Book Review: Storyscaping: Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds

Think of the last story you told out loud. Was it about your own experience? If so, you’re not alone, but you’re also part of a segment being underutilized by marketers and advertisers.

“Part of our thesis is that this experience element is incredibly powerful and often underleveraged,” write Gaston Legorburu and Darren McColl in Storyscaping. The goal, they say, is for your “brand, product, or service [to] become part of [your] customer’s story”—rather than the other way around.

The book’s subtitle, Stop Creating Ads, Start Creating Worlds, sums up much of its mission, to get readers to cease shouting about their brands to audiences and rather involve audiences in an immersive experience that they will want to participate in and share:

“Storyscaping is how you transform a great story line into an immersive Story System where people enjoy their connection with your brand and want to continue their loyalty and be a coparticipant in your world.”

One of the lessons Legorburu and McColl offer is focusing storytelling on the customer and not the brand. Brands must recast themselves as mentors whose products and services are the quest objects that the hero-customer needs to complete his journey and find an emotional catharsis.

While casting advertising as a Joseph Campbell-style mythic journey seems a bit grandiose, Storyscaping breaks down this concept into actionable workflows that any marketer can use to improve their brand story and find clarity in the value their product brings to customers. This culminates in the concept of an “Organizing Idea,” which creates and organizes the connections between consumer and brand. Organizing ideas, according to the authors, are a set of tools that allows marketers to connect such disparate things as the brand’s purpose with the channels marketers should use to tell the stories.

Storytelling and organizing ideas, however, are not enough. The second part of their thesis is that while stories engage customers, the advertising landscape is so saturated with brands telling stories that it isn’t enough. Their recommendation? The “Experience Space,” which looks at both digital and real spaces that customers will interact with.

“... not just any old story will do the trick. You need a great story, one with much more than just words and pictures. You need to create immersive worlds. Create worlds that resonate with the highly connected, digitally enabled consumer of today. Create sensing and adaptive worlds that, in this ever-changing environment, can differentiate and cut across emotional, physical, and virtual experiences.”

When experience spaces are united with organizing ideas they become “Storyscapes.” As the authors put it, “we are moving from a push-driven traditional brand-centric view of the world to an experience and engagement economy for connected experiences that are co-owned by brand and consumer.” Legorburu and McColl are convinced that the synergy generated by the combination of an organizing idea and an experience space is what will set brands apart now and in the future.

Storyscaping is chock-full of case studies on brands as diverse as U.K.-based betting company Ladbrokes to ski destination Vail Resorts, each demonstrating how Legorburu and McColl’s agency, SapientNitro, applied the storyscaping model to real-life companies for maximum impact. At 229 pages, it’s a fast read that will help you whip your marketing into shape—and tell better stories in the process.