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The art of storytelling: how to shape reality

Storytelling is a fundamental aspect of communication and people have been practicing it for all of recorded history. Today storytelling is commonly known as a tool for businesses to communicate their values and goals in a way that appeals to consumers on an emotional level. However, when used correctly, storytelling can be so convincing that it shapes an entire reality.

How storytelling may influence history books

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, writes: “All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory”. In the age of mass media, effective storytelling can manipulate the public’s perception of events which may have occurred less than a century ago. 

According to the chart below, composed by French blogger Olivier Berruyer using survey data from the French Institute of Public Opinion, in May 1945 most people in France credited the Soviets for defeating Nazi Germany. However, by June 2004 it seems like the French had changed their mind as by then the US was considered to be the deciding factor in winning World War II. 

As Vox points out in their article «Assessing the “biggest contributor to victory” in a rigorous way is exceptionally difficult». Nevertheless, this notable shift in perspective can largely be attributed to the way WWII was portrayed through Hollywood movies and American media. This is a prime example of how storytelling can completely change the way we remember historical events. 

Alexander the Great… storyteller

Alexander the Great was a capable strategist but a better storyteller. Most people are familiar with the famous Greek general who conquered the Persian Empire in 300 BC, but perhaps many aren’t aware of the persona he created for himself which drastically helped him win each battle. 

As soon as he left Greece and marched into the Persian Empire he began carefully crafting an image for himself as a God-king. Stories of Alexander’s godly status were common and he heavily leaned into them. Greek historian, Plutarch, wrote about how Alexander’s father was actually Zeus, the King of the Gods. To further substantiate this claim to godhood, after freeing Egypt, Alexander was crowned pharaoh, a title reserved only for the son of the Egyptian god Ra. 

Another famous example of how Alexander built up his image is the tale of the Gordian knot. According to an ancient prophecy, whoever was to untie the impossible knot would become the king of Asia. When Alexander and his army arrived at Gordium, a deliberate stop in Alexander’s journey East, he sliced the knot with his sword claiming to have fulfilled the prophecy. 

What storytelling can do for a brand

Skillful storytelling can turn a man into a God and a group effort into a single-handed victory. Learning to channel this tool can be extremely beneficial to businesses who wish to reach a wider audience. Apple, for example, are masters of storytelling. Although nowadays most smartphones cost the same, Apple have carefully crafted their brand to be associated with luxury and status making their devices feel like more than just objects. 

Effectively communicating one’s brand can yield great results in the long run. Great storytelling shapes reality and perspectives. By building a brand with just words, businesses can truly achieve their potential in a cost-efficient manner. 

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