BigWing Book Review: Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs

Published: August 17, 2018  by 
The headline with a blue wash over a shelf full of books talking about the book review of Story Wars

This review is not the result of a team effort. It is a personal one, and I urge you not to hold my coworkers accountable for my opinion. I recently read the book “Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell – and Live – the Best Stories Will Rule the Future” by Jonah Sachs.

I loved this book. Maybe I didn’t love every single line in this book, but when I finished it, I was quite taken with the messages Sachs shared. I talked about it relentlessly around those who would listen. I guess that’s how I found myself writing this review.

Dan Heath, co-author of “Switch” and “Made to Stick” said:

“Jonah Sachs knows stories. He’s responsible for some of the most popular and respected viral messages of all time: ‘The Story of Stuff,’ ‘The Meatrix,’ ‘Grocery Store Wars,’ and others. This book is a storytelling call to arms, an appeal to tell the stories that matter. So read ‘Winning the Story Wars’—and join the fray.”

What’s the Point?

Through the chapters in this book, Jonah Sachs compels you to leave the broken broadcast marketing-style thinking behind and take advantage of how marketing has been changing and will continue to change. Shocking, huh? Sounds like every digital marketing book available today.

The difference is this: he uses his own experiences with viral marketing as a catalyst for discovering what makes marketing worthy of sharing in the minds of the audience. How do marketing messages like the “Grocery Store Wars” and George W. Bush’s campaign grab people’s attention and beat out the competing messaging? They use superior storytelling, he explains.

Part One

The book is broken up into two parts. The first part defines storytelling, gives you the pitfalls to guard against, coins and explains the term digitoral marketing, explains about mythology, and shows you the myth gap.

To understand the rest of the book (and this review), we must understand his use of the word “story.” The definition he uses is this:

“Stories are a particular type of human communication designed to persuade an audience of a storyteller’s worldview. The storyteller does this by placing characters, real or fictional, onto a stage and showing what happens to these characters over a period of time. Each character pursues some type of goal in accordance with his or her values, facing difficulty along the way and either succeeds or fails according to the storyteller’s view of how the world works.”

Sachs explains – rightly so, I believe – that we have drifted and splintered away from our past sense of community where we shared stories orally. When stories and messages had to be shared orally, only the most “memorable, compelling, and adaptable” survived.

The marketing style of the past where advertisers shouted their messages, with varying degrees of truth to them, to the masses is no longer an acceptable way to market anything. Since the internet completely changed the way society interacts, we find ourselves in what Sachs dubs the “digitoral” era.

Best practices in the digital space include tactics used by storytellers throughout the centuries. Sachs created the term “digitoral” to combine the two. He explains that when marketers learn to harness the ideas behind good storytelling in their digital marketing, those campaigns will break through the overwhelming mass of messages.

When you can create a story around your brand (and live the story transparently as a brand) you will create armies of enthusiasts who will help you pass your story on to more potential enthusiasts. The messaging will spread like the myths of ancient Greece and Rome.

Sachs says those marketers who are brandishing their stories on the front lines of the battle for an audience’s attention are creating a sense of meaning for their core audience. They create a sense of belonging amongst their enthusiasts.

Every myth has a hero, and every hero has a backstory full of hardships and failures. These brand failures likely include what Sachs refers to as the Five Sins. These sins are vanity, authority, insincerity, puffery, and gimmickry. He explains that the intentions behind these sins are important – like humor – but alone are not enough to bring an audience together as an army.

You’ll have to read the book yourself to discover Sachs’s understanding of what led marketers to become mythmakers and why society needs them. He shares concrete examples of good and bad messages and how they’ve been used.

Part Two

In the second part of the book, you’ll find a field guide to help your brand or your clients find the core of their own story. With step-by-step instructions lined out in the remaining pages, Sachs leads readers to become storytellers.

Sachs begins by pleading for the reader to understand how important it is to tell the truth. He uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to defeat the Freudian foundation of inadequacy marketing. He leads readers through the process of identifying their brand values and how to place them within stories.

This is when readers encounter Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey Map. The author explains that a hero is not limited to a caped crusader but is “anyone who is boldly pursuing higher-level values – creativity, self-expression, truth, or any of the other values on the upper levels of Maslow’s chart – and is willing to make sacrifices in pursuit of these ideals.”

In storytelling-based marketing, the hero is often the audience and the brand is the hero’s mentor – the being who provides a tool or tools to help the hero to overcome the upcoming obstacle. For instance, Nike provides superior shoes (and support through a connection with other Nike enthusiasts) to overcome the hardships associated with gaining physical strength and endurance.

Sachs shares information about the long-standing archetypes readers can pull from to create the personas of the brand hero and mentor. These well-known muses help audiences immediately identify with the brand’s values and immerse themselves in the story.

Sachs continues helping readers craft the type of story they wish to tell. He showcases familiar ideas and examples for how to use them. The sections on telling and living the truth read like a guidebook with a recipe for how to create a functional narrative.

As the end of the book draws near, Sachs begins to explain a new term for a core audience named the Agents of Authenticity. Agents of Authenticity are members of an audience who want to make sure the brand is living the messaging in real life. One of my favorite paragraphs in the book includes the following lines:

“In fact, chances are, if they’re calling you to authenticity it’s because they want to love you. They’ve connected with your core values. They’ve been inspired by your marketing. And they want nothing more than to see you live the truth your telling.”

At the end of the book, Sachs shares the insight that “the hero’s journey always starts in an imperfect world with an unlikely hero.” It is this that creates the difference between creating and living a compelling brand story and marketing that simply makes people feel good.

Why I Love It

Honesty, transparency, and authenticity are three buzzwords that I dream of using when discussing brands as a receiver of marketing messages. Crafting a story for a company who is willing to be transparent about their journey is a dream that can come true.

This book can help give you a “hands-on” approach to create compelling brand stories whether you are a marketing newbie, a small business owner, or a reformed broadcast-style marketer.

Check the book out for yourself, and reach out to BigWing through your favorite social media platform to let me know what you think.

If you’d like to know how BigWing can help you begin telling your story today, don’t wait to reach out to us. We’re waiting right here.