of view via social media, and be heard by our peers, meant for our desire to seek out art forms that express our thoughts, feelings and attitudes for us? We'd love to hear your thoughts.
Also, if you'd like to take part in the #bookexchange, please leave your email address in the comments section and we'll send you all the details.