A review of Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Live — and Tell — the Best Stories Will Rule the Future, by Jonah Sachs
@@@@@ (5 out of 5)
If you’ve never seen the wildly popular online videos The Story of Stuff and The Meatrix, do yourself a favor and check them out. These two outstanding examples of the marketer’s craft embody the insights revealed in Jonah Sachs’ outstanding new book, Winning the Story Wars.
For years now, everyone involved in marketing, fundraising, communications, social media, or any related field has been intensely aware that the key to successful messaging is a story. In this beautifully written book, Jonah Sachs explains why that is so, what’s needed for a successful story, and how to construct one, step by step.
As Sachs writes, “the oral tradition that dominated human experience for all but the last few hundred years is returning with a vengeance. It’s a monumental, epoch-making, totally unforeseen turn of events.” If these statements strike you as hyperbolic, consider this: the nearly universal distrust of institutional authority (whether governmental, corporate, or religious) that has become a distinguishing feature of our society over the past five decades, combined with the atomization of our information sources (500 TV channels, one billion Facebook users, 500 million Tweeters), makes it absolutely essential that anyone who needs to deliver a message to a very large number of people must couch it in the form of a story with broad appeal across all the lines that divide us (and define us). As Sachs explains, “Great brands and campaigns are sensitive to the preferences of different types of audiences, but the core stories and the values they represent can be appreciated by anyone. Universality is the opposite of insincerity.”
Winning the Story Wars is, simultaneously, an honest and occasionally embarrassing tale of Sachs’ own halting progress toward understanding the craft of story-making, an exploration of the cultural and anthropological roots of the archetypal stories that live on in our consciousness, and, ultimately, a lucid, practical guidebook to building your own stories.
Sachs has done his homework. He has read Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung as well as the Bible, delved deeply into the history of marketing and advertising, and explored contemporary advertising, as exemplified by the Marlboro Man, the rule-breaking 1960s campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle (“Think Small.”), and Apple’s more recent “1984” and “Think Different” campaigns. He manages to tie together all these disparate sources and examples within the framework of an entirelly original analysis. Along the way, Sachs reveals how three men — Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, and “the father of public relations,” Joseph Bernays — transformed the American economy by shifting public consciousness from the values of our Puritan heritage to the dictates of the marketplace, enshrining consumerism as the dominant feature in our ethos. It’s truly brilliant.
Sachs bases his analysis on ‘the ‘three commandments’ laid out in 1895 by marketing’s first great storyteller, John Powers: Tell the Truth, Be Interesting, and Live the Truth.” Sachs emphasizes the importance of avoiding “Marketing’s five deadly sins: vanity, authority, insincerity, puffery, and gimmickry.”
If you’re engaged in marketing, advertising, fundraising, or anything even reasonably related to them, you must read this book.
Good news for book publishers—and readers of books!
By Tom Hallock
My friend Johanna Vondeling, editor of many of my books over the years, recently posted this article on Facebook. I thought it worthy of wider attention here. The author, Tom Hallock, is Associate Publisher at Beacon Press and a friend of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, where Johanna is Vice President. She reports that Hallock recently read Steve Piersanti’s “10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing” (posted here). He thinks Steve makes good points AND he wanted to point out some good news for publishers amidst all the recent change in the industry. “His ideas are spot-on and inspiring,” Johanna wrote.
1. Publishing is generally maintaining revenue during its digital transition, something most other industries have been unable to do.
2. There is a new efficiency in the industry causing returns to be dramatically reduced. Digital content, short run and print-on-demand manufacturing, the rise of direct and online sales and an improved supply chain have all reduced the impact of an industry practice that has been a drain on profit. This reduction of waste has also lowered our environmental impact.
3. Our content can be monetized in more ways than ever: eBooks, other digital content, digital download audio, etc.
4. Media continues to be most responsive to big new ideas that are first introduced in book format.
5. The need for investment in physical inventory has also been reduced by all the factors mentioned in #2 above and because we are less reliant on physical display in bookstores.
6. Publishers do not require the physical display of books in order for readers to find them. The 24/7 availability of all books everywhere through our own web sites and those of online booksellers means that readers have instant access to our titles when events, or media attention, or broader shifts in the culture create interest in them.
7. The international market has opened up and is providing access to readers throughout the world whether or not they have access to a physical bookstore that carries English language books. Readers discover books through multiple sources, most of which don’t recognize borders.
8. There is almost a daily growth in tools to build community and reach readers. In particular our ability to aid readers in discovery through BISACs (a Book Industry Study Group subject heading classification), metadata, keywords—as well as social media—has to some extent freed us from the activities of intermediaries and empowered us to grow our businesses.
Filed under Commentaries, FAQs & Commentaries
Tagged as Beacon Press, berrett koehler, BISACs, books, business, digital content, ebooks, keywords, metadata, online sales, printing on demand, publishing, social media, technology