Sometimes good storytelling goes bad. It happens. We have great intentions and we mean well. We’re passionate and we’re on fire, and we want to help people. I get it. I am a passionate person and we should all be so lucky to find that thing that makes our heart sing!
And sometimes that passion becomes a big, bold desire to save the world. It’s audacious and ballsy. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Good Storytelling Goes Bad: The Savior Story
Sometimes our passion has a blindspot. When we create stories that put us as the center as “savior” we can inadvertantly send the message that others are incapable of changing their own lives; that without us, all would be lost. It can diminish the contribution of others, including those you mean to help and partners who are needed to help us along our path and realize our goals. It can also arrogantly suggest that we know what’s good for people better than they know themselves. That’s patronizing.
I see this often with tech companies that think their technology will save everybody. That’s often a stretch when it comes to storytelling that is credible. While some technology does save lives, most technology does not and so claiming that is a distorted reality. Yet, having a big (and realistic) vision is important.
It can be a delicate balance.
So What Do You Do?
Charity Water has come under fire from nonprofit NGOs in areas where the company operates. The criticism is rooted in how the company often fails to cooperate with local NGOs already on the ground doing much of the work. The story the organization originally told did focus on how the company was looking to save communities. In the last few years, the company has tried to better partner with other organizations who know the local laws and cultures in order to tell a more collaborative story of ‘we’ versus just ‘us.’ That matters because a big vision needs a lot of partners, and a ‘savor story’ is alienating to people you need on your side.
Who does it well? One of my favorite companies in terms of storytelling is TOMS Shoes.
Recently the one for one company reimagined its story to help further social entrepreneurship by announcing a social fund. Its new story: “we cannot do this alone; we need you to help realize the vision.” Many critics pointed out years ago that the ‘one for one’ model wouldn’t solve problems that cause poverty and that more is needed. But TOMS Shoes can’t do it alone. So this story update is a great way to include other and send the message that a company needs others to reach its vision and that it doesn’t have all the answers. It cannot save the world by itself. That is a powerful message.
Big Tip: make sure your big story isn’t a savior story; make sure you tell the story of how you are working with partners and customers to make them heroes, too.
What do you think about the ‘Savior Story’ as you’ve seen it? What works? What doesn’t? Let me know.
So true, Kathy. Taken to the extreme, the savior story becomes “inadequacy” marketing or selling something with the message that “without this, you are inadequate.” Unfortunately, that’s the story line of a great deal of advertising.
You got it! It also sends the message that “you are wrong and we’re going to fix everything for you.” People want hope and optimism, not a lecture on why they are wrong. They have enough guilt and pressure in life.