When the screen turns black and the music stops, I’ve already been crying for at least 10 minutes. This is my summarised relationship with NBC TV series, This Is Us, the one tv series that will make you understand what storytelling is about. If my tears are not enough to prove how its storytelling is effective, the unprecedented reach of This Is Us stands to prove how brilliant, emotional, human it is. And who’s to say you can’t learn from it and apply the same storytelling tools to your communication strategy to engage with your audience and gain more supporters.
What is the series about
If you haven’t heard about This Is Us, is the story of a family lead by a strong and charismatic father, Jack, who dies when the three children are teenagers. Written by Dan Fogelman, it’s the narration of how the challenge of having a triplet is transformed into a series of down to earth stories, so true they will make you shiver. To put it in the IMDB words, the show is a:
a heartwarming and emotional story about a unique set of triplets, their struggles, and their wonderful parents.
Storytelling: from tv show to communication strategy
This is us is an extraordinary example of storytelling. So much so, the lessons it teaches can be applied to business communication strategies and social media. Storytelling is what makes the difference in a communication strategy. It is a powerful tool on social media and an effective one offline. As echoed by marketing experts on Forbes and AdWeek, storytelling (if done well) helps customers relate to the product and eventually it helps selling it.
SPOILER ALERT: episode 11 season 3
Writer Dan Fogelman definitely sets the vision for This Is Us, in all three seasons. Yet, for all intentions and purposes, my eyes, heart and brain were overwhelmed by episode 11 of season 3.
To keep things short, this is an important moment in the story of the Pearson family. It is the episode when the Pearson’s children reunite with an uncle their (perfect) father always claimed to have died during the Vietnam war. In fact, he is not. He lives off the grid, in a rundown mobile home, exactly where Jack had met him years before. After years of living alone with grudge and regrets on his shoulders, the uncle is eaten by depression, alcoholism. He is a veteran left on his own.
3 Storytelling Lessons That Will Inspire You
The story narrated in this episode is powerful. But the story in itself doesn’t make good storytelling. Think about this for your business as well: the reason why you started your business, if not packed in an effective way, does not have a great impact. In This is Us, stories are packed in an impactful way. This is achieved through some tools.
One of the first successful tools used in this (and other) episode is the editing. In the case of this episode there are two timelines (the past and the present) and basically one main location (the area where the uncle’s house is). The past and present stories are shown at the same time: right after we see Jack (in the past) arriving to his brother’s house, we see the triplet (in the present) arriving at the same house. This type of editing highlights the different choices the characters made in the same situations. And this is a powerful way to present facts, to tell stories. Let’s say you’re trying to sell something to your audience, showing them how their lives would differ with and without your product, the difference it would make, can be a persuasive act. More than that, it demonstrates you understand what their problems are and you offer a solution.
Number two on the list of lessons on storytelling from this episode and the show, in general, is the importance of talking about ordinary people. Of course in the specific case, they have extraordinary lives but the problem they are facing is ordinary: connecting with long lost family, trying to have a child, dealing with addiction, balancing work and life. If you look to the people following the show on Twitter, you’ll soon understand it tells the story of many. Do you? Do you tell the story of the people who follow you or do you share your story? When we work on our communication strategy it’s so easy to focus on what we do, who we are, why our product is awesome, that we forget to see things through the eyes of our customers and followers. First, what do they need? Second, why do they come to you? Surely there is something that connects you and that is probably hidden in your story. Let it out, share your purpose, motivations, passions and people will connect to you.
Finally (but the list could go on and on), this episode is informative. Through one person, it tells the story of what thousands of veterans are experiencing in the US. Although without facts and numbers it uses one story to shine a light on many others. Lots of charity communication strategies are based on case studies but so very few give power to the person behind the case study, they don’t give them a voice. In This is Us, we hear uncle Pearson voice, even when his own nephew doesn’t want to listen. We hear it in the broken sound when with a gun on his kitchen table, he whispers “I never got to tell him, it was an accident”. From a business perspective this is the case for testimonials: why did someone else love your product that much? How can their experience relate to others?
Why Learning Storytelling From a TV series
Because I’m a tv series junkie. Or because TV shows live off storytelling. And storytelling is essential to businesses. And while the fields are different, the learning experience should not be compartmentalized: storytelling can be learnt from This Is Us and those lessons can smoothly apply to a business environment. Just like communication is not exclusively learnt through pricey courses, but can be passed by beautiful readings. If we started seeing business communication and communication tout court, as intrinsically linked to our lives, we’d be able to see how relevant it is to keep a human connection alive.
We need to be more human. Talk like humans. Interact like humans and with humans. And we need to listen to those humans, and offer solutions. That’s how we’ll be unique. That’s our communication efforts will pay off, customers will fidelise and supporters will take action.
If you are intrigued by the idea of learning from other fields other than communication to improve your communication superpower, drop me a message. You can always just send me an email to chat about tv series addiction too!