Narrare necesse est. We all need to tell a story. «It has always been like this. Because we humans are our stories, and stories need to be told». Odo Marquard, a figure among the most authoritative in the study of contemporary aesthetic sensibility, teaches us this.
This is because storytelling is a universal phenomenon and the human activities that involve the use of stories are virtually endless, and every time we tell a story, our brain circuits come into play. We are, literally, made of stories.
From storytelling to narrative capital
All stories are stories that have content. But not all content generates stories. Storytelling, explains Andrea Fontana – sociologist of communication, Curcio Prize for Culture 2015 and TEDx Speaker, as well as entrepreneur and storytelling activist – serves to create meanings that in turn create bonds. In a word: story-driven content. Ties with the public, ties with communities. Life ties.
Discipline? Not really and Fontana disagrees. Today, ten years after the entry of the term and the science of storytelling in Italy, it is worth remembering that storytelling is much more. «It's a mindset: it's the platform of life and work in which we exist».
Fontana identifies four phases, which distinguish these 10 years of storytelling in Italy: a skeptical phase, between 2009 and 2011; an instinctive phase, until 2014; a romantic phase, from 2014 to 2018, and a mainstream phase, started in 2018 and is still ongoing.
Ten years ago, there was almost no mention of storytelling. What has changed over the years?
To talk about storytelling first of all, we need to understand the great changes that have taken place in the way we communicate. Above all, the way we build and share knowledge has changed. If before we moved in a form of knowledge derived from objective sources, now the individual and subjectivity have the upper hand. From an objective knowledge, we have therefore moved on to a subjective and therefore autobiographical knowledge, increasingly based on one's own personal experiences and personal life history. This scenario leads us to talk about storytelling. The question is how storytelling, personal, brand edits or individual stories have become dominant. Understanding this step allows you to understand why, at some point, you start talking more and more about storytelling. You do it because storytelling has become a platform for life and business.
Storytelling means communicating through stories and representations that start from their own life experiences and they tend to be exciting
Isn't storytelling a discipline or technique?
It has nothing to do with discipline or approach. Storytelling is a different way in which people relate to each other and through which they engage. Descriptive linear information is no more engaging or less engaging than in the past. If storytelling is a platform of life and business it is also a skill, which you have to master and know how to build. Storytelling does not mean "telling stories", as it generally translates – badly – the concept. Storytelling means communicating through stories and representations that start from their own life experiences and they tend to be exciting because they recover and stage a personal experience.
This also applies to organizations, not just individuals…
Totally. When we talk about “subject”, we mean both the personal subject and the organizational subject and, consequently, when everything is extended to marketing or branding we talk about personal, organizational, institutional or corporate branding.
Engaging: governance of emotion
Involved is the key word, then. By involving, you can enhance or activate a kind of bringing capital, a capital of stories that build bridges between subjects…
Classic descriptive communication, from which we all come, is based on key-message: the specific information that a person, a brand, a company must transfer to you. While storytelling is based on key-emotions: it's the key emotions that need to go straight to the heart. The information, which need to be there anyway, comes later. Storytelling is the dynamic that involves people, starting from key emotions. The fact that this dynamic concerns an individual who becomes an influencer or the story of a brand that becomes the bearer of new consumer values matters little, because the dynamic is the same.
If we cannot reduce storytelling to "telling stories", even less can we do so for a concept that, in these months, has increasingly been taking hold: that of narrative capital. What is narrative capital?
Narrative capital is the ability to talk about oneself and therefore to optimize or enhance one's life experience to make it shareable and accepted by others.
Building bridges: narrative capital
Narrative capital almost turns into a “product”…
Exactly, although the term product might seem ugly. We could say that narrative capital allows our lives to become an element of sharing and an example for others. The ability to talk about ourselves generates narrability, specific and developed narrative skills, and in turn narrabilty leads to narrative capital. If without narrative capital you are worth “1,” in the attention market, narrability extends your narrative capital from “1” to “n” times -it's generally agreed that this extension is from 1 to 37. An algorithm allows us to understand how thanks to narrability you can increase your starting value in the social perception of attention thirty-seven times the value, even economic, of narrative capital.
Is there still any resistance?
We have gone from the instinctive dimension of the narrative approach to an increasingly scientific and organized and organizational level. There is still a long way to go. In Italy storytelling is still largely considered of no use, while in the rest of the world the debate has progressed further because it has already established storytelling as a basic managerial and existential competence. In a broad sense, companies are realizing that today the whole theme of the intangible, the perceived, the reputational in the realm of deep media, which are media that we wear and collect our life stories, and these techniques make a difference.
Narrative capital is the ability to talk about and optimize one's own experience so that it can be shared with others
We live in a content continuum, a stream where we are constantly under textual and visual siege. All in a symbolic space where content of all kinds and shapes compete against each other. In a single minute, 337 thousand posts are uploaded to Instagram. Our every gesture, on and offline, is still on life, exposed and anchored in narrative plots. It is a fiction economy, where narrative capital matters. And it matters a lot. Because of this, a good use of narrative capital is necessary. As storytelling has become a strategic asset in business and a key branding skill, this ability to enhance its narrative capital in a context where attention has become scarce – and most in demand – can be a vital resource in managing personal and organizational change.