August 28, 2016

Jonah Sachs on why stories matter in marketing

Jonah Sachs, the marketing maven of good causes, is returning to The Power of Storytelling after two years with a talk on exploring different ways of thinking about the world.

Jonah Sachs, widely referred to as a marketing innovator and expert storyteller, graduated in 1997 from Wesleyan University uncertain about his future.

He had a bachelor’s degree in American Studies and had been editor-in-chief of the university’s newspaper, but was terrified of getting a job where he wouldn’t be noticed or appreciated. Instead of finding refugee in his parents’ basement hugging a six-pack, he went and did something else: after two years of mostly freelance gigs in design and layout, he reconnected with his childhood friend Louis Fox and together they started their own company, Free Range Studios. “It actually just felt safer for me to start my own thing than face the rejection of the system. So that fear was step one,” he says about founding Free Range, which aims to offer non-profits and social causes the same kind of communication tools and advantages that corporate brands have regularly.

Sachs and Fox established their work ethic early on, choosing to work with people and brands they believed in and opting for mission-based campaigns that would shed light on social and environmental issues. Since then, the company has worked with the likes of Amnesty International, Earthjustice, Greenpeace International, SEIU, the ACLU and the Harvard Civil Rights Project. Free Range Studios also offer e-workshops to teach corporations how to create compelling, coherent stories about their brands and messages, and change the way they communicate to the public.

Almost 20 years have passed since Sachs made the risky decision to go out on his own and tackle entrepreneuring, but the bet seems to have paid off. Jonah received acclaim for several of the videos he created for campaigns the company worked on, such as The Meatrix (2003) – a spoof on the movie The Matrix revealing uncomfortable truths about factory meat farming – and The Story of Stuff – a 20 minute animated documentary about the lifecycle of material goods that reached over 10 million viewers. His work got him three “Best Of” awards at the industry respected South by Southwest interactive festival.

In 2012, he launched his bestselling book Winning the Story Wars – Why Those Who Tell – and Live – the Best Stories will Rule the Future, which he describes as a call to arms to build iconic brands and causes in service of a better future. The book offers simple tools based on experience that brands can use to break through the media landscape, earn fans, and become relevant. The book will be translated into Romanian just in time for #Story16 and published by our friends at Black Button Books.

Jonah will join us for the second time at The Power of Storytelling, returning to Romania after he swept us off our feet in 2014. Until then, here are a few words of wisdom from the man himself:

Why stories matter:

“Stories shape our world. They’re like verbal DNA. They tell us who we are, what’s important and how we should behave. Stories create our future.”

“Human beings were born and evolved in oral tradition societies. (…) Stories dominate this kind of oral tradition and all societies, before written language, left us two things: their trash and their stories.”

On compelling marketing:

“I think it’s really important to stay focused on audiences’ higher values. It is so easy for us to imitate what we have seen and what we have grown up with in terms of dominating marketing forms of the past. I think it is important that we don’t just imitate what we saw in the broadcast era, which was an inadequacy marketing approach where we made audiences feel small, or bad about themselves, or insecure and then gave them an out through brands.”

“Stories are based on value. They are containers for values, so we need to understand in an organization what values are really stepping out and connecting with our audiences. And when we do understand what values we’re trying to create a connection to, we can start creating far better, tangible, real life stories.”

On the future of marketing:

“I think the greatest successes will be harder and harder to spot. You’ll see less high production value websites that ask for user-generated content and polish it up into fancy brand-created communications. You’ll see fewer custom apps that are novel but not that useful. The great successes will look much more like people just having conversations organically. The media that sparks these conversations will be lo-fi and unassuming. The opportunities to engage will feel less like marketing come-ons and more like fluid extensions of what you’re already doing. Marketing will blend into the background — hopefully in ways that actually help people.”

“Learning from my successes and failures, I’ve learned that things travel and change minds when they’re embedded in powerful stories. Realizing it was all about the story and learning what that meant has defined my career.”

Register here for the 6th edition of The Power of Storytelling to learn more from Jonah. Find our more about all our speakers here.