A Canine Perspective on Effective Storytelling.

January 28, 2020
Isabelle Maltese

I have been working at Catalyst Strategy as an intern since October 2018. Working together with humans at a strategic narrative consulting firm has taught me a lot on how to effectively tell a story. Story that moves people — yes, human in this regard.

In case you are wondering — yes, I am a dog, with four legs and all. Please find below a picture of me at the office.

Working on my presentation.

As an intern, I spend most of my time working closely with the strategic analyst team — the people (and a dog — me!) behind the formulation of strategic narrative blueprints. In simpler words, our team is the one who creates the story for our stakeholders.

I received many questions about the strategic narrative formulation process. The biggest challenge my team facing is of course, how to create an effective story. Is there any guarantee that the story we create will work? Of course not! Will all stories will be effective and enable us to reach our marketing objectives? Well, not all stories are created equal.

I believe that in order to create a strategic narrative that works, the most crucial part is: understanding the audience. It involves the process of learning what motivates them and framing it in the way that they could easily relate. It sounds simple, right? For us, dogs, yes! You, humans, are the ones who make things complicated. LOL.

In this very first Medium article of mine, I would like to share what I learned in the past year, particularly a simplified logic behind our work: story creation (and how simple it is if being applied in the dog world).

Toy, Food, or Affection-motivated?

While human can be motivated by so many things, as a more instinctual creature, dog is way simpler. In the dog training world, in order to “move” us, the most important starting point is to understand what motivates us the most. Me, for example, is a food-motivated pup. You can ask me to sit prettily, shake hands, or even dance if there are treats available. Yes, I will do anything for a piece of lung bites or chicken jerkies.

If you assume all dogs are food-motivated, then you are wrong. My friend, Lucie, a pretty Pomeranian, is a toy-motivated one. She can be suspicious when someone she doesn’t know giving her treats and won’t even touch it. However, it is totally different when you start squeaking toy in front of her, you can immediately see her smile and wagging tail. Another friend of mine, Élise, a cute tiny Poodle, is an affection-motivated girl. She is a bucin (budak cinta — can be directly translated to “a love slave”) in every sense of the word. She simply loves to be loved. With some belly rubs, scratches on the ears, and a long cuddle session, you can easily kidnap her.

Left to right: Élise — Me — Lucie. No, they are not my imaginary friends.

My point is, understanding what motivates your audience the most is crucial when it comes to creating the story that will move them. So, the question is what kind of audience you are trying to reach? Are they toy, food, or affection-motivated? Once you are able answering the question, the process to create an effective story will be easier. Explore the things your organization, brand, or product have, and create a story that will resonate the most with the audience strongest motivation.

The Grass Smells Different Everywhere.

Do you know that dogs can smell anywhere between 1,000 to 10,000 times better than humans? Well, that might be true. I know how the grass could smell different in all the places I have visited. I smelled the sulphurous rotten egg scent from the grass in Mt. Bromo savanna, I smelled the musty odors emanating from the surrounding trees and rocks from the grass I found around Madakaripura waterfall. The smell is very different from the grass at the park Mommy and I used to go on daily walk. Even the smell of grass at my backyard is different before and after the rain, or before and after it is mown.

Mt. Bromo savanna — the grass with rotten egg scent I was talking about.

Once we know what the story is about — the grass, in my case — then deciding how the story will be framed is like choosing which place and/or when I will sniff it.

Deciding the frame of the story is an equally important step in storytelling. It shapes the effects they have. Some stories give hope, some others dampen hope. The way we frame the same facts make difference between stories that are memorable and those that are considered as unintended, seemingly unimportant noise. A well-framed story will improve understanding and engagement of our audience. Then again, even a simple thing like grass can be something if it is framed in beautiful fresh green meadows with a scenic mountain background, right?

Well, I am still learning to be a good and effective storyteller at this point. I believe that learning to strategically decide on which story to tell and creatively think on how to frame a story are two crucial starting points to be one. The biggest challenge for me is, as you can expect, to understand humans. As my fellow canine, Bailey, in “A Dog’s Purpose” said, “Humans are complicated, they do things dogs can’t understand…”

More from our storytellers:

I Write This for Me for Moments of “Oh Shit, Why Did I Do That?”

How Changing Your Narrative Could Enhance Your Life

Why We Need More Narratives in Business & Life in General

How A Narrative Could Affect the Price of Watches Sold in Auction House

The Untold: Fragments of Storytelling

Why Design is an Act of Storytelling

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