Matt Nelson – Digital Storytelling 101 for Marketers

April 20, 2014

by Bruce Nickson

Part 2 of the recap of the March 27th Breakfast Speaker Series event brings you Matthew Nelson, Director of Digital Strategy at DDB Canada/Tribal Worldwide – Vancouver.

Matt starts with history, as in: we’ve been telling each other stories for as long as we have communicated with each other. The history of human communication (we first started about 100,000 years ago) has been a series of  incremental accelerations. Think papyrus, drums and horns to 4G networks.


Storytelling has been at the core of this communication.

Pages from Storytelling BCAMA7 Final-2

Matt defines storytelling as “the conveying of events in words and images, often by improvisation or embellishment.” When I give this a little thought, I tend to linger on the “improvisation and embellishment” part of the statement, largely because I’m fairly cynical about the human proclivity to play with shades of truth.

In the end, though, Matt states we’re telling stories for only a few reasons, to:

  • Entertain
  • Educate
  • Preserve culture
  • Instill values

Personally, I’m adding to sell stuff.

Matt also broke storytelling into seven basic plots:

  • Overcoming the monster
  • The rags to riches story
  • The quest
  • Voyage and return
  • Comedy (not the “ha ha” type)
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

In school, we’re all taught that stories need to have a beginning, a middle and an end. But Matt asks, “Is this really required or desirable in our time-starved world?”

Increasingly, stories can be non-linear, participatory and, importantly, distributed across Pages from Storytelling BCAMA Finala wide variety of platforms (not just at the campfire). This increases the media of storytelling to include, for example, pictures, a great quote, a video clip and updates on social media. You can add to this list, especially when we include hyper-connectivity and emerging technologies.

“As marketers and storytellers, we have more opportunity to  get creative about storytelling… It represents a huge opportunity for brands. Stories light up different parts of our brains.”

The question is: How can we tell better stories? It really does start with changing the creative brief. We need to move away from ‘what is the single message we want to communicate to consumers’ to ‘what are the stories we want to tell?’.

There are several categories to work in:

Pages from Storytelling BCAMA33 Final-5

I wish I had the space to give all of the examples from Matt, but the story of Shinola is one such cultural story – the rebirth of Detroit, which, if you missed it, has gone from riches to rags and to, if all goes well, riches again:

Matt states: “Marketers put a lot of stuff out there. Which we should start to think about. Stories are a huge differentiator. In a sea of stories, no one remembers features or benefits; stories have to stand out. After a product wanders through the media, the Internet and social media, the product is only as good as the product it sells.”

Be sure to join us at the next BCAMA event on April 30th to hear some more great stories: